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A Good Patch of Grass
by Liz Primeau
by Liz Primeau



Liz Primeau's second edition of Gardening for Canadians for Dummies, updated and with a new chapter on using art in your garden, plus a design and garden-care workbook section, will be released in January, 2002.

She is at present writing a new book on front-yard gardens, to be published by Firefly Books in spring, 2003.

Liz is the the founding editor of the Canadian Gardening magazine.


May 20, 2001

Kennedy McRae's wife, is expecting their first baby in May, and already Kennedy has given some thought to the garden the child will play in. That's not surprising since Kennedy is a landscape designer, one of three partners in a young Toronto firm, Earth Inc. 
"One thing for sure, the yard will have tons of trees to climb, as well as to protect him from the sun," Kennedy says. "It won't be the kind of backyard I grew up with, just a big open space with lots of grass."
Kennedy says that most clients with young children ask for large areas of flat grass, even to the point of eliminating grades and steps because they feel they can be unsafe. "It's not for me to legislate, they know their kids better than I do, but I think kids can have fun anywhere, even in what seems like an adult garden." When Kennedy was a kid, he seldom stayed in his backyard. "I played everywhere else--on the road, in vacant lots, in the park."
Ask any adult, and they'll tell you the same thing. Grass is okay for certain things, but vacant lots with underbrush and fallen trees, hidey-holes under overgrown shrubs, pathways beaten by tiny squirrel or rabbit feet and diverse plant materials fuel a child's imagination. My sister and I used to play a mean game of kitchen wherever we could find the ingredients--round poplar leaves (fried potatoes), caragana pods (string beans) and small unripe berries (peas)--whether it was in our front yard, the park, or on a family picnic on the prairie. In the alley behind our Winnipeg house we made dolls with hollyhock skirts and daisy faces picked from the garden, and "diamond" rings from the dandelions on the boulevard. Every Saturday afternoon after the matinee at the local movie theatre, the neighbourhood gang (about 15 of us, ranging from 8 to 12), would recreate the latest Flash Gordon episode in the vacant lot on the corner. Tree stumps were the seats of the space ship, and a flexible poplar seedling was the control stick. Naturally, all the girls fought over who would play Dale, the token female on the voyage to Mars, but the part usually went to Elaine, who was pretty and blonde. Jackie, the meanest kid on the block, was Flash, unless he couldn't come out to play because his parents had grounded him. The game was a good lesson in life.
My husband says the backyard of his childhood would probably be considered unsuitable today. "Just dirt, a vegetable patch, and the furnace's oil tank, set up on a wooden platform," he says. "Not a blade of grass, but lots of fun." Dirt is more fun than sand for playing with dump trucks, and the spaces around the oil tank and between the tomatoes and vegetable marrow were great hiding places for hide-and-seek, army and jungle.
I have an adult garden, full of plants and ponds and steps. It has little open grass for kids to play in, just a plot about 12 feet square. But Luke and Alexa, two of my grandchildren, love the dense shrubs on the lot line for scary games of lions and tigers or hide-and-seek. Last summer Alexa, now just 4, played train or airplane with the garden chairs lined up on the gravel path. Luke, who's 5 and likes to test his speed and agility now and then, races like a mad man through the winding paths, deking this way and that without reducing his speed. They gather seeds and leaves and flowers to play with as my sister and I did, and without knowing it they're both learning a few things about nature, watching the butterflies feed and the bees gather honey, the birds build their nests and nurture their young.
But sometimes it takes a child to put things into perspective. "You know what Nana?" Luke said to me last summer after coming in from a long session of play with my husband. "If you put any more flowers in your garden, Papa and I won't have any place for baseball." 
A good patch of grass definitely has its place.


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