Night Garden

With Love


Hello from the garden, where we’ve just had a new moon… The garden has been at its darkest, pure night. When the sky is clear you can see the most incredible show of stars.

My mother is doing well, in the big picture. There have been some things this summer, like one of her kidneys is enlarged. But she is here. She is making the most of her days. When she has energy she is in the garden, or in the kitchen making caramel flans. Most of the time I don’t even feel sick, she says. But her platelets are down again, and still dropping so she will not have this week’s scheduled chemo.

When I started this work I didn’t want it to be sad. I wanted to unveil the quiet, night-shrouded loveliness (if I could magic it with my rough tools) of the garden and its sloping grounds.

Why don’t we celebrate
Life can make you sad
Come-on let’s drive ourselves mad…

–Bruce Cockburn

I am writing this on my aunt Judy’s birthday (now posting it some days later). She was my mother’s sister, and like my mother, she was diagnosed two years ago with advanced stages of ovarian cancer (and with the BRCA cancer gene).

She passed away in the palliative care unit at L’Hopital Notre Dame on July 14, one week into this project. I saw her there on her last night, asleep, still wearing her gold necklaces, surrounded by her four children and three grandchildren. Today she would have been 65. She and my mother had had a falling out many years ago, but she was like a second mother to me, as a child. The subject of her passing has been delicate, and also, unlike my mother who is very open, Judy did not want anyone to know that she was sick.

It’s been raining the last two nights in the garden. The flowers are pelucid, drenched, the deadheads have a mulched look, drippy, slippery, squishy, ready to drop to the earth. My friend Jane comes to visit and exclaims, It’s so sexy! The garden in this rain! Look at how sexy this flower is! I get it, but I don’t see that. I just see life, in all its stages. Life in bud, life in bloom, life a little tired with the weight of rain, life fallen to the ground, sweet and delicate and still.

After the funeral, I was out in the garden photographing one night with one of my aunt’s four children, Emmanuel. He’s a doctor and new father and loves photography. We spent a few hours walking around while I made long exposures and showed him some of the ways I’ve been working at night, using a pen-sized flashlight to literally paint in the parts of a flower. At one point he said – Stand still and I’ll document you, and set my camera for a one-minute exposure. Wait – I said – I have a better idea… and I turned on my flashlight. The following photograph is the image we captured.

I’d like to dedicate it to my aunt, who left this world this summer with so much courage.

Happy Birthday, Judith –
with love, from the night garden.


Categorised as: Night Garden


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