Photo by: Lonia Cyr
Gardening Columnist Helen Lang on her balcony in Sidney.
“My grandfather was a great gardener,” says Helen Lang, Sidney’s 91-year-old columnist of “Over the Garden Fence” in BC’s Peninsula News Review newspaper.
“When I was three years old, I raked and dug and planted seeds with my grandfather, and he planted the love of gardening in me,” she says. “Then, during the Great Depression, I used to help my mother garden. She had a huge vegetable garden that fed us. I loved it because I was doing it with her.”
Helen has been gardening ever since. “It’s an incurable disease,” she says. “You never get over it …thank goodness!”
Having the opportunity to write about gardening is an added joy.
“I’ve been writing the column for about 31 years,” she says. “I remember the day the editor of the *Peninsula News Review* came to see me in my little garden shop outside Sidney Super Foods, now Fairway Market. He asked if I’d like to write a garden column. I jumped at the chance. Then I went home and told my husband Jim.”
“‘How much is he paying you?’
‘Paying me? I didn’t think about being paid.’
‘He has to give you at least ten dollars a column,’” Jim said firmly.
“So I went back to the editor and said, ‘My husband says I have to ask for at least ten dollars a column.’
‘I only pay five dollars for a syndicated column.’
‘That’s okay,’ I said hurriedly. ‘I’ll do it for nothing.’
‘No you won’t,’ the editor told me. ‘You’ll do it for ten dollars.’”
Money is not, and never has been, Helen’s No. 1 concern. She was thrilled with her garden shop, the interaction with her customers, writing the column and the interaction with her readers.
Jim figured in her columns as “Himself” – it was a second marriage for both, lasting 40 happy years. She had children from a previous marriage and so did Jim. When they married, the children became “theirs.”
The family moved to Sidney from Prince George, and lived on Melissa Street. Jim interested himself in municipal affairs, and Helen gardened.
When Himself answered their phone in Helen’s absence, he always gave the distraught caller one of two bits of gardening advice: “You’re using too much water,” or “You’re not using enough.” And it worked!
“At least no one appeared at the door threatening to shoot him,” Helen says with a smile.
When Himself died in 2005, Helen was desolate. She still misses him as much as ever. After losing Jim, Helen bought a condo in Sidney, and she now gardens on her balcony – potatoes, carrots and peas, some lilies and clematis. She keeps her readers abreast of what’s happening to her beloved plants, and answers their gardening questions.
“The column is the focus of a great deal of my life,” she says. “If I go for a walk, that’s what I’m thinking about. I certainly feel that my readers are friends of mine. I get feedback from our writers’ group, who read my column, and they tell me their friends are reading it too. It has made me so many connections.”
Helen has also written articles for *Gardens West Magazine* and enjoys hosting the writers’ group in her home every Friday.
With a great sense of humour, she confesses to playing April Fools’ jokes on friends and family. She recalls telephoning an avid bird-watcher friend and telling him that there were a bunch of pelicans on Sidney Wharf.
“’Bye, I’m off to see them!’ he shouted. Helen immediately called him back: “April Fools …” His reply was unpublishable.
Fiercely independent, even at 91, Helen is more likely to smack a hand that offers help than take it. “Thank you, I can do this myself,” she says. Her philosophy? The more you accept help, the more you’ll need it.
Her life hasn’t always been easy, but she says, “I’m a tough old bird! A survivor, with an incurable disease – gardening.”
Readers with a passion for everything garden are welcome to call Helen at 250-656-5918.
AUGUST 2013 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE
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