Behind a smallish house on Victoria Street, the one with the porch overflowing with house plants and an antique bicycle fastened to the porch overhang, is a beautiful garden brimming with gorgeous flowers and lush greenery.
It exudes the joy of the man who tends it, reflecting his love and precision attention, a man as much of an inspiration as his garden.
David Galloway, a former landscape horticulturalist, came to Niagara-on-the-Lake in pain, leaving behind a dissolved marriage that led to dissolving a business, a garden centre in Listowell, into which he had poured his heart for 25 years.
“I came here in complete depression,” he says. He wanted to be with a friend who was also hurting, grieving the death of her husband, a man who was a long-time dear friend of Galloway’s. He felt it would be helpful to grieve together, and it was.
“We helped each other through it,” he says.
Although he had only planned to stay a few weeks, that turned to years, and he ended up buying his Victoria Street home and putting his heart into the garden.
He also did some work for others, and made connections and friends in the industry, but six years ago, he began a battle with leukaemia. In February, after his last radiation treatment at the Juravinski Cancer Centre, he was told there were no further options for treatment. The prognosis was three weeks to three months, and plans were made for palliative care to start at home.
That was around the time COVID-19 changed life as we knew it, and Galloway says he has not heard from or spoken to a doctor since.
He has nursing care every morning, has his vitals checked — his blood pressure has been out of whack, he says — and friends come regularly to check on him and help him out, mostly in his garden, but also in the house.
“I would much rather be outside, in the garden,” he says. “I’m not very good at keeping up with things in the house. I just want to be outside.”
For a man dealing with serious health issues, he pushes himself hard in his garden, going out to work in it every morning. He plans to work until lunch time, but it is sometimes 2 p.m. when he quits, knowing he has pushed past his limits. “There is so much I want to get done,” he says. He finds himself stressed by all he would like to do, without enough time or energy to do it. “Just the watering alone is enough to kill me.”
This week, he was hoping to get more plants from a good friend who works at Niagara College — a man he calls “his calm.” Both rabbits and deer have been nibbling, and some begonias in planters in front of his house have been destroyed, nothing left but a few little green stems, creating more work for him to do, hopefully with more begonias delivered by his friend. It’s a huge source of frustration to Galloway that he can no longer drive, and must rely on others to bring him what he needs.
His afternoons are spent napping, and if he is able, he likes a glass of wine on his porch with friends in the evening, before a late dinner, watching TV to get caught up on the news, before heading off to bed. He has strong opinions on the issues of the day — the pandemic and how it’s being handled, and racism and protests. He talks of working with Jamaicans and Mexicans, and how much he learned about them and from them. “I loved working with them. I feel I became a different person through them. I was given a new way of looking at life. It makes me sad to see what’s happening. I don’t know how we’re ever going to fix it.”
He admits to being a perfectionist in his garden, and needs to be outside when friends are doing some work to his specifications — he has a list for them when he arrives, but he likes to oversee their efforts.
“If a job is done perfectly the first time, there is no need to go around and do it twice,” he says.
When he walks in his garden, he explains, “I see everything. Every little tree, branch, flower or weed, everything that’s coming in the garden. Others can walk right past a weed and miss it.” He loves to walk alongside his friends, teaching and sharing his knowledge, he says.
He has started to have problems with his balance, and has fallen a couple of times, but he manages to move along the narrow grass pathway between two very lush and abundant gardens, and bends down to pull a small, offending weed tucked away behind tall plants. He works slowly and precisely, “always the way to win the race,” he says. He has a cane he sometimes remembers to take with him, and a cell phone, which he seldom remembers — he says there will always be something to grab hold of if he falls.
After his first fall, it was suggested it might be time for him to go into hospice care. But because of the pandemic, he would only be allowed one visitor, just that one person chosen to visit him during his stay.
“How could I pick one person? I can’t do that. I can’t choose. I don’t feel I’m ready to go.”
Galloway appreciates how much he must rely on his friends, and admits to having a “little bit of a different attitude” toward the pandemic.
“I can’t survive without people. If I couldn’t see my friends, I might as well be dead. I still follow all the rules, but it breaks my heart that I can’t see some people. I’d rather see my friends while I’m still alive than after I’m gone.”
He feels fortunate to be in his own “little bubble” with friends who are able to come to see him, he says.
Gary Zanner is one of those friends.
“In these days of lockdowns and social distancing, many can find strength for mind and soul in their gardens,” Zanner says. “The act of planting in the ground gives one hope for the future.”
Galloway has hope, and he has a passion for something he clearly loves.
Despite his news from Juravinski, he planted seedlings in the shed and under grow lights in his basement earlier this year, and his plans for this garden haven’t stopped since.
Now, with help from close friends, neighbours and family, says Zanner, “the garden thrives with four-foot high peonies, brightly coloured irises and other lush plantings.”
The rest of the time, Zanner says, “you often find David resting on his eclectic porch, surrounded by his house plants that he lovingly cared for over the winter, and an antique bike decoratively hung pointing to the sky as if ET is about to make lift off.”
Galloway says what he misses most about the pandemic is hugs.
“I’m a hugger. I always feel there is energy coming from people when you hug them. I miss that.”
Virus or not, he’d be happy to receive some of that energy, “but I’m not going to put that on someone who might be uncomfortable with a hug.”
Although he is alone in his house most nights, he says, if he needed anyone, he could call them in the middle of the night and they’d be over in no time.
His friends, he says, naming some of them he sees often, including Sally, Virginia and James, Gary, Donald and others, “are the kindest, most incredible people you could ever meet.”
For now, he takes life each day as it comes, the mostly good days, and the truly awful, when he is unable to do anything but sleep. He will stay at home as long as he is able, with the help of his mother, who has come from Listowell for a visit, and the dear friends who come regularly.
And he will do as much as he can in the garden that gives him a great deal of pleasure, focusing on what he can accomplish this season. Next summer, he says, “is just a dream.”