Alma Coffman with two garden contest judges outside greenhouse

A Story About a Garden

by Alma Coffman

A story about a garden in the December issue? Yes. If you are experiencing winter, relax, take a break from it, and enjoy this delightful story.


In early summer, we discussed participating in Communities in Bloom, a contest fostering civic pride, environmental responsibility, and beautification. In this contest, prizes would be given for the “best” yards and gardens. It was decided that this was one project we didn’t need to get involved in this year.

But then in early August, while Sandra, our director, was away, someone came by with a registration form for Communities in Bloom and strongly encouraged us to enter the contest. We liked the idea, but had to wait until Sandra got back to check with her.

By the time she returned, we had only a week to register, which we did.

Meanwhile Peter, who usually keeps the lawn well-mowed, had gotten involved in wood splitting and stacking with his volunteers. The day Peter was going to mow the grass it rained very hard, so the grass kept growing.

My early mornings of weeding my section of the garden were taken over by my watching the young osprey flap their wings in their nest. Weeds started to grow.

Loretta, in desperation, cut the tops off the weeds in the beet patch so she could find them to thin them. Sofia, Meaghan, and Carol Ann joined her in thinning beets and carrots and picking peas and beans.

Carol Ann started a beautification project on bushes on the west side of the house and in front of our building called “Ole St. Joe’s.”

The week before the contest, our local newspaper, The Valley Gazette, had an article called, “The Judges are Coming…” It said, “The community would like to remind all businesses and residents to tidy up their property before the judges arrive.”

For us, this just wasn’t possible. On August 15th , as our grass and weeds grew, we celebrated the Feast of the Assumption. The 16th had appointments that took most of us either to Ottawa or Peterborough. And that evening, we received the news that our good friend, Irma Zaleski, had died.

We did have Communities in Bloom marked on our calendar for Friday, August 19 at 10 a.m. and were not sure what that meant for us. It was sort of like the children’s game of Hide and Seek when someone announces, “Ready or not, here I come.”

I had just returned from an hour of adoration at the parish. The doorbell rang, and there they were: two judges ready for a tour of our property.

They had just been to Madonna House, so I explained that we were here as Madonna House serving the local people.

They asked me what we do, and I said, “Our first job is to love God and then each other and then to receive people who come to our door as Christ.”

We went to the garden. Somehow it was enhanced by the deer fence and the long grass with little leopard frogs hopping through it. The garden was alive with hummingbirds coming to the tall morning glories and with sparrows and finches coming to the sunflowers. The honey bees and bumblebees were buzzing around the squash blossoms.

In the distance, far beyond our tall trees, you could hear the call of the young osprey. In the marsh behind our house, the water lilies were in bloom.

Yes, that morning, our garden, which Loretta and I had cared for often in the early morning hours and others had helped with in the evening, was an enchanted space.

The tomatoes were ripening, and gladiolas were starting to bloom. The corn was starting to ear, and the parsley and parsnip tops were green. The bean plants were still producing.

The weeding and thinning of the beets and carrots made them look cared for. The rainbow-colored Swiss chard was growing nicely. The broccoli and bok choy had beautiful green leaves.

I told them a garden needs to be beautiful to feed the soul as well as to grow food to feed the body.

As the judges walked around, they took notes. They were interested that we had chickens, bee hives, and compost piles.

I told them about our involvement in the local community as neighbors to neighbors and about our clothing room and household miscellaneous shop and about our participation in the local parish life. When they left, I thought that would be the last I would see of them.

But the next day, they returned. We went back to the garden, and they told us that we had won second prize for the best vegetable garden! They talked to Sandra and told her that we were invited to go to Barry’s Bay (the nearby town) in the evening for the awards presentation.

We went and there we were all very surprised when we were told that St. Joseph’s House had also won first prize for the best community garden!

That is how all six of us standing together with that award got our pictures in the local newspaper.

Now, on September 23rd, as I finish writing this article, the wood is all stacked, we are pulling up plants in the garden, the root crops are waiting in the ground until cooler weather, the chickens have been butchered, and the honey has been taken from the hives.

Here at St. Joseph’s House our daily lives are so full of helping neighbors, taking care of the shops, attending Mass, and our daily household chores. But for a few hours, God sent us Communities in Bloom so that we could see with fresh eyes the beauty of our lives and how it enriches those around us.