My unexpected friendship with a neighbour grew into a lasting legacy

This First Person article is written by Angela Robertson, a writer and communications specialist living and working in Qualicum Beach, B.C. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

There are people we meet in life who we may not realize are leaving an indelible mark on us in that moment and we end up carrying them with us for the rest of our lives.

Carlos was one of these people.

Twelve years ago, my husband and I moved into our first home an hour outside of Vancouver, where developments for new families sell out before the shingles are nailed down.

We were in our early 30s and expected to forge fast friendships in a neighbourhood filled with other people the same age, but it wasn’t easy. We were the only ones without kids, which made it hard to make connections. While they planned play dates, we spent our time overhauling our neglected garden with amateurish pride.

But nothing grew.

Walking our dog around the neighbourhood, I studied every lawn. Sometimes, I inconspicuously bent down to read plant tags tucked in the soil. And then there was the house on the corner — the showstopper with an immaculate lawn and a garden full of flowers with names I didn’t know.

One day, I noticed the owner out watering. Intimidated by his talent, I had the urge to stay out of his way but stopped anyway. He introduced himself as Carlos and bent his hose to give our dog a drink.

“You have a beautiful garden,” I said.

It turned out Carlos was a professional landscaper, and graciously offered pruning tips and secrets to making our yard lush. I ran home to tell my husband all of Carlos’s secrets.

I didn’t expect anything to emerge from some friendly neighbourhood banter, but soon there after, I found Carlos with his gardening tools on our lawn. He gave my husband step-by-step instructions, each of which were followed precisely, and we watched our garden with bated breath. Occasionally we spotted Carlos driving down our street to check on its progress too.

A man holds a shovel as he landscapes his front yard.
Angela Robertson’s husband, Shawn, used tips and tricks from their old friend Carlos to make his garden in Metro Vancouver grow. (Angela Robertson)

Over the next few years, our small garden — filled with hostas, black-eyed susans and a beautiful Japanese maple — flourished, and so did our friendship with Carlos. 

So did our family which grew with the birth of our daughter. We often dropped in to see Carlos who kept insisting he wanted to buy her an outfit. “This weekend,” he promised.

A home featuring lush landscaping with a for sale sign out front.
By the time the Robertsons moved out of their home in Metro Vancouver, the yard and garden looked lush after years of tending and advice from Carlos. (Angela Robertson)

One night, a few weeks since our last visit with Carlos, we were invited for dinner by a couple a few doors down. We chatted about the neighbourhood. They complimented us on our garden, and we credited Carlos as we always did.

“I haven’t seen him lately,” I said, followed by the swift and innocent delivery of “it’s too bad he passed away” from our neighbour.

My husband and I were devastated. 

A year after his passing, Carlos’s widow sold their home and a new owner moved in. Eventually, we moved away too. We bought a home on Vancouver Island with a garden 10 times the size we were used to.

We got straight to work.

A man and children play frisbee in a yard.
Angela Robertson’s family spends most weekends out in their yard on Vancouver Island. (Angela Robertson)

It’s been three years, and while it’s not the showstopper Carlos once had, I like to think we’re making him proud. Our garden shed is full of tools, and each spring my husband seeds the lawn like he was shown all those years ago.

I don’t have a photo of Carlos in his beautiful garden, but his image and words will live on in my memory.

Often, when we sit back and comment on how green the grass looks or how triumphant the flowers I now know the names of look, I think of Carlos. I think not only of the skills he taught us that we’ll carry on through our lives and on to others, but the fact that sometimes friendships are forged at the most unexpected times with unexpected people. Sometimes right in our own backyard.

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