Love and nostalgia grow in this garden

 Kate Grigg

Nancy Paylor's head-turning garden echoes the beauty of her childhood home in the Philippines.

KATE GRIGG/SPECIAL TO THE PACKET & TIMES Nancy Paylor's head-turning garden echoes the beauty of her childhood home in the Philippines.

He made the garden for his girls, a reflection of their beauty, Nancy Paylor’s father said. His eldest, and little Nancy, who, every morning before he went to work, helped him water the yellow bells, the bougainvillea, the jasmine with a coconut cup.


There were flowers all around the house. Beans growing at the corner, and a galvanized roof for the rain to drum on, and rainwater running from a pipe for Nancy to shower under, and rice fields beyond, and beyond the rice fields, mountains.

Nancy often dreamed about the mountains. “What’s on the other side?” she wondered, resting in the mango tree, climbing onto a branch in the heat of the day instead of climbing into bed. It was cool among the mango leaves, dreamier with her feet off the ground.

When her sister had an appendectomy, Nancy began to dream of becoming a nurse. The hospital, Nancy discovered, was another sort of garden. Not lush and drenched with colour like the gardens in Laoag (a city in the Philippines), but a place where living things were tended. Where Nancy, hiding under the bed when visiting hours were over, watched the legs of the nurses, and the doctors on their rounds before going from bed to bed with a jug of water. The patients were thirsty. And Nancy’s father had taught her plants that weren’t doing well needed extra water.

Once, Nancy was ill herself. So ill, her parents feared she might die. Nancy remembers her mother’s efforts to feed her, and how she filled a plastic bottle with hot water and folded it in a towel to keep her warm. Perhaps it was almost losing her as a child that later made Nancy’s mother willing to let her go. “Fly, spread your wings,” her mother said when Nancy explained there was a shortage of nurses in Canada. “I will always love you,” her mother said. “Don’t look back when you get on the plane.”

Arriving in Ontario (1966), Nancy was sad to see the trees had died. In the Philippines, there was rain to signal a change of season, no falling leaves or winter snow. Her red cotton coat was little use in the cold; she had to go into Hamilton to buy a wool coat trimmed with fur.

But other things in Canada were warm. The welcome the Paylors gave her, Chris Paylor the hospital administrator (West Haldimand General in Hagersville) and his wife, Millicent. They would come back later, they said, when they found Nancy and another nurse she’d emigrated with still asleep. Nancy’s friend in curlers, Nancy’s hair stiff with hairspray (the bouffant was popular), sticking up around her head. The Paylors’ son, Michael, hardly noticed the state of Nancy’s hair, her smile was so dazzling. Something in her bright, generous smile that made him think she was the girl for him, a love with whom to spend a lifetime.

It was love that brought them to Orillia when, years later, Chris was diagnosed with cancer, and Millicent needed looking after. And love that made Nancy turn her front lawn into a garden, as love had made the garden that surrounded her in childhood. A bed shaped like the letter P for her daughter, Pamela, an A for daughter Angela, a heart-shaped bed with roses in tribute to her mother and mother-in-law. Contributions and cuttings from family and friends — “Every seed that comes into my hand will find a place on my land,” Nancy’s father used to say. And little finds, playful, whimsical things Nancy incorporates into the plantings — a toy train, a smiling mug, shells from the bottom of the ocean. To make people smile as they walk by, to hear them say it gives them joy.

As working as a therapy clown while wintering in Florida brings Nancy joy. She’d like to do clowning here, bring a smile to Alzheimer’s patients and people in pain. She’d like to appear in the Orillia Canada Day parade. It’s important to Nancy. Clowning encompasses everything that matters to her: making people feel better, the energy of colour, the playfulness too often left behind in childhood, the happy vibrancy of a Filipino garden. Clowning is another way of being what her father taught her to be — a person in flower.

Kate Grigg is an artist and writer who grew up in Orillia and tells stories of local people in her weekly column. If you have a story you think she might be interested in, email 

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