poetry and prose about place

garden escapes: balm-of-Gilead

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My mom used to take me for a walk around the garden when I visited. One of her favorite trees was the balm-of-Gilead. Her original tree had escaped into other places along the driveway and she loved its tenacity. She always pulled a leaf from a low branch and crushed it to bring forth the smell … slightly medicinal, aromatic and balsamic. I also love the colour, green with a tinge of orange bronze.


The balm-of-Gilead (Populus × jackii or P.× gileadensis), is the hybrid between balsam poplar and eastern cottonwood. This hybrid is sometimes planted as a shade tree, and sometimes escapes from cultivation.



As we drive the roads of abandoned houses and community, I often see balm-of-Gilead before I see any other garden escapes.


In 1898,  Beaufort, Carleton County, was a community with 1 post office and a population of 100. Today, there is only one, modern house in the community. But remnants of old gardens still remain. We saw many garden plants, both persisting and escaping: monkshood, dropwort, orange day-lily and butter-and-eggs. There were also apple trees and a poplar I identified as balm-of-Gilead.


Today Beaufort is a long, lonely road with only traces of the former community.


I took a slip of Mom’s balm-of-Gilead and planted it at our cabin property. It is taking its time, growing a little more each year. I think, when I am gone, perhaps this tree will have grown and be sending out descendants of its own.


This work was made possible by a Creations Grant from artsnb!


Take care, stay safe.

Don’t get Covid-tired.

Be tenacious like the balm-of-Gilead.


Written by jane tims

August 3, 2020 at 7:00 am

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