From Two Gardens
2020.07.28Aileen Lee

From Two Gardens

Jenny Eng and Sophia MacKenzie attended our “Share Your Story” pop up, where we collected stories from the everyday women. In our times of social distancing, the friendship between “JJ” and “Sophie” is maintained with a language of exchanging veggies, flowers and little homemade gifts.

“Aaah, back in February, when we were all so innocent,” JJ had written in our recent email correspondence.

I first met Jenny (a.k.a. JJ) months ago in late February at our pop up, just before Vancouver’s dramatic lock down in response to the pandemic. She had attended the event with her close friend, Sophia (who introduced herself as Sophie).

On the surface, the two women could not have been more different. JJ’s black hair was short, styled in a slick back undercut. There was an air of crispness in her reserved smile. However, in spite of her cool demeanour, she was surprisingly shy behind the camera.

On the contrary, Sophie’s appearance exuded a gentle dreaminess. Her wavy brown hair was pulled into a loose bun and wispy locks framed her warm, hazel eyes. Yet, beyond her softer exterior, it was Sophie who took the reins and encouraged JJ to relax for the story shoot and interview.

Currently in school, JJ is studying exhibition design. She also makes furniture in her spare time. She enjoys working with her hands, taking a raw material and giving it form. One of her proudest project is a low Japanese table — a design without fasteners and with pieces that fit together like a puzzle.

“JJ is passionate about everything in design,” Sophie interceded, taking over her friend’s modest self-introduction, “She has non-stop creative energy, and is always on the go. JJ is not just a loyal friend either. She often goes out of her way for other people.”

Sophie is a plant based blogger (Whole Hearted Eats) and a recipe developer. She holds a master degree in journalism and  studied sociology. Her favourite pick-me-up recipe is her warm banana bread cookies.

“Sophie is so much more than a blogger,” JJ ardently jumped in, “She is an avid gardener, the mama of two cats, a loving partner and a social activist. She advocates zero waste practices in her work, is a writer extraordinaire, a brilliant recipe developer and a food stylist.”

“Sophie can do everything, and is constantly giving,” JJ added.

The two had met only four years ago as employees at a local roaster coffee roaster. JJ had worked as a barista then and Sophie a baker. They first bonded over their mutual love for food and design, and time had only cemented the friendship between these creative souls.

Fast forward to four months after the pop up event — when the pandemic had turned our world upside down. With social distancing now in place, meeting with others had become discouraged and sometimes inaccessible. If this was nature’s way to test friendships, I wondered how many would obtain a passing grade.

“How do the two of you stay in touch?” I reached out separately to JJ and Sophie.

Sophie first responded, “JJ and I have had some social distance hangs on my porch — she would ride her bike over as a break from school. We’d often exchange plants or garden treats — she brought me bok choy and I gave her some edible flower starts —plus some good old fashion letter writing.”

JJ also talked about gardening and edible flowers in her reply.

“Aah, good ol'Sophie,” JJ wrote, “Sophie is an angel on this earth. It's exciting to see her skills and new vision through her revamped website and portfolio. I know she's been working really hard on her garden too. Each year that I visit, it's a new landscape of vegetable and flowers I didn't know could be grown in someone's backyard.”

“On a physically distant visit, Sophie and her partner gave me some borage seedlings to try in my garden and since they've rooted, they are a delight for the bumblebees. She also gave me three nasturtium seedlings which are also a new addition to my garden. When I told my parents that those gramophone-like flowers were edible they were really surprised. The cultural difference between our gardens is something that I find very interesting.”

Although this year had been plagued one shocking news after another, it was comforting to see JJ and Sophie’s friendship unchanged. Their exchange of care, support and inspiration remained steadfast.

JJ elaborated, “We generally connect through exchanging worries, concerns, realities, facts and discussing social justice related issues. Also, if you get a chance to be fed by Sophie, you'll know that you'll be leaving full of colourful, nourishing food that will make you feel like you can run a marathon afterwards.”

“I made Sophie a pop-up flower card because I was really missing company and I needed an excuse to cycle across the city for my own mental health,” JJ added.

“— and JJ makes the best cards!” Sophie exclaimed in her message. “Since she has been super busy with class, we send check-in notes to make sure each of us are doing well. It lets us know that we’re thinking about one another.”

While every friendship has its own set of social distancing language, JJ and Sophie’s way of communicating with garden goods and handmade cards connects them via the same creative energy they had always shared and loved.

I, too, think that their methods are a welcoming shift from the usual interaction over the internet. Perhaps nature’s test of friendship was really just an encouragement for us to spend more effort on our loved ones and to help grow each other’s gardens.
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