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Shakespeare in the Alley.

Griesbach’s unique poetry garden welcomes all.

– By Eliza Barlow

When Stefanie Ivan sold her 800-square foot bungalow in the Westwood neighbourhood to move to a new house in Griesbach, the bathroom was the hardest thing to part with.

For her 35th birthday, when she was a single mother to a young daughter, Ivan had whitewashed the tiny space and thrown a poetry party, inviting all her friends to come over and write verses from some of her favourite poems on her bathroom walls.

Whenever she needed a break, Ivan – a lifelong lover of poetry and literature – would draw a bubble bath and stare up at the inspiring and comforting words.

“I just loved being in that bathroom,” Ivan recalls.

She knew she would somehow, someday, recreate that poetry oasis. Six years later, she’s done it – not in a private bathroom this time, but for the benefit of anyone who happens to walk along her back alley in Griesbach.

Ivan has printed verses from her all-time favourite poems on small chalkboards and hung them at varying heights along her side fence to create Stefanie’s Poetry Garden. She says it was this year’s beautiful May weather, perfect for planting, that convinced her it was finally time to start the project.

Peruse the selection and you’ll find verses from famous poems by such greats as Yeats, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Shelley, Auden, Barrett Browning, Tennyson, Cummings – even Dr. Seuss. That one – from Oh, the Places You’ll Go – is for one of Ivan’s neighbours whose garage backs onto the garden. There are also verses for her daughter, her husband, her daughter’s boyfriend and her 85-year-old mother.

“(These poems) are always with me,” says Ivan. “I’ve always liked literature and poetry. It’s something very private. Your understanding of it is a secret you don’t have to share with anybody.

“I think poetry enhances everybody’s life.”

It’s tough for her to pick a favourite, but when pressed she points to a verse from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–/ I took the one less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference.” That poem has meant a lot to her, all her life, says Ivan.

An avid gardener, Ivan has planted hollyhocks among the poetry verses. They haven’t yet grown as high as she would like, so she’s planning to give vertical gardening a try at a later date.

“I’m not into perfection,” she says, noting she chose to write out the verses in “my own sad little printing” instead of using stencils or something fancier.

She likes to think of people walking past the fence and stopping to see the flowers and read a spot of poetry.

“It’s my way of giving to the neighbourhood,” she says. “It’s just a little bit of me.”
Find Stefanie’s Poetry Garden in the alley behind 144 Avenue.

Stefanie Ivan in her poetry garden, a space she’s created in her back alley in Griesbach. Photo by Eliza Barlow.

Stefanie Ivan in her poetry garden, a space she’s created in her back alley in Griesbach. Photos by Eliza Barlow.