For Saint-Henri's secret gardener, retirement means a return to his roots

Carlos Hernandez decided that retirement didn't mean he would stop working. It meant at last he had time to follow his passion.

Carlos Hernandez has channelled his passion for plants into a communal space neighbours can enjoy

Saint-Henri resident Carlos Hernandez says his garden 'brings people together.' (Craig Desson/CBC)

Carlos Hernandez leaps out of bed in the morning for the second act of his working life. The first saw him toiling away as a jeweller. Now that he's retired, he gets to garden.

With his green thumb, Hernandez has created a lush oasis out of an otherwise forgettable rooftop on the converted industrial building where he lives, in Montreal's Saint-Henri neighbourhood.

"When I came up here for the first time, it was really, really bad," Hernandez said.

Instead of giving up on the space, Hernandez rolled up his sleeves and decided to beautify it, after getting the green light from the building's condo association.

He spends every day in the garden, and he's constantly surprised by what he finds.

Hernandez, who is now retired from the jewelry business, works 6 to 7 days a week in the garden. (Craig Desson/CBC)

"I'm desperate to come every morning to the terrace to see what has changed. How big are they getting?" Hernandez said. 

"Everything is growing so fast here in Canada. It gives you so many colours so you have the possibility to really make something beautiful."

Hernandez said he inherited his love of flowers from his mother, and when he moved to Canada from his native Uruguay in 1971, he dreamed of becoming a gardener.

He studied agriculture in Mont-Saint-Hilaire, south of Montreal, but he couldn't make gardening work for him financially.

After immigrating to Canada from Uruguay in 1971, Hernandez hoped to become a gardener, but his career took a different path. (Craig Desson/CBC)

"I loved flowers and plants all my life, but I didn't do it because when I came to Canada, I had to survive," said Hernandez. Instead, he became a jeweller.

Now, with time to work in the rooftop garden daily, he lights up at the thought of its next incarnation.

"This year, it's orange, blue, and white. But next year, it will be another colour."

Watch Carlos Hernandez give a tour of his rooftop garden:

Meet the Saint-Henri resident creating a communal garden for his neighbours.

4 years ago
Duration 1:13
After working as a jeweller, Carlos Hernandez is using retirement to pursue his passion for gardening.

With files from Craig Desson