Garden spirit

Gardening thoughts and inspirations

Tag: sustainability

Get outside!

I recently attended a Horticultural Trade show. There were a number of workshops offered at the show and I signed up for a full day course focused on landscape design.

One of the speakers was a landscape architect from Vermont, Julie Messervy. She has her own landscape design company that works all over the east coast of the States. She talked about her design process and shared her philosophy for creating dynamic outdoor spaces. Julie also has a motto – ” Get outside!”. She has designed some amazing , interactive children’s gardens and her passion for connecting children with nature was very inspiring.

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Photo courtesy of Julie Messervy Design Studio

At the start of the workshop, she guided us in a small exercise to discuss with each other our most exciting garden experience. It could be a specific place and/or what we felt a garden needed to create a great experience. Each table of about 8 people , (there were about 50 people in total there) got to share these experiences which we then summarized and shared with everyone at the workshop. A few people had specific gardens that they felt ticked all the right boxes for their great garden experience. But many people also had chosen certain aspects of a garden design which they felt would always have to be present for their great garden experience. Here were the main points that were brought up :

  • Water – every single group said that there had to be some form of water in the garden. From a reflective pond to a stream or waterfall.
  • The Senses – there needed to be aspects of the garden that stimulated the senses which included fragrance, texture, dynamic colours, and again the sound of water.
  • Surprises – a great garden experience must include something surprising and unexpected. A garden that suddenly opens up to a spectacular view. Or a hidden, secret garden in someones back yard.
  • Wildlife – A garden that has great bio-diversity that can attract all kinds of wildlife.
  • Sustainability – A garden that is designed and maintained with a thought to sustainable management. The right plant in the right place, water wise plantings, composting debris etc.

These were just a few of the points that kept repeating through all the group discussions. One person at my table said that they remember going to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver as a little girl. She said that she still remembers the experience and that it was the moment when she knew she wanted to work in the landscaping industry. People also listed  gardens from Europe, the States and also Buchart gardens in Victoria. Some designers had a favourite design they had done.

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But out of the discussions, it became clear that each ‘great experience’ connected with us on a deeper level, something that was hard to articulate. It created a very strong memory in some people. There is a certain check list that a great garden can follow, but in the end if there is not a deeper emotional connection, the experience is missing something. This is obviously very personal for everyone. What would your great garden experience be? A specific place? Or a time of year? What aspects of a garden are necessary for you to have a great experience?

This summer I went on a holiday to Victoria with my family. We ended up going to a place called Government House. This is the office and official home of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.  It used to be a private residence that had a vast, estate like property. By the time BC joined Canada in 1871, it turned into the Lieutenant Governors’ residence. The original gardens were designed in 1911 and had large renovations in the sixties and seventies. Due to government cutbacks in the 1980’s,  a staff of 17 gardeners was reduced to one. Today, Government House has a large garden that is open to the public.

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When we were there this August, my family and I had a chance to explore the grounds on a beautiful, late summer evening. When we arrived we found  a classical concert being played on a small stage. An audience was spread out on the lawn on blankets and chairs. These concerts happen throughout the summer. As we walked through the garden , the beautiful music kept drifting in and out of earshot – a mysterious soundtrack that echoed through the garden. We saw some deer in the orchard , munching on some fallen apples. There was also a group of people practicing Tai-Chi on the lawn. In the rose garden there was a university student sketching some of the roses and my children ended up playing tag on one of the lawns too.

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I enjoyed all the amazing plants and mature trees. There are some beautiful perennial borders, rockery plantings, 2 immaculately maintained formal rose gardens, ponds, and some very big old trees that give the garden a sense of history.

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After exploring the garden as the sun was setting, I realized that this place ticked all my boxes for a great garden experience. There were some stunning combinations of drought tolerant perennials and ornamental grasses; ponds and waterfalls; large, mature trees and evergreens; big views; and very little annuals! I also realized that for me, a great garden must be used. There were people strolling around the paths, an outdoor concert being played , and my children laughing and running around the lawns. A garden has to be a place that people can enjoy the space for different activities. It can’t be static, like an old painting.

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I felt the gardens were beautifully maintained and wondered how much staff they had maintaining the grounds today. There was certainly a lot of love and passion that went into these gardens. What made this garden even greater was that I found out that the garden is maintained by volunteers from the community!! Almost 200 people that live nearby in Victoria donate a minimum of 4 hrs a week of their time. They are called “The friends of the Government House Gardens Society”. It was established in the early nineties, to help enhance and maintain the neglected gardens. Obviously, there is some great management of this huge, volunteer workforce as the garden looked amazing. This group continues to maintain the grounds today and also implements updated designs and plantings. There were newer, drought tolerant perennial plantings that were dynamic and exciting. This is not a garden stuck in the past. All the volunteers must enjoy gardening and must love this garden because I really had a sense that I was in a special place. A space that is passionately cared for by this inspiring group of volunteers.

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The Government House gardens are open to the public from dawn till dusk and there is ample free parking. If you are ever in Victoria, please visit the gardens there. It may not become a great garden experience for you but I can promise you that you will not be disappointed.

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Rain, rain gone away…

I can’t believe it has been so long since my last post. We had such a mild spring in the Pacific Northwest this year and then summer started early, so work has just been hopping along since February. Now, I finally feel there is time to catch my breath and post again….

The Alaska Mountain Range and the Chulitna River in the Clear Mid Afternoon

Summer Sizzle

We have had warm summer temps that started in May. Then June was incredibly hot. July started the same and only yesterday did we finally get some rain. To west coast standards the rain we had was pretty pathetic. More of a light drizzle. Plants are suffering, lawns are a burnt brown already and its hard to work in the constant heat.

According to the weather network we usually receive on average about 81 mm of rain from June 1st. This year we are at 7.4 mm since June 1st. Forest fires are being fought all over the province. Last week our sky was a hazy fog of smoke from some forest fires burning in our area. The sun was a spooky orange glow from behind the haze and it was actually hard to breathe outside for some people. Many local municipalities have introduced water restrictions and some have put an all out ban on lawn sprinklers due to the low level of our water reservoirs. There was significantly less snow pack this winter and significantly less rain this spring. Our area is experiencing what some people might call a crisis.

Water wise?

I have a client that I do occasional garden maintenance for. He is an older gentleman , and I help out with things he can’t get to. He is a very nice guy and we usually chat when I am there to garden. Of course, we discuss the weather and on my last visit the drought we are experiencing was a topic. I noticed how his lawn is still green. He told me he is only allowed one day a week to water due to water restrictions.  So he was quite proud of having very little browning with 3 months of little rain. He explained – he gets up at 5am and starts in the front. He has quite a large front lawn and has to move the sprinkler 4 times to “hit all parts” of it. He then moves to the back lawn and has 3 moves…one of his proud weapons in his arsenal is a stainless steel impact sprinkler that can shoot up to 40 ft. Wow! I didn’t know what to say. By 9am he has to switch off and his 4 hour water sprinkling job is done. I wonder how much water he uses in that time? How much of it hits his driveway and runs off quickly to the drain in his cul de sac? A few hundred litres? In 4 hours , I would expect even more.

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This years drought has been worse then usual. Some people blame the El Nino weather pattern, others blame climate change. I am not wishing to argue one way or another, or get into a pointless argument on what is causing it. The fact is our region IS experiencing our worst drought ever. I know that the last 3 summers have had long periods of drought. I feel that this is going to be a regular pattern for us. Many other areas in North America have had and are experiencing similar patterns.

A change will do you good!

I feel that we need to change our attitudes towards water use. We need to start learning how to manage our water resources in a more conscious way. I applaud the municipalities that have introduced an all out ban on lawn sprinkling and others that have put restrictions on when people can water.

The lush green lawn and white picket fence were ingrained into our society in the 20th century. The ideal suburban lifestyle. For some reason the white picket fence fell by the wayside but the perfect , golf green looking lawn is still stuck in our psyche of what a home must have.

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I understand the benefits of lawn. I have children that play soccer, badminton and run around our brown/dry lawn all the time. It will come back once the weather cools down and the rain comes again. A little bag of grass seed and some soil for topdressing will help it bounce back. Its not the end of the world.

Using a sprinkler to water a lawn for 4 hrs twice a week is in my opinion unrealistic.  Lawns don’t require endless watering. In times of drought a lawn will turn brown. In times of extreme drought a lawn will go completely dormant. I would argue that 90% of people don’t use their front lawns in an urban environment anyway. They are just there for looks. Should we waste our valuable water resources on cookie cutter parcels of lawn? Just for aesthetics?

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This photo was taken on July 10th at a clients garden. I have watered it 4 times since May. There are drought tolerant alternatives to lawn that also add more biodiversity.

Every drop helps!

My client is of an older generation. He won’t be convinced of reducing his sprinkling efforts. He must keep his lawn green at all costs. His municipality doesn’t have an all out ban yet and until it does he will continue to get up at 5am and start his 4 hour lawn sprinkling routine. I don’t think any argument will stop him. But we must start educating the next generation to understand that our water is not a never ending supply , especially in times of drought. We have to educate everyone to understand that we all must make a sacrifice and compromise. We must reduce wasteful water consumption.

I think that everyone would agree that it is more important to have a water supply that supplies us with drinking water. We may have a brown lawn for a couple of months. But I feel it is worth it. It is worth it for us now and for our future generations. Do you agree?

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