I gasped the first time I saw our back garden in full bloom. It was not long after our offer on the house we now live in was accepted, when the owners had us back for a more detailed tour. Stepping into the garden I truly couldn’t believe my eyes. Roses in full bloom were spilling out everywhere and tree blossoms hummed with bees. A jasmine border lined the entire back fence. A pair of meyer lemon trees (more like large shrubs) were blossoming. There was a raised garden bed constructed of stone and a massive olive tree arching over a significant portion of the back yard. In spite of being set smack in the middle of a suburban neighbourhood, it felt as if I’d stepped into my own personal secret garden. It offered not only complete privacy from the surrounding homes, but had been designed as a delightful sanctuary appealing to all the senses. I was awestruck. We hadn’t just purchased our first home, we bought a garden!
Growing up on the Canadian prairies I was influenced by three garden spaces belonging to my parents, paternal grandparents, and paternal great-grandparents. My parents owned 30 acres only a few minutes’ drive away from grandparents’ own rural property, and some of my most enduring childhood memories include spending time in the vast vegetable garden and walking through the fields to find wild roses. We could never have much in the way of flowers in our home due to my mom’s allergies, so I vowed that one day my future home would be filled to the brim with flowers (except when my mom visited of course!).
In spite of being set smack in the middle of a suburban neighbourhood, it felt as if I’d stepped into my own personal secret garden.
My Grandma was forever harvesting fresh produce and flowers from her gardens and us grandchildren always delighted in the tart, puckering promise of a crunchy stem of rhubarb or crab apple plucked from a tree.
My grandparents’ home featured expansive country gardens that included a crab apple orchard, multiple vegetable gardens, an exceptional range of flower beds, and views of a pond filled with geese and ducks that my Grandpa tended to. My Grandma was forever harvesting fresh produce and flowers from her gardens and us grandchildren always delighted in the tart, puckering promise of a crunchy stem of rhubarb or crab apple plucked from a tree. My grandparents’ home and gardens were probably my greatest influence on my passion for the harmonious blend of architecture and nature.
While I didn’t spend near as much time at my great-grandparents’, their home in Winnipeg was situated on a large lot in the city. My memory of it was that the back yard was a magical oasis. My Opa was a skilled wood worker and filled the rolling property with wishing wells and enchanting niches that looked as if fairies and elves dwelled there on a permanent basis. It was a backyard that beckoned a child’s imagination to take flight and I always delighted in allowing mine do so.
By the time we moved to British Columbia just before I turned 13, the joys of the garden, no matter what the style or size, were permanently rooted in my psyche. From then on, I was obsessed with how nature could be mindfully cultivated in order to bring both beauty and bounty into one’s everyday experience.
As a young artist and photographer, I sought inspiration from the blossoms of the Okanagan Valley’s myriad of fruit orchards. In university I indulged in purchasing my first store-bought bouquets from the flower stalls of Vancouver’s Granville Island market and Kitsilano’s neighbourhood shops. During the summers I returned home to the Okanagan to plant flowers for the city, hauling and planting hundreds of flats of marigolds and zinnias every May and June. I traveled to Morocco and found myself mesmerized by the lush courtyards of Fez and Marrakech, and to the English countryside where chocolate box cottages spilled over with a riot of colour and fragrance. An Eden of my own became my goal and that was realized the moment we closed on our home. I mean, our garden.
Over the past five years, Will and I have both flourished and floundered as eager, beginner gardeners. We’ve celebrated bumper crops of lemons with pies and daily honey and lemon tonics, sat lazily under the arc of the olive tree while sipping local white wine on hot summer days, and filled our home with a rotation of blossoms, unfurling roses, and vessels filled with olive branches. We’ve also battled typical garden pests, made poor planting calls (my succulents and a couple of finicky shrubs still irritate me but I don’t know when I’ll have time to uproot them and replant something else in their place), struggled to get cucumbers to taste just right, and let our garden run out of control following the birth of each baby. But it’s ours and it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a secret garden.
I also love that our children are going to grow up smelling jasmine and citrus and roses, with those scents imprinted on their psyche, taking those fragrant memories wherever they go. It’s the perfect backyard paradise for painting, flower picking, and planting their first vegetables. This garden brings inspiration into my life on a daily basis, no matter the season or the weather. It has taught me how to bring inspiration into my home and find beauty in every day no matter what challenges we might face as a family. Nature brought into our home feels like a soothing balm when days are tough, and a source of inspiration when the routine of motherhood feels a bit mundane. We bought a house, for sure, but the garden will always be our most cherished part of this place.
“I also love that our children are going to grow up smelling jasmine and citrus and roses with those scents imprinted on their psyche, taking those fragrant memories wherever they go.”