Saturday, May 31, 2014

A garden of Edenic charm.

Wendy Cornwall
One of the many pleasures of taking a lecture tour to a new place is meeting gardeners and seeing new gardens. And one is usually taken to the largest gardens with the most commanding collections of plants. My current jaunt through the Maritime provinces of Canada is no exception, and the garden of Wendy Cornwall has been one of the many highlights of this trip. She has finally read this blog posting--which had several egregious mistakes and misrepresentations, which I hope to rectify on June 17, 2014. The garden is the joint effort of Wendy and her husband John, who passed away several years ago. It is a tribute to their joint talents that such a really large garden can be maintained by one individual, who is fortunately retired and can devote lots of times to the task. This is a grand garden legions of spectacular specimens of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants at their peak of high spring glory during my visit. It is living proof of what super landscape plants rhododendrons can be.

Primula veris
The garden, of course, is primarily a spectacular showcase of mature rhododendrons: dozens and I suspect hundreds of them. But there was no lack of companion plants like this delightful patch of cowslips near the house.

Stephen Archibald and Magnolia x soulangeana
Stephen, who (along with his wife Sheila Stevenson) hosted me at his own remarkable home and garden not far away is standing alongside a spectacular magnolia near the home.

lower garden
A glimpse of the sweep of lawn in an enchanting vale below the house separating it from the street--with woodsy borders full of herbaceous treasures coming into bloom: one could spend hours savoring all the details here: hydrangeas, viburnums and no end of hellebores, trilliums and other gems in sweeping masses. Wendy and John were both Economists by profession,Wendy taught at Mt St. Vincent and he at Dalhousie. The garden is their loving collaboration in their spare time: what greater tribute can there be to plantsmanship than that this garden can have matured to gracefully? This past winter is reputed to have been a fierce one--but I saw no evidence of it in this garden.

Magnolia x soulangeana
Another glimpse of the magnolia--which I drank in deeply since our magnolias in the Denver area were frosted in April (and the late ones in May) after only a few days of bloom.

Heather garden
A very expansive slope featuring all manner of Erica and Calluna--all growing superbly on the bank--obviously enjoying the exposure and drainage. The heaths and heathers love the Maritimes!

The rock garden
There are several gardens featuring rocks and alpines around this enormous garden--this one being alongside the house--with a crevice garden filled with saxifrages and miniature shrubs. Only the earliest rhodos were blooming at this time (the season is almost a month later than usual), but they were spectacular. I can't imagine what this garden will look like in a few weeks: a mass of color!

Side yard with road in the far distance
Looking down from the rock garden to the street in the far distance--a very wide sweep of a view!

Cardamine pratensis
along streamside

Once you have turned and headed the other direction through a bank of rhodos you come on to a vast area focusing on a seasonal stream full of primulas and this delightful vignette--a Lady's smock I've never seen before emerging from the rocky bank.
Closeup of same
Wendy has recently emailed me to say that she brought the seed of this lady's smock from England, and has watched it spread around her garden over the years.

Stream in the upper rock garden
Clumps of marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) are perched strategically along the long stream, with a huge rock garden extending on all sides filled with enormous, mature specimens of rhodos--any Botanic Garden would pride itself on having such extensive and superb rock work and collections. The rock work is apparently largely natural--stones that were on site, although I suspect there was a great deal of enhancement. It is characterized by what the Japanese term "shibui"--the utterly natural elegance of harmony with nature.

Caltha palustris

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)
Closeup of cinnamon fern croziers

Practically every garden I've visited has huge stands of cinnamon fern--all apparently simply native to the site...and the gardeners are wise enough to leave them! I was so jealous...

Wendy and my old buddy Bob Howard chatting and reminiscing
I've known Bob Howard for nearly a half century--since we were both youngsters--and he is the impetus and principal oranizer of my trip to the Maritimes. He is education chair of the local Rhododendron society, and was swapping stories about Captain Steele--a local hybridizer and nurseryman who revolutionized the region, showing that a vast range of rhododendron species and hybrids could be grown (where only the rather limited palette of "ironclads" had prevailed throughout much of the 20th Century). Wendy's garden is a veritable museum of Steele selections grown to perfection. And she has a story for each one. I hope someone is recording these.

Mind you, these are only a smattering of the pictures I took--very early in the gardening season. I hope you can imagine just how wonderful the garden was in reality, and what a work of tender love and care it represents.

The rock garden
The mass of iris on the far left, the sweep of juniper on the rock, the cunning mats of geranium on the right--the rhodos placed just right here and there in the background--all balanced in juxtaposition with the massive rock work--all maturing gracefully over the decades: this is gardening on a grand scale.

And of course the vignettes everywhere of rhodos coming into imposing bloom! I apologize for not recording the names of them all.

Wendy and Bob surveying the upper garden
A gorgeous yellow rhodo with more bright color in the distance

  More glimpses of the garden, and its vistas from various vantage points.

Lawn speckled with Ajuga repens

Wendy was embarrassed by the masses of bugleweed in the lawns: I thought they were charming. I suggested she not view it as a lawn so much as a meadow!

Two large lapponicum section hybrids at base of steps

And a final glimpse of two wonderful lepidote rhodos at the base of a stairway--as we walk away from one of North America's grand gardens. We all plant, dreaming of a time when things mature, and we have lots of great specimens to admire. What a joy to see a garden which has come to such glorious maturity, and seems to have achieved a sort of grace and balance that suggests the eternal. Truly a garden of Edenic charm.


  1. A lovely story.... so nice to see such a personal garden. Thanks for sharing your visit.

  2. Just beautiful, what a wonder to the senses.


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