Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Et in Acadia ego: a plantsman's odyssey

Bob Howard and lavish rhodo
Bob and his wife Dessie moved to Nova Scotia a decade ago: Bob and I become friends four decades ago, and he organized our enchanting lecture tour, which took us through much of this amazing province. Acadia derives from the Greek, Arcadia--the idyllic, pastoral corner of the Peloponese which I have in fact traversed twenty years earlier. Nova Scotia was an Arcadian paradise when the impoverished French colonists arrived in the 16th Century, albeit already occupied by the Qalipu Mi'kmaq "first nations" people (Canadians avoid the term "Indian"). It was wonderfully pastoral for our visit as well. Thank you Bob!

Stevenson/Archibald garden from above
 Our first hosts were Steven Archibald and Sheila Stevenson: I could not have conjured two more welcoming, scintillating and just plain loveable hosts--this view of their amazing garden was taken from the topmost level of their gorgeous home (sixth storey? the house kept rising from within) down into the sunny dale with their padlocked potager...no deer allowed in there! By the way, the Rhodo in the first frame was taken in their amazing garden.

Caltha palustris "gone wild" in Duff and Donna Evers' garden
We must have visited a few dozen private gardens on our trip--one more beautiful than the next. The Evers' garden would rate high on my lifetime list of great private gardens--one rock garden after another, endless borders and woodland beds, all filled with perfectly grown treasures, combined with artistry. Donna was apologetic about her thousands of marsh marigolds...I was envious.

Wild Coptis trifolia in their garden
 Donna was perhaps a tad annoyed that I made such a fuss over her patch of goldthread: it grew there on its own, and she'd taken it just a tad for granted. Not quite like a visitor praising your dandelions, I know, but just the same...
Donna Evers
 The lady herself. Donna and Duff have gardened the same length of time I've gardened in mine. They made me feel like a tyro. Come to think of it, not many public gardens are this ambitious and well maintained. I would have liked to visit it again and again during the growing season.

View from kitchen window of Donna and Duff's garden
 The views from their home are as dazzling as the garden itself.

Wild Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) in one of many provincial parks near Halifax
 I had a hard time getting used to the lavish displays of rhodora everywhere--everywhere, that is, except in people's gardens (with one exception...be patient!)

John Stanton and Ruth Jackson
Ruth pursued a fascinating career as a chief scientist with the Canadian Geological Survey and John is a structural engineer specializing in piers and wharves: they are both athletic, well traveled, and made their elegant home utterly welcome to us--not to mention that they wined and dined us and drove to some of the most enchanting Provincial parks that were brimming with wildflowers during our visit (see preceding blog post on Cypripedium acaule)...the following group of pix are of some of the highlights of those hikes, and a very few shots of their stunning home garden (which has expanded--as they so often do--onto their neighbor's properties!).

Glaucidium palmatum in Ruth Jackson and John Stanton's garden
I have watched many a Glaucidium gasp its last in Denver...Ruth's was just perfect during our visit. Fume...fume...jealousy...teeth gritting.
Trillium undulatum and Clintonia borealis in a provincial park
John and Ruth took us on several enchanting hikes in the abundant Provincial parks around Halifax--I was thrilled to see this challenging trillium in the wild. The Clintonia was a bonus!

Coptis trifolia wild
Goldthread seemed to like to grow near water. I love those flowers!
Gigantic lichen on a trunk
I've never seen a lichen like this monster.

Populus grandidentatum foliage emerging
I am not sure what impressed me more: the bronze foliage on all the Amelanchier when we first arrived or this polar bear coating on the bigtooth aspen. I know I want to plant similar plants in my garden soon as a memento!

Meconopsis baileyi (formerly quintuplinervia) at John and
Not much one can say: the color says it all!
Closeup of same
Can one resist pictures of these? I must have hundreds.

Cypripedium arietinum in the gypsum fen
A few days later we found ourselves in the woods trying to keep up with Jamie Ellison, a dynamo plantsman who teaches horticulture at a college: he took us into the woods where we saw THREE species of ladyslipper. I blogged about the yellow earlier--here's the rarest of the species in Nova Scotia. I saw an almost identical cyp in Yunnan years ago (Cypripedium plectrochilum)...

Jamie Ellison weeping over Shepherdia canadensis
Here is the man himself! I don't think the buffaloberry has moved him that much--perhaps he's brushing away a mosquito!

Elephant rock on seashore of Nova Scotia
Jamie brought us to a remarkable beach with these sandstone monoliths carved by the winter storms. I clearly see an elephant in this!

Irving Student Union in
Nearby there is an agricultural college with an exquisite native plant garden (bad pix on my part--sorry! Take my word for it). The Irving family, owners of many of Canada's biggest industries, were alumni, and gifted a truly monumental student union that was palatial in its scope. I approve of that sort of expenditure for education!

Rhododendron smirnowii x fortunei hybrids at Kentville Experimental Farm
We spent an enchanted hour at the old experimental farm which was once where many of the most amazing rhodos for colder zones were bred. Fortunately, they are still growing in fantastic drifts like this!

Part of Jamie's dazzling rock garden
Jamie's garden is artistically gorgeous, but also a massive collection of all manner of plants from near tropical to alpines and woodlanders galore!

A succulent samba
The backlighting on the crassulas was positively electricv!

Incredible backlight on crassulas at Jamie's

Jamie's living wall hanging
Jamie has no end of experimental goings on: I loved the living wall...not easy to do in my climate...

View from Bob and Dessie Howard's home facing north
Back to the Howards--I loved their vast new garden, which they're going about planting deliberately...the rock garden was first!

Papaver fauriei (P. miyabeanum)
I thought this was beautifully nestled here...

Bob and naturalized Doronicum cordifolium
My old buddy next to Leopard's bane that has naturalized around his property--all planted by his predecessors.
Wild Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive fern) at the Howards'
I must do a whole blog on the ferns I saw--here's a wonderful mass of sensitive fern at Bob's...

North facing rock garden at Howards'
The newish rock garden was already sporting some wonderful plants.

Lithodora diffusa 'Heavenly Blue'
This never grew this well for me: it obviously needs the Maritime climate!

Lewisia 'Little Peach'
The hybrid lewisias do very well in Nova Scotia. We saw them several places...

Our next stop was Truro where Jeff Morton took us on a tour to Victoria Park in the middle of his town--fabulous waterfalls and woods.

A glimpse of Jan when we spent the day touring wonderful gardens.

Iris cristata 'Powder Blue Giant'
Our last few days we were hosted by John Weagle, a legendary plantsman from Halifax who has many claims to fame--as a gardener, a hybridizer and bon vivant! The Iris above was grown by his partner and co-gardener, Ken Shannik. The two of them have expanded far beyond their modest city lot to friends and neighbors far and wide--a sort of Knight's move Botanic Garden across Halifax!

A wonderful border in one of their borrowed gardens...

Diphylleia cymosa
This gorgeous native plant is rarely seen in gardens--and I have never seen it so artistically combined.

Schisandra rubriflora
Of the many amazing plants I saw on this trip, this remarkable "magnolia vine" with scarlet flowers surprised me most. I've not seen this around--and Ken and John's plant was positively monstrous, draping a whole fence. Presumably this has weathered the -20C they claim they've had last winter--if so, I would expect this to start showing up soon in more places.

Nothofagus sp.
Many of the plantsmen's gardens in both Newfoundland and Nova Scotia boasted large and stately Nothofagus. I remember that it was a truism in "American" horticulture that no South American woody plants were reliably hardy on the east coast north of Washington D.C.--but then again, Canada is not "America" sensu non-lato.

Peggy's Cove
John drove us by Peggy's Cove--a village of enormous, austere charm (if that combo is possible!)...
It is also extremely attractive to tourists, as you can see...we didn't linger this time!

Campanula chammisonis
Surely this has to be one of the loveliest campanulas. Coming as it does from the nearly identical climate of northeastern Asia, it's no accident it performs in such stellar fashion--this is in a hauntingly beautiful private garden where we ended our touring...

A glimpse of a tiny piece of that enormous and magnificent garden, cared for by Ken. The former owner dropped by while we were there--a surprise and bonus.

Rhododendron canadense (albino)

I shall end this overview with Rhodora--as I began my Maritime series of blog postings--the only specimen I ever saw in any gardens was in this extravaganza garden on the sea. And of course it was an albino!

I have flogged the poor Maritime provinces in seven or more blog postings now: I am impressed at how much I have not even touched upon. Whole gardens we've not visited, woodlands and views. I have a few more postings I shall squeeze out of this delicious trip before I'm done, I'm sure, but had to include this sort of overview before those first impressions began to fade.

I have spoken in well over a hundred cities and many countries: I hare rarely met with such friendliness and generosity as I have this past few weeks in both Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. I am concerned that I've left a substantial little piece of my heart there: I do hope one day we may go back at our leisure and luxuriate in one of North America's loveliest regions.


  1. Did you happen to see any of the more boreal species of orchids? Things like Amerorchis and Platanthera obtusata?


  2. Did you see any of the more boreal species of orchids? This might include species like Amerorchis and Platanthera obtusata.


    1. I asked about the former--I don't believe it grows in N.S.--possibly Newfoundland, but we were in the wrong places for orchids in the latter. They have a wealth of Platantheras in Newfoundland that Todd Boland has researched including several Platantheras, Pogonia, Arethusa and Calopogon--all of which abound in the abundant wetlands thereabouts. But they bloom later in the season by and large--a great reason to visit!

  3. Wow Panayoti, our hats don't fit and there are no buttons left on our vests. Thank you for the glowing reviews of our gardens, both public and private. We truly enjoy your presentations. Do come again.
    Duff & Donna


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