Two very different gardens

Janice Wells
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Landscape cloth and several inches of stone insure that Nancy and Dell's back garden is weed-free.

I can’t say “mark your calendars” because as far as I know the date hasn’t been set for the second annual Mystery Garden Tour. But I’m sure there will be one and I’m sure you should go because the inaugural tour, the first weekend of this month, was nothing short of marvellous.

I couldn’t write about it last week, but believe me it wasn’t for lack of enthusiasm; I left town the next day and had my column already done.

I won’t use up space telling you who the four sponsors were and how it all worked. You can look all that up. (Coles notes: 12 private gardens in the greater St. John’s area, two days to visit them between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on your own schedule, a map, suggested route and brief descriptions provided.)

Daughter No. 2 and I got started Saturday afternoon. Papering a wall in the nursery was also on the agenda, and the forecast indicated that Saturday morning was the best time to plan to stay indoors.


Sunday morning it pour­ed. Undaunted, we were at the first garden at 10 on the dot. After the ones we’d seen Saturday, it would have taken a hurricane to keep us away.

We, of course, are diehards, but I can say with no doubt that even people who have no interest in ever having a garden of their own would be fascinated, flabbergasted, in­form­ed and perhaps even inspir­ed by each and every one of the gardens we saw.

We started in Torbay and proceeded to Outer Cove. You could not imagine two more different gardens in the same climate.

The first one, in a fairly new development, was very controlled and almost Zen-like, with lots of rock, stone, gravel and brick introduced into the space and used very deliberately.

The plant material was mainly low evergreens, heathers and shrubs, with some annuals. The homeowners wanted low maintenance. They wanted to see order even when they came back from travelling, and achieved it in a very unique way, described as a rockscape.

Daughter and I were captivated and admiring and glad to have seen such a different approach to gardening. It was a handsome androgynous garden, neatly and starkly attired, strict and sophisticated.

The next garden was like a beautiful, buxom blowsy woman with jewelry and makeup tumbling out all over her dressing table.

It began its evolution in 1977 and also had its share of rocks, but any similarity to the first ends there. It was a garden of years of layers and maintenance; in situ rock gardens, perennial borders, woodland areas, vegetables, berries, troughs … I’d have to go back again and probably spend a few hours to list it all.

Again we were captivated and admiring, but we also fell in love a little bit, perhaps because we both identified with the untailored ambiance. (In fairness, Daughter has her areas of neatness; you should see how she organizes her nail polish!)

We were astounded by the diminutive, not-young-in-years owner, who looks after all but the mowing. I didn’t get a chance to ask her, but from the appearance of the rock garden, I assumed she simply worked with the rocky slope that nature gave her. I could be totally wrong and the natural appearance of the rockery areas may be the result of well thought out placement of rocks she didn’t want in other parts of the garden. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

To traditional gardeners, if you have to bring in rocks to create a rock garden, the ultimate goal is to make them look as natural as possible. The rocks provide a setting for the plants.

On the other hand, if you have some great rocks, or have actually imported them into your garden, you may want to showcase them or, at the least, not allow the plant material to obscure them. It depends on the rocks and your site and how much work you want to put into it.

Two down, 10 to go. I’ll tell you about the others over the coming months.


Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size photographs, as they are too small to publish.

Organizations: MacIntyre Purcell Publishing

Geographic location: Torbay

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