Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gardens I Have Loved Before - Part 4

If you missed the earlier posts in this series please click on the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Although my horticultural education hit another brief pause when I left my parent's home it didn't end there.  For many years I livied in various rental accommodations with only a few house plants. But I didn't forget about gardening.  Instead I became attracted to other people's gardens.  When I lived on the coast of British Columbia  I spent a lot of time going back and forth on ferries and during those many rides out of the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal I often admired the following scene.

This is an unexpected place to find a garden but thank goodness for its existence.  Many many people besides myself have enjoyed the discovery of this garden and the beauty it provides while you are waiting for the next ferry.  It was a slip of beauty on otherwise bleak days of travel.  It's hard to see through all the greenery but this is actually a container garden.  When I first observed this space the plants were located in buckets.  Later some raised beds were added but as the plants have grown over the years the greenery has obscured the containers and all you can see is lush plants.  Watching this scene emerge from some old restaurant buckets was inspiring to say the least.

When you haven't got the space yourself you sometimes find yourself borrowing space.  Some people are attracted to allotments or community gardens.  I began to visit Van Dusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver, British Columbia.  For several years I volunteered at this public botanical garden as a seed collector and teaching assistant, as well as lending a hand at events such as Seedy Saturday, the annual plant sale and summer garden show.  When I first walked into this garden as a volunteer I felt awed and humbled.  I worried that I didn't know enough to be accepted by these people.  The leader of the seed collecting group I belonged to asked about my background to which I clumsily replied that I was just an amateur.  To her credit the lady, who was a botanist, replied - but aren't we all?  How much I appreciated her words and felt welcomed by them.  There was a lot I didn't know but that can be said for all of us.  When it comes to gardening there are different climates and zones, and thousands of different plants.  Each person I met in that garden had knowledge that was unique to them and we were encouraged to share.  I could not have asked for a better learning experience.

A bird's eye view of the reflecting pool and entrance to the garden
To this day there are ideas that I learned during my time there that come back to me time and again. 

I learned that not every plant in a garden needs to be pretty.  Plain or, even ugly, plants are acceptable and even necessary.  Nature requires balance and we need to see plants for what they bring to an ecosystem, not just their looks.

I learned that you should never be afraid to change your garden.  It takes courage to remove something as large as a tree but it can be done and the results can be wonderful.  Look at the big picture and go for it.  Keep in mind that gardens will change on their own anyway so don't be afraid to shake things up.

My mother's lessons about seed bearing plants were reflected back at me through this botanical garden.  Seed bearing plants are resilient and tough, preserving a genetic code going back thousands of years.  A seed the size of a speck of dust can hold the miracle of a 100 foot tree in its grasp.  By sharing these seeds we are preserving something beautiful and unexpected.  Nature knows best how to take care of itself and seeds are nature's way of preserving and modifying each plant species.  Took lose this would be a terrible tragedy.


  1. Marguerite what a wonderful gardening background you are unfolding, Frances

  2. Love that garden. Great lessons learned!

  3. I really agree with you on viewing plants for more than their looks and using them for what they contribute to the greater ecosystem. Very good post.

  4. What an education you were privileged to get at the botanical garden. I loved the botanist's comment: we are all amateurs in some way!

  5. I love it! Horseshoe Bay was the first place I ever saw ornamental alliums. It was before my gardening days so I didn't know what they were but was obsessed.

    I am really enjoying this trip down the "gardening" lane. :)

  6. Love that tale of how a garden was begun in restaurant buckets by the ferry! I do wish all waiting areas had such pretty scenery! I do agree with you about the sort of plants that must go in a garden. For me, all my plants must be super tough, considering our conditions, and I like a mix of extremely beautiful and wildlife attracting. Must be one or the other, but doesn't have to be both. Wildlife is why I put up with a lot of dead stuff in winter, when I could have color year-round.

  7. Long ago I lived in an apartment on the first floor on the back side of the building. I grew things in pots on the little slab I had for a patio. When I ran out of pots I planted into the soil by the patio. Pretty soon I had my own little garden. The were all annuals, didn't make it through the winter, but the maintenance people never mowed over it.

  8. Frances - I didn't realize until I sat down to write the numerous places I have learned from over the years.

    Bonnie - it's funny the things that stick with you. I never went to a botanical garden thinking I would learn to love 'ugly' plants.

    Donna - I think what I learned is a testament to the volunteer program at Van Dusen. It really is a remarkable place.

    Laurrie - That first day, more than anything, stuck with me. To have someone who I regarded as extremely knowledgable treat me as though my experience was of value was greatly empowering.

    Ms.S - how wonderful that you remember so well the discovery of a new plant. I think that's one of the draws of gardening - there's always the possiibility of discovering something new.

    Floridagirl - that ferry garden is such a treasure to me. Watching the most beautiful oasis present itself from such meagre beginnings gave me such hope. and also tells you how much of my life I spent sitting around ferry terminals....

    Tufa Girl - I love not only the fact that you were so intent on having your plants that you would go to such lengths but also the person who decided to turn a blind eye and not mow it over. We need more of both in this world.

  9. I love that duckie picture! Priceless! VanDusen sure does know how to cast a spell, don't they? Yes, nI am doing the Master Gardener program there. It's been keeping me so busy, I haven't been posting, or visiting as much lately! I started in January.

    I have met some amazing gardeners through the garden, and your right, they are very humble about their garden expertise. It's a very inviting place!

  10. Hi Marguerite,
    What a great learning experience you must have had at the Van Dusen garden. Other than the childhood education I received from my Mum, I have learned about gardening pretty much on my own. I often wish that I had this sort of experience to round out my knowledge of plants.

  11. Laura - I'm so glad you're enjoying your time there. It really is a special place.

    Jennifer - I can't recommend a place like Van Dusen enough. Having a botanical garden as a resource was simply amazing. From the events, library, and classes there was just so much to see and do and everyone was just so helpful. Living in a smaller centre now I do miss having that close by.

  12. Seeds and seed sowing seem so miraculous don't they. I am entranced again by the whole process, and have just discovered a large number of self-sown seedlings in a container I didn't get around to emptying before winter, nature demonstrating tenacity and creativity yet again. Your volunteering experience sounds wonderful.

  13. I am really enjoying your series on gardens you have loved before - what a unique perspective of the growth of a gardener.

    Much better than: the plants I have killed before.

    I feel a little Willie Nelson coming on.

  14. Plantaliscious - I've had a similar experience with seeds germinating in my compost or in places compost has been spread. Tomatoes seem particularly good at this.

    Cheri - you just gave me an idea for a whole new series! I could go on and on about things I have killed.