The wood shed
I’m back on Gambier Island for the second time in two years. I’m visiting my nephew, Ryan and his wife, Emily and their two kids, Eloise and Lawrence. Gambier is a magical place in B.C. that has somehow remained largely unspoiled, despite much logging in the past. Some is still going on, but the forests have bounced back and it’s hard to believe that it was ever logged. In fact, I’m not sure what parts have been logged and what haven’t. It all looks like old growth to me.
We took a walk today to visit neighbours, who, Emily assured me, have an amazing garden. The word amazing is so abused and overused these days that it really has no impact (sorry, Em!), so I thought, oh cool, sure I’ll go look at a garden, not really expecting much. What I saw was one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. Certainly, as private gardens go, it might have top spot.
The garden is situated, as is Ryan and Emily’s, in the middle of the primordial forest, so imagine first that you’re walking through gates that lead you right into a slice of the old growth sculpted into a paradise of paths, flowering plants, trees, garden “rooms”, brooks, and even a little bonsai display and a labyrinth!
The property is on a gradual incline from the road all the way up past the house and up to the fence that keeps the forest and deer at bay. It’s an acre and a half of land where every inch has been considered, planned for and cultivated in beauty and love. The main pathway (which had been the driveway, so it’s wide) snakes as you climb up the incline and on either side are little rooms, each with their own atmosphere, that you find at the end of short paths. James, the main brains and brawn behind the garden, told me that he planned the pathways to resemble the up-curving branches of a tree deliberately to give the garden an organic feeling.
One of the many “rooms” lies under heavy overhangs of trees with a stream, benches and a place for a hammock to contemplate in at the end of the day. Perhaps the most impressive single feature of the garden though, is the labyrinth, eventually to be surrounded by tall trees and shrubs (presently the growth is about 5-8 feet high) to increase the contemplative nature of the space. It took two years for James to build, as he had to clear and level the area, move a boulder into the centre, which he had previously dug up, and find the appropriate four-inch stones to place for the lines. I enjoyed walking the labyrinth, but I enjoyed viewing it from the path above even more. What a pleasure for the eye!
Bench and bird bath
James believes that everyone looks for something different in a garden so he wanted to appeal to as many souls as possible, which is why the paths lead you into and through so many small spaces (there are no dead ends) with their own emphasis. Focal points, such as a glass bird bath held up by repurposed tree branches and a sun dial made from a grinding wheel with smooth stones serving as the points of the dial dot the property and mark entrances and paths.
There is a laurel “hedge” in one corner of the property next to the road that, when James and Jeremy first bought the property had grown well into the yard and had to be severely cut back. The size of these trees is impressive and they grow quickly in a gnarly way that must be a challenge to control. Every branch they (mostly James, from what I could gather) removed was carefully cut into fire wood and piled in the woodshed, so nothing was wasted. The laurel wood burns hot and long, so it’s perfect for keeping the house warm in winter.
I loved James’s vision and his commitment to organic gardening (he never even uses fertilizer, other than compost or manure), as well as his respect for the environment in which he created his garden. He tries to remove non-indigenous invasive plants, such as holly, for instance, and he has transplanted hundreds of ferns from the forests into his garden, to keep the feeling of it being still part of the surrounding woods. The wild and the tamed seem to live at peace here. Although the beds are beautifully maintained (an amazing feat for someone who is a weekend gardener!), there’s no feeling of constraint when you walk the paths, only a sense of freedom and joy. Considering that the owners have only been there for five years, I’m completely gobsmacked at what James has accomplished. Jeremy admits that his role in the garden has been mostly as cheerleader, admirer and an extra pair of hands from time to time. He also feeds James regularly, which I’m sure is appreciated after a long day in the garden!
I could go on and on, but what I mainly want to convey is the way the place made me feel. Walking through there had a peaceful, slow-growth greening, nurturing effect on me and filled me with exhilaration. The work, which was and is obviously a labour of love, has been monumental, and all for the sole purpose of creating something beautiful. I felt the hand of the artist there as I’ve felt it as I looked at Starry Night, or the Sistine Chapel; combined with the reminder that the paint is the lush greenery that surrounds you, a living participant in the art.
I was inspired as I walked through it, to think of what can be done, given the inclination, the space and the ideas; to say nothing of the energy and enthusiasm. I suddenly regret the projects I’ve considered and tossed aside as being “too much work”. I’ll definitely think about James and Jeremy and their piece of paradise next time that thought crosses my mind.
P.S. The pictures I’ve posted here don’t do the garden justice, but, being away from home and my computer, it’s the best I can do. James, if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll contact me (my email address is on this page somewhere!) because I’d love to add a whole page of photos to my site to honour your beautiful garden! Thank you!