It really isn’t that much of a ‘mystery.’ It was a garden, or two, or, if we were to count correctly,five that we were creating! Looking back, I would have to say that their creation was the pinnacle of my first year at Cedar Spring Nursery. The Japanese inspired woodland garden was the first, and it [the garden itself] was already laid out for us. Perfectly located beneath a pair of ‘Crimson King’ maples, it would receive dappled shade once its canopy unfurled, and its placement meant that passing vehicles/pedestrians would be able to watch it unfurl its beauty throughout the year.
There already existed a few ‘bones’ in the form of a lovely specimen of Magnolia ‘Anne,’ as well as a few Hosta, Heuchera and a couple of clumps of perennial Miscanthus. Even better, Jon had found a pair of large, relatively flat rocks that already I had a vision for. They were located relatively close to the centre of what is essentially a wide, narrow border. Already the wheels were turning!
It was the ‘jumpstart’ that I needed! I had joked all Spring [those cold wintery months that were spent planting up the annual baskets, six packs and bedding plants] about being ‘deathly allergic’ and ANY and ALL annuals, much to no avail, and while I was able to begin identifying a handful of annuals by the time my precious perennials started to arrive, I was more than happy to turn my back on them! [Annuals – insert Cheshire cat grin here!]
Sasha was equally enthusiastic about ‘recreating’ the woodland garden and we soon set about choosing plants that we hoped would thrive there! All the while, Jon had been secretly eyeing a narrow bed that runs the length of their house. I could sense wheels turning in his head as well, but being afraid that my somewhat scatterbrained squirrel moments [Gemini I am, through and through!] might possibly lead to chaos, I hunkered down and Sasha and I set to work!
We wanted the woodland to have a decidedly Japanese inspiration, and with a concrete dragon and a small water feature that took up residence upon aforementioned flat stones, we were blessed to have an amazing selection of plant material to choose from. Metasequoia ‘Miss Grace’ in a sublime weeping standard form was positioned just behind and to the left of the rocks. Small enough for us not to have to worry about her future growth, yet unusual enough to draw the unsuspecting eye! One of our favourite additions was Hydrangea ‘Twist and Shout’ – a delicate lacecap selection that offers both sterile and non sterile florets [hence the flattened flower head, the sparse flowers, and the bewitching multi coloured buds that remain closed!] that totally lived up to our expectations: ‘What is that gorgeous flower out in the woodland garden? It looks like a Hydrangea, but one that I’ve never come across before! [Insert high five here!]
In time it began to fill in rather nicely. As the months progressed new plants were added, a few were removed – all in the hope of achieving the vision that we shared! Meanwhile Jon was busily plotting the next project. Perhaps it is best, for those unfamiliar with Jon, to pass along his inner mantra which is quite simply: ‘Go big, or go home!’ Not the first time you’ve ever heard it, and likely not the last!
We’d been making frequent trips to one of our suppliers, and while on one of our ‘missions’, we stumbled across what we both considered to be a rather large [obscenely so!] specimen of what most people know as the ‘Sago Palm.’ It was unlike anything I’d ever seem before. Sometimes there is an invisible electrical current that passes between certain individuals [gifted or damned, you decide!] and it so happened that the same idea coursed along said invisible current.
‘It would be perfect as a specimen at the nursery!’
‘Oh my God! Imagine. A garden filled with Jurassically large plants!’
‘Oh! Oh! Oh! Make them plants that fit the Jurassic theme…. make them plants not hardy for this grow zone!’
[Yes my followers, we can all deduce who uttered this last statement can we not? So sayeth the King of Zonal Denial!]
I have to say that there may be a grain of truth to one of Sasha’s favourite phrases, unique that it is only uttered in the presence of Jon and I, when we are both within hearing distance. ‘I cannot leave you two alone for even five minutes! What am I thinking, letting the pair of you head off into the wild yonder with an empty trailer tagging along behind, just in the off chance that you might find something rare and unusual!’ I know not what she is trying to imply!
Brugmansia, also known as ‘Angel’s Trumpet’ is another one of those ‘stop people dead in their tracks’ type of plant that while relatively easy to grow, is not remotely acclimatized to our harsh winter conditions. We left ours in its original pot and planted it in the corner, just this side of the King Sago, and let the pair of the duke it out for supremacy! Hate to admit it, but my vote was for Miss Brug and her gorgeous pleated trumpet shaped flowers , lime green to cream with a delicate pink blush. [Even now my toes curl upwards in girlish delight!] In our Jurassic garden we planted Alocasia, Colocasia, Rhuem palmatum,[ornamental rhubarb] Castor Bean, Ferns, Hosta and Persicaria. Little did I realize that we’d upped the ante! The new ‘temperamental Jurassic garden,’ usurped damned near everything else on the property! Unsuspecting visitors were drawn to it like a bee to honey, and it was rather rewarding when I’d overhear someone saying that a friend had told them that they simply had to come and see it for themselves. For being the smallest border on the property, it sure made up for its size in popularity! Can hardly wait to unveil this coming year’s surprising additions!
I have always been attracted to all things rare and unusual, and I was quickly realizing that it didn’t stop with perennial plants – it also included trees and shrubs! Those who know my story realize that my postage stamp sized property rather limits my ability to fill it with such rarities – but – and here is where my gratefulness kicks into high gear again – being given pretty much carte blanch when it comes to the nursery, has allowed for me to introduce both Jon, Sasha, and our clients to some of my most favoured trees.
It started with the magnificent serpentine form of Cedrus atlantica, pictured below. I have been enamored of what many refer to as the ‘Blue Atlas Cedar’ – with its shimmery silver/blue foliage, even more dramatic when you are able to find it in its serpentine form. Again, having access to a near endless supply of plant material is for me, like being loosed in a candy store. He resides in a pot, on a raised plinth next to the sign out front, where he can hold court with the border that I lovingly refer to as ‘Jon’s Personal Arboretum of all things rare and unusual.’ Did I mention how rewarding it is to see fellow plant enthusiasts displaying the same exuberant excitement over plants as me! Oh yeah. Total buzz!I have to admit that my own heart skips a beat whenever I walk along the slab pathway that borders our miniature Arboretum! Aside of Cedrus, we’re also thrilled to have Cornus x ‘Venus’ – a stunning flowering Dogwood with shamrock shaped flowers the size of your fist! There is a magnificent specimen of another personal favourite, Fagus sylvatica ‘Roseomarginata’, also known as the ‘Tricolour Beech’ whose purple, pink and cream foliage offers the perfect contrast to the fabulously chartreuse, Geisha fan shaped foliage of Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’, also known as the ‘Full Moon Maple.’ Not to be confused with the somewhat temperamental palmatum species [what most refer to as the ubiquitous ‘Japanese’ species] which can be somewhat specific in their requirements, ‘Shira’ is reliably hardy in Zone 5. It does require [I’d go as far as say it DEMANDS] a protected placement out of the way of both blazing sunlight [those fabulously chartreuse Geisha fan shaped leaves will scorch in the blink of an eye!] and it does not bode well without consistent well draining, compost enriched soil. For something of such disarming beauty, what is a few ‘demands!’
There is also a delightful weeping Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’ [Redbud] whose branches this past Spring were loaded with its signature blooms. Call me crazy, but for me personally, its all about the magnificent heart shaped foliage that persists well past the first frost of the season. You can just make out its flower laden branches in the photo below which best exemplifies the length of our new Arboretum! We were thrilled to introduce Davidia involucrata ‘Iseli’s Fastigiate’, Laburnum ‘Vossii’, Ginkgo ‘Trevor’ and Prunus ‘Amanogawa’, Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’ and A.p ‘Hana Matoi’ over the course of the 2013 season! Be still my wandering eye, but I can already see a few new selections for our Arboretum on the horizon….. but you will have to come for a visit to see exactly what I am talking about!
Jon is determined that at least three quarters of our new Arboretum be made up of exciting, rare and unusual conifers, and so far we’re off to a good start! The scene stealer continues to be a shimmering blue/silver needled Abies concolor [White Fir] who traumatically lost his leader at the nursery where he was rescued from. Everyone wants one just like him! Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to grant their wish without having to resort to such drastic measures. There is within the trade, one referred to as being a weeping form, known as ‘Blue Cloak.’ There is a cute topiary Juniper as well as a stunning standard of another of my personal favourites: Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ which look like a green teddy bear fixed atop a trunk that begs to be touched. Abies koreana ‘Horstman’s Silberlocke’ is another that I’ve been enamored of for what seems like forever. A small to mid sized specimen whose needles curl around the branches to expose shimmering ghostly silver undersides. As of that isn’t enough, it cones, which appear while the tree is very young, tend towards a bluish purple! I kid you not!
In closing, a moment to give thanks to Jon and Sasha:
Hard to believe we’re coming up on the anniversary of my being hired. At that time, I knew I was in a dangerous place. I feared that I was losing my passion for plants. I was feeling stagnated, and for a Gemini, that’s pretty much like walking with your hands tied behind your back and your mouth muzzled. And then the unthinkable occurred! I went out on a limb, tossed a resume to the wind and was soon sitting down, trying desperately not to come across as a raving plant obsessed lunatic. I guess it worked!
The start of any new job can be daunting – and while I fooled less than no one with my insistence that I was allergic to annuals, I soon discovered that I’d hit the jackpot. Here were employers who worked side by side, offering encouragement [those damned microscopic cuttings, are you serious!?] and displaying a sense of ‘family’ so early in the game. It was so cathartic to have two people who were confident of my knowledge and potential, enough so, after such a short period of time, that I was encouraged to take the reins of the perennial, tree and shrub department and run with it! It was the confidence booster that I’d been desperately searching for!
I don’t know that I am one for believing in fate, but over the past twelve months there have been so many moments – times when I have discovered coincidences in our personalities – that I still find myself pondering how it is that it took this long for our paths to cross! Granted, at times I can hear the robotic warning issued forth on one of my favourite childhood serials…… ‘ Danger Will Robinson! Danger!’
A million thank you’s seem hardly enough. I have found myself again, and am thrilled to call Cedar Spring and both of you family.