On the August long weekend I had a real treat — I attended the open garden tour event held in Birtle. This is a community full of enthusiastic gardeners and the location of some of Manitoba’s finest gardens.
I must reveal my bias here — I actually regard Birtle as "home" as we lived in this wonderful community for 21 years and raised our family there; only because of a career opportunity did we leave.
The gardening craze in Birtle began after we left in 1991, but this is where I established my first garden and I did share my love of gardening and what experience I had gathered at that point in my gardening life with local gardeners. I like to think in some small way I helped encourage gardening in the community.
I think open garden events are so wonderful as gardeners can share ideas, collect information about plants, and learn new gardening techniques. Even experienced gardeners can learn by visiting other gardens and chatting with the owners.
Of course, the people are just as important as the plants during a garden tour and the Birtle gardeners — every one of them — were on hand to stroll through the gardens with visitors, chatting about their gardening experiences, identifying unfamiliar plants, and answering innumerable questions.
It truly was a wonderful day and I thank the Birtle gardeners for allowing me to take photographs of their gardens for use in future columns and for sharing their knowledge with me.
What did I see in the Birtle gardens? Well, I am not going to reveal all that I saw and learned because I came away with ideas for a number of future columns so I don’t want to give away all the fodder for my future writing. I will tell you about some of what I learned, however, and will also express some thoughts I had while visiting the gardens in Birtle.
Four of the seven gardens we visited are rural gardens and all of these gardens reinforced what I already know — that nothing can be as impressive in a garden as space. Great sweeps of lawn fronting long winding borders, views of distant vistas from many points in the garden, and the space to experiment with different garden rooms and spaces can only be done on a large property.
On these rural properties, I was amazed by a large rock garden in the garden of Brenda Evans, a wonderful potager created by Shonda Ashcroft — one of several of these interesting creations I saw during the day — and a newly created alle in Val Thomson’s garden. Although miniature versions of such garden features might be possible in a small urban landscape such as mine, they would be far less impressive than those I saw in these expansive Birtle gardens.
In the back of my mind, I already have future writings planned on all of these topics, in which I might explore how to incorporate at least some aspects of such garden features into the small landscapes with which many of us have to be content. I also came away with ideas about how to better incorporate art, found objects, and heritage articles into the landscape.
All seven Birtle gardens were full of interesting vignettes and tableaus; although I try to create such compositions in my own yard, I gained some new ideas about how to go about making such features of my landscape more interesting and attractive.
Every time I rounded a corner in the gardens I came upon some sort of artistic composition — these gardeners are artists! It is not surprising that their open garden event next year will be an "art in the garden" event.
Something else that impressed me in several of the gardens was the imaginative use of colour and colour combinations. Large containers of lime green and burgundy foliage and flowers on Pat Farquhar’s deck were stunning — what a striking colour combination — while the white, blue and yellow under plantings in the alle in Val’s Garden were nothing short of breath taking.
Several of the gardeners have fruit trees incorporated into their gardens. A row of Saskatoon bushes along the back property line of the Lewis-Smith garden were laden with fruit and visitors were invited to scoop up a paper cup full of berries from a tub of freshly picked saskatoons sitting on a chair in the backyard — what a tasty treat!
A few years ago I wrote an article for a gardening magazine featuring a garden on Lundy Avenue,; this property now has a new owner. It was interesting to see how the current owner, Gerlinde, has revamped the garden to make it suit her own gardening style.
This garden reinforced the belief that gardens are not static; they are always changing both to accommodate new owners and to satisfy existing owners who are constantly seeking new challenges. Happily, the wonderful water feature installed by the previous owner — an actual working streambed — is still intact and continues to be a major feature of the backyard.
One stop on the tour simply offered a walk by of a very effective foundation planting in the frontyard of Bill and Angie Bowley’s home. Again, another column topic popped into my mind — how to create curb appeal with good foundation plantings in the frontyard.
I hope you had the opportunity to participate in some open garden tours this summer or perhaps you will be able to visit a public garden such as the International Peace Garden and the English Garden at Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg.
Visiting other people’s gardens is both a learning experience and a great pleasure!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.