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Gardeners of Nanaimo – Gardens West magazine

A Neighborhood Garden Jewel

by Don Burnett

Buying an old house in Nanaimo and then completely renovating it inside and out and then transforming the gardens can be a challenge, to say the least. But this is just what these homeowners and gardeners did. The end result was a fabulous new home and garden.

The shortlist consisted of several properties. Taking into consideration the location, neighborhood and size, a 1970’s vintage home won the draw. The problem with this choice was the building was over 30 years old and needed to be completely upgraded. All the mechanical infrastructure was brought up to today’s standards and the house modernized. Fortunately, this couple had the vision as well as the perseverance to turn what looked like an unlikely possibility into a dream residence that is unlikely to ever go out of style.

When it came to the final touches, Ana Marie took on the inside decor while Dave managed the landscaping or gardening component. As a team, they designed all the changes to the building’s footprint. With the renovation skills of Maric Construction, an entire wing was added. It included the master bedroom with a full en-suite. The new covered outdoor paver patio adjacent to the pool has automated drop-down curtains that allow for enclosure in inclement weather. The pool that existed when they bought the property remains, although it too was refurbished.

She put her stamp on the inside by completely gutting and transforming it into a Mediterranean style masterpiece while on the outside Dave began to bring his vision to life. He knew that on his own it would be difficult to bring it all together with a result that would do justice to the stellar work being done to the building, so he brought in gardeners from Creative by Design to help. He also called upon a not so young man (me) to help with the plan and incorporating some of the existing planting material.

The minute i met Dave i felt his passion for the project and knew right away my job was only to take his vision and make it work, rather than design something solely on my own. There were two main areas of concern, one of which was to decide which or if any plants, trees, and shrubs should or could be left in the garden or otherwise used in the project and the second was the need for transition from the new outdoor living area elevation to the swimming pool level. My expertise was called upon to suggest plant material and place it so it would look pleasing for many years to come.

The gardening of this property consisted of several juniper beds and various shrubs. Most of the plants had long since overgrown their locations. The previous owners had recently made an attempt at renovating the foundation plantings in the front garden but were somewhat ordinary. So other than leaving a couple of established trees and a cedar hedge and relocating a Japanese Maple to an appropriate spot, it was rip-and-tear time.

The first step was to take some accurate elevation readings with a transit level because without this information and concept drawing would be conjecture. Once this was done the gardeners drew a picture of what it might look like with safe and convenient access from each end to avoid a boxed-in-feeling.

Taking this concept to fruition takes special skill, which was provided by Phil. This accomplished gardener took the drawings and turned them into a reality by making good use of granite boulders for the walls with old country paving stone.

The idea of introducing a third element in the form of stamped concrete was a concern at first. But the homeowners careful choice of colour and texture managed to tie it all together beautifully.

In the front gardens, two big changes were made to bring this residence forwards to the present day. One was to draw the attention to the main entrance by creating a broad walkway from the driveway to the steps in a lazy ‘S’ shape.

The other idea was to create a sitting area in the left side where a reprieve from the Okanagan afternoon sun could be found. This was done by giving access via stepping stones into the much-widened planting beds.

Once the hardscaping was completed, it was time to sit down with everyone and make some plant choices with the help of hundreds of pictures gathered over time,

The gardeners took the drawings and turned them into a reality by making good use of a combination of rock walls and pavers.

We focused first on dwarf conifers placed in such a way that a green balance is maintained in winter. We then chose some flowering shrubs, being careful not to over-plant

Finally, the herbaceous plants that create texture and colour throughout the seasons were decided upon. We made a special effort to compliment the new look of the house by carefully staggering repetitive plant groups and drifts.

This experience, from start to finish, was pleasant and fulfilling and i enjoyed working with everyone involved. The Fleming’s hands-on involvement and the exemplary workmanship of these gardeners made my part so easy to accomplish. At the end of the day this tired old property has become a jewel in the neighborhood.