A Garden By the Seashore
West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
The rugged coastline that borders Vancouver's Burrard Inlet is home to many beautiful gardens. For rhododendron lovers few can surpass the serene beauty to be found in the West Vancouver garden of Glen Patterson. The rocky foreshore in front of this property is retained as undeveloped park land, and the garden has been carefully designed to harmonize with the beautiful, surrounding natural landscape.
Here one can find an example of a developing West Coast garden style which attempts to transmit the feeling and atmosphere of the wild coastal British Columbia landscape into the confines of the home garden.
In developing his garden Glen has retained several towering Douglas firs, remnants of the nearby primeval forest, to give scale, year-round green foliage and a peaceful forest setting as a background for many native and exotic ericaceous plants.
Rhododendrons, particularly the truly dwarf wild species, are featured in the woodland section as well as some lovely examples of big-leaf plants such as Rhododendron macabeanum. These are enhanced by the careful placement of a fine collection of dwarf conifers and Japanese maples, also mainly dwarf varieties.
In keeping with the West Coast character and Pacific Ocean connection with the Orient, several of the principles used in Japanese garden design have been utilized to give an effect of repose and harmony with the surrounding natural landscape. Pathways lead up, over and down the natural rock outcroppings with lovely groupings of rhododendrons and azaleas highlighting the scene. Companion plants lend graceful patterns of texture and colour to enhance the amazing collection of rare species and hybrid offspring. A serene pond, home to a family of koi, is carefully surrounded by lovely small trees and rhododendrons to screen the waters from invading herons. A waterfall cascades over the rocks and down into the woodlands below where lovely surprises await. Primulas and giant Cardiocrinum lilies are planted amongst more plantings of rhododendrons and azaleas contrasted by the fine etching of Japanese maple leaves overhead.
Glen's love of growing plants goes back to his childhood days growing up in Calgary, Alberta. His father was a great gardener, and Glen remembers how his father took him to see the garden in a nearby cemetery. The caretaker here had created a lovely rock garden, and Glen recalls his excitement at seeing plants growing there that had come from around the world. This early interest sparked a lifetime love of plants, and Glen thinks this had a major influence in his career decision to become a professional forester.
His first gardening experiments came when he and his wife, Isobel, were posted to a remote logging camp located at the northern end of Vancouver Island. Glen recalls slogging home every day with a sack of soil gleaned from the swampy forest where he was working to replace the topsoil removed from the land around the logging camp. Plant material (and all groceries and provisions) had to be ordered by catalogue and shipped by coastal steamship. But Glen and Isobel persevered and were soon renowned locally for their wonderful dahlias.
Some nine years later in the early '50s, Glen and Isobel moved into their first home in Vancouver and started preparing their garden. Glen sought help from a Vancouver firm of landscape architects. A full scale landscape plan was out of the question, but he hoped to obtain a couple of hours of expert advice. Somewhat reluctantly the company sent out a young landscape architect who agreed to give them a brief consultation. His name was Clive Justice (the same Clive Justice who went on to become a charter member of the Vancouver Rhododendron Society). Naturally some of the plants Clive recommended were rhododendrons, and their names had never been heard of in local nurseries. Thus began Glen and Isobel's involvement with the genus Rhododendron.
Over the years the Pattersons moved on to other homes and they happily worked to create more gardens in their spare time, their interest growing as their experiences increased. In the late '60s, Glen began thinking about retirement and started looking for a place where he would be reminded of the lovely alpine wilderness, forests and lakes where he loved to hike - a special place where he could create an artistic garden inspired by the surrounding natural landscape. After some lengthy searching he discovered his present property in the early '70s. Located on the shores of Burrard Inlet close by Point Atkinson and Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver, the property faced a lovely waterfront park and sloped up to a rocky promontory behind the house, giving superb views across the Inlet towards Lions Gate Bridge to the east and continuing in a westerly sweep across English Bay out to Point Grey and the Gulf Islands in the west. To the north the forested slopes of the North Shore mountains gave a dramatic backdrop.
At that time the property had an old English cottage-style garden filled with manicured lawns and rose beds, chrysanthemums and perennials, a very high maintenance proposition. Glen recalls, "It was a lovely piece of property, but I wasn't quite happy with the garden. It didn't really fit in.” One morning he woke up and realized what a liability this ¾-acre garden was going to be to maintain. Something had to be done to simplify things. He sought advice and went to lectures on garden design. One lecturer suggested he try a Chinese garden replacing the lawns with moss and using the rocks in the landscape. It sounded interesting, but at that time there was little information available on Chinese gardens. Glen's daughter, Sheila, had just graduated in landscape architecture. They discussed the problem and decided maybe the Japanese gardening style would give the answer. They took a trip to Japan where they visited many of the major gardens. They were very impressed with these gardens and became enamored of the Japanese gardening principles and techniques.
Once they returned home they started to work laying out plans to convert the garden adopting Japanese principles to reveal the lovely natural features of the garden. One of the first tasks was to work on the old pond which was in terrible shape. Lawns had to be dug up, several old trees had to be removed and a great deal of plant material had to be replaced to reveal the natural beauty of the site.
At this time Glen was still working so he had only limited time available. He became acquainted with Jim Nakano who was doing some garden work for his next-door neighbor. Jim had grown up in Japan and had learned Japanese gardening techniques and pruning methods there. Eventually Glen persuaded Jim to come and help him in his garden. Jim agreed to come and work on some of the trees in the garden, but he was not interested in cutting lawns and told Glen that he should dig them all up and uncover all the lovely natural rock outcroppings that lay below. Over the years the relationship grew, and Glen credits much of his success with the garden to the efforts of Jim Nakano who continued his work with Glen's trees, bringing huge old dying trees back to life and pruning others to fit into the scale of the garden. A massive ball Juniperus chinensis located below the house was one of Jim's revival projects. He explained that the plant had been pruned on the outside over the years but had died back in the centre. So Jim went in and cut out all the dead wood, exposing the natural sculpture of the old tree branches, and then started pruning back the foliage to shape the plant into a more natural open form. As the air reached the core of the plant it began to revive and today is a striking feature in the garden. Similar problems were experienced with an old pine tree. Again Jim went into the main trunk and took out all the old dead wood and refreshed the tree, lightening the foliage and exposing the beautiful gnarled and twisted trunk. Today this lovely old tree provides shelter to a charming collection of R. hanceanum Nanum Group and its crosses.
In 1976 Glen's growing interest in rhododendrons prompted him to join the Vancouver Rhododendron Society. On a VRS tour of Seattle gardens and the Rhododendron Species Foundation he was delighted to renew acquaintance with Dr. Bob Rhodes. Glen and Bob had been in residence together at the University of British Columbia back in their student days. In the meantime, Dr. Rhodes had set up a medical practice in the Fraser Valley and had become a rhododendron grower and hybridizer. He introduced Glen to some of the newer hybrids, and Glen fast became captivated by these magnificent plants and soon became addicted to collecting the latest introductions. Plants like 'Avalanche' were at the top of his "must have" list some 20 years ago. Then gradually he became more aware of the beauty to be found in the true species plants. VRS member Margaret Charlton interested him in the small species which were ideal for his natural rock gardens. She introduced him to Lynn Watts and his Washington State nursery where he was able to find many fine plants. The Rhododendron Species Foundation had a tour to the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and Glen went along. Here he met with H.H. Davidian and toured through the gardens. Species rhododendrons were the only ones to be seen and Glen was impressed with the natural beauty of these lovely plants.
As the garden was reshaped the lovely rock outcroppings were revealed. Glen started adding species rhododendrons to the plantings. He was delighted to see how well they adapted to the landscape, especially the dwarf varieties. Companion plants were carefully chosen to enhance the setting. Small ornamental trees were planted for shelter and contrast, and Glen started looking far and wide for interesting species to add to his growing collection. Rare forms of dwarf species were a special delight, as they fitted into the landscape so well and thrived in this well drained terrain. More and more of the old garden was dug up, and rhododendrons, azaleas, rock and small native plants were brought in to enhance the new garden.
| Stone patio and rockery replacing lawn
with Ghent azalea in left background,
R. augustinii 'Electra' on right.
Photo by Glen Patterson
The massive rock outcropping behind the house was a natural area for rock plants. Jim Nakano pruned and shaped the native conifers growing on top of the rock and helped Glen to find special rocks to add to the rock gardens there, including a fine group of tufa rock they discovered on a drive into the British Columbia interior. This was used for another rock garden display beside the gazebo where Glen loves to entertain friends and family (especially his favourite species - his 10 grandchildren!) during the summer months. Dwarf species rhododendrons were planted together with a variety of rock plants and dwarf conifers. Rhododendron aberconwayi 'His Lordship' was placed here with great success, and recently Glen found a couple of silvery blue Cupressus arizonica 'Silver Smoke' to add wonderful contrast to the plantings.
Below the big rock another new garden has been planted with evergreen azaleas along a pathway leading to another pond. Fitting right into the rock, this new pond adds further dimension to this fine garden.
One of the last lawn areas to be replaced was the one right in front of the house. Once the grass and earth were removed Glen was delighted to discover the striking granite and quartz rock formation underneath. This was quickly uncovered and washed down and now gives a dramatic entry feature to the house. It has been further enhanced by one of the very few garden ornaments Glen has allowed. This is a lovely highly polished piece of natural granite used as a patio table. Surrounding the patio are raised rock beds with dwarf rhododendrons and azaleas inter-planted with small perennials and dwarf evergreens. Just around the corner of the house stands a beautiful R. falconeri which this year is boasting lovely fat flower buds, the first time it has flowered in 15 years.
Throughout the development process of his garden Glen has always strived to reflect the spectacular surrounding natural environment. Pruning is an important feature to keep the garden in scale and give natural shape to the plantings. Invasive plants have been removed and emphasis placed on slow growing and dwarf varieties. Moss, pebbles and natural rock outcroppings have replaced lawns, and formal flower beds have give way to groupings of plants growing in naturalized settings. Meandering paths of stone and pebbles interspersed with native mosses lead to a series of surprise features creating centres of interest as one moves through the garden. Glimpses of "borrowed" scenery give the illusion of an extensive garden beyond actual size as well as adding special dimension with stirring views of the sea and nearby wilderness park. Sadly Isobel was unable to share the joy of creating this garden. She passed away shortly after the move to West Vancouver. Her spirit must surely be happy in this lovely place.
Although Japanese design principles have been used to help capture the natural beauty of the site, the garden is not an authentic Japanese design. There are no Japanese ornaments, teahouse structures or lanterns. Driftwood from the nearby ocean shore is used to help in creating a natural feeling. An avid plant collector, Glen feels he cannot confine his garden to the Japanese principle of minimal use of plants. His superb collection of rhododendrons and azaleas is beautifully supplemented by a fascinating series of interesting and unusual perennials, ferns, exotic shrubs, flowering vines and rock plants. But in no way does this look like a plant collector's garden. Such care had been taken to group plants for contrast and effect in a series of small garden areas that one wanders through the entire garden in a series of lovely scenes, colourful whatever the season, in sunshine or shade.
| R. mucronulatum 'Cornell Pink'
Photo by Glen Patterson
Today a walk around this garden will lead you from the house located on a rocky shelf about midway up the garden, down on one of several paths towards the woodland garden. Walking down from the patio area a huge R. 'Lem's Monarch' has been pruned up to give a beautiful view of the pond below. A lovely R. mucronulatum 'Cornell Pink' stands above on a rocky shelf, just one of several R. mucronulatum clones to be seen in the garden. Close by, R. anwheiense shows off its foliage as well as a selection of fine R. yakushimanum plants including 'Koichiro Wada' and some brought from Yakushima when Glen explored the island with his daughter, Sheila. The path curves gently to join another path leading back to the house or down to the main driveway. From here the path leads across a pebbled alpine section where several fine R. kiusianum forms such as 'Beni-chidori'*, 'Kiyo-hime'* and 'Komo-kulshan'* happily grow in the rocks. Across the path R. impeditum and R. megeratum grow up alongside a large rock. The main driveway sweeps in a curve past this spot and a view of the front planting can be seen featuring four lovely specimens of Chionanthus virginicus - the North American fringe tree - sheltering beds of red Kurume azaleas.
A couple of striking Pinus wallichiana stand sentinel along the pathway leading to the pond. A low stone bridge leads across the water close by the waterfall, where 'Cilpinense' clings to the side of the pond. Along the western side Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekkan Sugi' is one of several fine conifers lending contrast to R. concatenans (now R. cinnabarinum ssp. xanthocodon Concatenans Group) and several large rhododendrons such as 'Loder's White', a fine R. fortunei cross by Dr. Bob Rhodes and R. calophytum. Going north along the path a Jack Lofthouse cross shelters beneath a huge old flowering cherry tree. Rhododendron macabeanum and R. oreotrephes lie across the path close by a very fine R. sutchuenense. From here one catches a glimpse through the trees to the lovely view of Caulfield Cove. Further along below the shelter of the house above, R. maddenii ssp. maddenii happily blooms in this fine micro-climate. Alongside R. leucaspis thrives along the rocks.
This lively garden, now well matured, maintains its beauty throughout the year. It is especially appealing in spring, and Glen looks forward to welcoming members of the American Rhododendron Society to his garden during the upcoming ARS Annual Convention. The garden is included in the West Vancouver gardens tour.
* Name is not registered.