Gar­den­ing out­side the box

Manitoba Gardener Magazine - - Contents - Story by Arvel Gray, pho­tos by Su­san Mor­gan

Carol Carlson has a crys­tal chan­de­lier for a night light in her car­port. There’s an iron hay bale holder that serves as an ar­bour, and a weathered trunk over­flows with flow­ers in the front yard. Her Ni­akwa Park gar­den in south­east Winnipeg is no or­di­nary patch of sub­ur­bia, but then, Carol Carlson is no or­di­nary gar­dener. She em­braces a green thumb phi­los­o­phy that mixes imag­i­na­tion with can-do de­ter­mi­na­tion, al­low­ing her to gar­den out­side the box. “My in­spi­ra­tion comes from other peo­ple,” she muses. “I live and learn.”

Learn­ing be­gan with Charleswood liv­ing and a back­yard that in­cluded a swimming pool. “I wanted it to look nice,” she says, “so I grew buck­ets.” Soon she was tag­ging along with a friend to the lo­cal green­houses, and by the time the Carl­sons moved to Pawnee Bay, a truck­load of peren­ni­als came with them, win­ter­ing at a neigh­bour’s house un­til the new yard was ready for Carol’s magic wand.

“When I first saw the prop­erty I knew right away what I wanted,” Carol says. “Most peo­ple have a beau­ti­ful back yard. You sit in your liv­ing room which looks out onto the street and you don’t see the back yard un­less you’re out­side. This house had big win­dows for sit­ting in and a good place to plant. I had the plants and we wanted to do the deck and other things in the back so the plants had to go in the front yard.”

The main bed is a swath of colour that sits like a tongue be­tween the house and front street. Grass path­ways con­nect it to a sec­ond large bed run­ning par­al­lel to the cor­ner of the bay. At first glance, the plants look like they’ve been into the Mir­a­cleGro; they’re full and lush and tall. Tex­tu­ral plants such as the dra­matic plum spikes of pur­ple mil­let, and downy grey-green lobes of sil­ver leaf sage, mix with crayon bright mari-

golds and yel­low he­liop­sis. Prairie sta­ples, like gold­en­rod and asters, are right at home with im­ports like kiwi vine and Ja­panese bam­boo. There’s no three of this or five of that. Sin­gle plants hold court, in­clud­ing the ele­phant ear-shaped leaves of wild rhubarb and the crepe pa­per fo­liage of gi­ant corn. Plume pop­pies and Jerusalem ar­ti­choke, nor­mally back of the plot ten­ants, have been used as edg­ing plants to force the eye to the cen­tre of the bed. An old trunk filled with petu­nias and he­liotrope seems to have fallen from some phan­tom stage­coach and a gi­ant but­ter coloured daylily has surely landed from Mars.

There are plants whose name she doesn’t know, pur­chased from green­houses she can’t re­mem­ber. But that’s of lit­tle mat­ter. She has a keen eye and courage and isn’t afraid to use both. This is a woman who washes her cu­cum­bers in the dish­washer be­fore she makes pick­les. “I went through

my weed book and I have ten of what they call aw­ful weeds, but I quite like them,” Carol says. “It’s a mat­ter of keep­ing them un­der con­trol and I tell peo­ple when I give them away what they’re in for. “

Even the soil, mounded like a mini berm, packs a vis­ual sur­prise. “I didn’t want to dig out the grass, so we put news­pa­per on the grass, edged it and we’ve prob­a­bly got 40 yards of soil in the front and back,” she says. “That’s why it’s so high.”

The gar­den in front of the house, of­ten just a strip of shrubs, is a deep mixed bor­der of smoke bush and Shasta daisies, Cul­ver’s root and climb­ing Ex­plorer roses. A wood­land gar­den by the side of the house draws you to the back yard, masked from the street by a fence cut to look like a city sky­line. A seven-foot hedge of co­toneaster runs the across the back of the prop­erty, pro­vid­ing a tex­tured back­drop to more plant­ings. The bowl of an old cream sep­a­ra­tor spills over with hens and chicks and a wheel­bar­row, long past its sell-by date, is chock-a-block with blue salvia and pur­ple lo­belia. It doesn’t look forced; it looks nat­u­ral, as if some busy gar­dener for­got to plant the last of the an­nu­als, which hap­pily thrived in the wheel­bar­row’s soil.

Re­gal Hi­malayan im­pa­tiens, clus­tered with or­chid-like flow­ers, ap­pear for­eign and ex­otic, while an old chair res­cued from garbage seems strangely at home. “I sit in it when I’m weed­ing back there,” says Carol.

She may be sit­ting but she’ll not be

rest­ing. She’ll be cook­ing up some other gar­den idea, some new colour scheme or wild­flower mix.

Six years ago she started Friends of Assini­boine Park Con­ser­va­tory gar­den tours which are now an an­nual Winnipeg event. “We do it for ideas,” says Carol. “Peo­ple like to look in other peo­ple’s yards.” There are 10 to 13 gar­dens avail­able for view­ing one Sun­day in July. The tour fee pro­vides funds for the Con­ser­va­tory, al­lows gar­den­ers to show off the flow­ers of their labour, and vis­i­tors to take home fresh ideas. An ap­ple tree, newly es­paliered against the Carlson back fence, was spawned from vis­it­ing a Ja­panese gar­den on one of the tours. “It’s not steal­ing but bor­row­ing for the pur­pose of bet­ter­ment,” sug­gests Carol.

She’s just as will­ing to share her ideas and her plants. “No one should ever throw away a peren­nial,” she says. “I don’t care if you have 500 bach­e­lor but­tons . . . pot ‘em up . . . some­one will want them.” She keeps a note­book of who fan­cies what and if there’s a plant she no longer needs, she’ll dig it out right away, di­vide it into smaller pots and have them ready for give­aways.

The Carlson gar­den is only two years old but Carol is al­ready on a trans­plant­ing mis­sion. She has be­gun an ABC gar­den con­tain­ing plants that be­gin with ev­ery let­ter of the al­pha­bet, and a pur­ple, orange and white gar­den is tak­ing shape at the back of the house. The car­port is full of trea­sures wait­ing for rein­car­na­tion and ten yards of soil sit next to the fence. Should you do a mid­night drive-by, she’ll be the gar­dener work­ing by the street­light, pair­ing the cal­en­dula with a cac­tus, slip­ping dan­de­lions into a bor­der or lib­er­at­ing the news­pa­pers from the neigh­bour’s Blue Box.

A back­yard plant­ing of lo­belia, blue salvia and pink salip­iglos­sis in old wheel bar­row.

Part of the back­yard veg­etable gar­den, with toma­toes, an obelisk and as­sorted flow­ers.

The jewel-like tones of an­nual salip­iglos­sis.

Cel­e­brat­ing our 20 years!

Be­go­nia, pret­tier than a pic­ture, with phlox in the back­ground.

Ex­u­ber­ant growth, with Carol’s trade­mark lay­er­ing: look­ing out over the street are Veron­ica, del­phinium, Mal­tese cross, plumed poppy, rud­beckia, among oth­ers.

Filipen­dula, lilies, monarda, spurge, lay­ered on a steeply ris­ing bed in front.

A yarrow plant.

In Carol Carlson’s eclec­tic, lush, eye-catch­ing yard, the big gar­den is out front. In view here are rud­beckia, lilies, nepeta and much, much more.

Here, a pot brim­ming with hens and chicks re­places the seat on an old chair.

Lily, monarda and spurge.

Hens and chicks are tucked into a pot­tery head in front gar­den.

Filipen­dula has ex­tra height thanks to banked gar­den bed.

A hay bale rack has be­come a strik­ing arch be­tween the peren­nial bor­der around the house and the bor­der near the front street.

A trac­tor seat makes an in­ter­est­ing con­tainer.

A gail­lar­dia mix.

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