The happy garden
Asense of joie de vivre lifts the spirits of all who visit the garden of Bernice and Jay Hawton. It’s an intangible thing, perhaps to do with the way Bernice has laid out the garden and the way the plants cosy up to each other. The sense of happiness is sustained by the lovely sunroom that overlooks the scene, defining the human presence. And Jay has made a whimsical metal gate out of structural steel and the posts of an abandoned electrical fence to help set the mood.
The sun seems to shine a little brighter here, reflected by a kaleidoscope of blooms all working together in the harmony Bernice imposes on them. The three curved beds, the birdbath focal point, the natural slope of the land leading to a backdrop of wild birch, spruce and poplar, the pond nestled along a retaining wall snuggled by sedum, hostas and creep- ing Jenny sing together in a symphony of colour and form. It all makes Bernice’s heart sing along.
Bernice is constantly looking for new songs. She travels to Winnipeg seeking out different plants, looking for texture as well as colour. “There are over a hundred different bushes and flowers in my garden,” says Bernice, “and I am hoping to get name tags beside each plant this spring.” This aide memoire would help Bernice identify the plants to her constant stream of visitors, who come to take in the sights and bask in the warmth of her personality.
Bernice’s friendly Manitoba mood is a birthright. She is no stranger to this part of the country, raised as she was
on a farm north of Seddon’s Corner where, before she moved away to become a school teacher, she watched her mom grow flowers and vegetables. Then she married, had a daughter, divorced and fell in love again with Jay, who brought her to Pinawa thirteen years ago. At that time, in the back yard there was only a rectangular vegetable patch that the bears loved to raid for corn – if there was anything left over after the deer were finished. Now Bernice uses vegetables to enhance her curved flower beds. She plants carrots for their ferny tops and tomatoes for their luscious red fruit and onions for their structure, spotting all of these where they will help to complete the perfect balance she has in her mind’s eye.
Jay is a gardener, too, but in the
larger sense. He farms 100 acres nearby, raising alfalfa as a hobby. And it is because of the alfalfa that they keep leaf cutter bees, prodigious pollinators as they are, and it is because of the hibernating bees that they can overwinter their gold fish in a cool shed out back. The fish are gathered into a plastic storage bin, three feet by two feet, and placed in the shed with the sleeping bees, where they do just fine in a comatose state until spring.
Bees and fish are not the only animal life affecting their gardening, A six-foot stucco-wire fence surrounds the whole thing to keep the deer out. “The deer are lovely animals,” notes Bernice, but their insatiable appetite for flowers comes into conflict with her appreciation of their beauty.
The stucco-wire, open and almost invisible, was erected to replace an electric fence which the deer either jumped or ignored in fall when their thick winter coats rendered them impervious to the shock. The deer own the town, says Bernice, who points out that they are really just as johnny-come-lately as humans.
“This was all swampland before,” she notes. “But now that it’s been drained, the deer and the bear have moved in. Unfortunately, people encourage the deer by feeding them.” To make matters worse, a recent dogon-a-leash bylaw has left the deer free to roam and graze completely unmolested. “They’re very curious,” says Bernice. ”If there is the tiniest opening in a fence, they can get in.” And this summer, they proved it by brazenly exploiting a mere six-inch opening in Bernice’s fence and cropping back the mugo pine. “But,” she says brightly, “they didn’t seem to like the snapdragons,” adding, despondently, “of course, it seems they get used to everything eventually.”
But deer problems aside, Bernice’s garden is a parkland that includes a natural looking pond built alongside a retaining wall in such as way as to completely belong there. While honeysuckle and foxgloves resist her green thumb, little else does. Her foliage is lush, her flowers glowing with colour. She has rescued three kinds of lady slippers from highway construction and weed killer on the road allowance. She loves the way shiny leafed bergenia look next to silver artemisia. She is filled with joy by the way the tiger lilies show against the dark green evergreens.
As Bernice herself puts it: “Each month of gardening brings me pleasure in the different plants that come into
bloom. I have daffodils, early lilies and some tulips in spring. The bergenias and irises come a bit later. Yellow primrose makes a gorgeous splash of yellow. More irises, lady’s slippers and lilies bloom next.
“Then the monkshood and delphiniums stretch up and take over with their dark and light blue blossoms. The Siberian iris and zebra grasses rustle their elegant leaves, while the roses begin to bloom. The natural ferns in the back lift their fronds as a backdrop to the lilies and red beebalm, while hostas mark the edge of most of our beds. Here and there are individual surprises that catch the eye – heucheras, sedums, liatris, veronica, and pots of annuals hidden here and there.
“The low spot at the back produces a large patch of marsh marigolds in spring. On the retaining-wall garden, the creeping jenny tries to get away on me – and usually does! I have to be ruthless!
“My pond relies on the plants I dig from the ditches or from the farm. I have cattails in pots, along with various other wild water plants. They survived quite nicely over the winter. My window boxes boasted verbena, petunias and creeping jenny, but I feel a tug to go back to bright red geraniums!
“It seems every time I turn around something else is blooming, so it is an ever changing scene.
“Right now I can look out from our warm and cozy sunroom and enjoy the white blanket of snow that covers the garden. The wagon wheels and a few tops of rose bushes, fern spore fronds, and darkened Autumn Joy mark the garden spot. The picnic table is covered in snow. The wood logs wait for grandchildren at Christmas, so we can clear the snow off the rock for a fire and marshmallows. After snowmobile rides through the back forest they’ll return for hot chocolate and fresh popcorn done over the fire. A few carols, and sliding down from the deck steps across the snow-covered grass and into Grandma’s garden– it all leaves us filled with joy. Life is good!”
Next to gardening, Bernice enjoys traveling around other gardens to get ideas and see plants she hasn’t tried actually growing. Next year, she says she will remove some of the ferns. She will put in some new heuchera for the thrill of gazing at their intricate and changing leaf patterns and she will add some more blue to the garden. She loves rounded shapes and she loves change – Jay often has to feel around for a chair when he comes home at night from nurturing his alfalfa. In the springtime, he will give a hand with the heavy lifting in case Bernice gets a new idea. In between times, they will walk over to the nearby golf course and play a few rounds. The kids and their various ten grandchildren might drop by. The garden will smile upon them all.
As Bernice says, life is good!
The sunroom seen through a screen of yellow evening primrose ( Oenethera), orange lilies, daisies, and maltese cross set off by a clump of cheery grasses. Below, the whimsical gate made by Jay.
Above right: Bernice loves the silver leaves of lambs’ ears and contrast of pansies growing amidst the creeping jenny. Shiny bergenia is a bold note in an airier planting. Below: Sedums and creeping Jenny contrast with the rough rock from the area.
Sweeping curves provide a path for the eye to follow in Bernice’s Pinawa garden. Structure is lent by the tall indigo plant and texture from the spotted, fuzzy leaves of pulmonaria and the strappy leaves of iris.
The garden as seen from the sunroom, right.
A detail of the rich colour in the garden.
Above left: the garden shed, where the Hawtons overwinter bees and fish, peeps out behind a riot of colour. Above right: airy ferns, red Maltese cross, white achillea (The Pearl), blue false indigo, blue delphiniums, yellow evening primrose and bright orange lilies all works together in a symphony of colour and texture.