Down to an art

High school teacher’s prop­erty in cen­tral Hamil­ton al­ready boasts eight awards for civic beau­ti­fi­ca­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - ROB HOWARD Rob Howard lives and gar­dens in Hamil­ton. Find him on Face­book at Rob Howard: Gar­den writer or email him at gar­den­writer@bell.net

She’s won six Tril­li­ums, Hamil­ton’s award for civic beau­ti­fi­ca­tion. The front gar­den is a mas­ter­piece; the back­yard an oa­sis; her work a splen­did labour of love.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

HOW TRIL­LIUM AWARD? DO YOU WIN A

Drive­way? Im­mac­u­late. Hose? Neatly coiled. Gar­den mulch? Freshly turned. Con­tain­ers of an­nu­als? Over­flow­ing with healthy colour. Front gar­den? Pic­ture per­fect. Ev­ery inch of grass trimmed and edged. Ev­ery shrub and plant healthy and vig­or­ous.

TISH JEF­FREY

HAS IT down to an art. Her cen­tral Hamil­ton prop­erty has won six Tril­li­ums — the city’s award for civic beau­ti­fi­ca­tion — and two Pink Tril­li­ums (2012 and this year) for the best ex­am­ple of that beau­ti­fi­ca­tion in her ward. Hers, along with 15 other prop­er­ties across the city, is a con­tender for the Red Tril­lium, to be awarded in Oc­to­ber, rec­og­niz­ing the best ex­am­ple in Hamil­ton.

Tish, a Hamil­ton high school teacher, has been in the house for com­ing up to nine years. She’s done a lot of work on both the home (she may be one of the few peo­ple who ac­tu­ally en­joy paint­ing their house) and the gar­dens.

We’ll re­turn to the front gar­den — a mas­ter­piece of colour and de­sign — in a mo­ment. We walk up that im­mac­u­late drive­way to the gate (which she built) through the fence (which she built) to a lovely shade gar­den at the side of the house. Past that, where a garage used to stand, is a lovely gar­den shed.

As you en­ter the back gar­den, you see a gor­geous, ir­reg­u­larly-shaped pool. It’s sur­rounded by pavers which in turn are sur­rounded by flower bor­ders, all of it de­signed to be some­where be­tween low- and no­main­te­nance.

Two tall, colum­nar trees sit be­tween the back of the house and the pool; Tish has planted the beds with grasses, hy­drangeas, se­dums, small conifers, gar­den phlox and, along a shady fence line, hostas and co­ral bells (heuchera). It’s calm, peace­ful — a gen­uine oa­sis in the city.

As the home is in a des­ig­nated her­itage district, Tish had to get per­mis­sion to make changes to the back gar­den that would be vis­i­ble from the street. That in­cluded ask­ing to take down her old garage. There was time and pa­per­work in­volved, but the re­sult is a lovely back shed, pool and gar­den that matches the style, if not quite the era, of the home.

But it’s the front gar­den that re­ally wows.

Here’s a gar­den that uses fo­liage — leaves of plants — rather than flow­ers for its look and feel. In one flower bed alone, I saw the deep bronze leaves of heuchera, pale green and blue green ev­er­green shrubs, flam­ing red Ja­panese blood grass, a yel­low-green conifer, a var­ie­gated weigela, Ja­panese painted fern, a deep green “whip­cord” cedar, an emer­ald green cedar, a large dark bur­gundy bar­berry, and hostas in sev­eral shades of green.

The only sig­nif­i­cant flower in the en­tire front (out­side of con­tain­ers) is a won­der­ful big-leafed hy­drangea with large blooms that open white and turn a sweet shade of pink.

The use of colour is artis­tic, but so too are the mixes of leaf shape and tex­ture, and of plant shape and size. This gar­den is a mas­ter class in gar­den­ing with fo­liage. Ev­ery plant, bush and shrub gets reg­u­lar at­ten­tion — shap­ing, clean­ing out any dead leaves, prun­ing for size. Tish is a woman of few words, but her af­fec­tion for her gar­den and for at­ten­tion to de­tail is ev­i­dent.

I mustn’t ig­nore the over­flow­ing bas­kets and con­tain­ers that line the house’s ve­randa. Tish starts plan­ning them in May. This year, they’re a mix of large pur­ple petu­nias, small yel­low petu­nias, lime green sweet po­tato vine, all with ex­tra ac­cents of pur­ple, bur­gundy and green.

By mid-Au­gust, most con­tain­ers are look­ing a lit­tle worn. But Tish’s are big, healthy, over­flow­ing with flow­ers and not a brown leaf or dead flower to be seen. She plants them all her­self and is metic­u­lous about wa­ter­ing — and least daily and more of­ten as needed. She trims and dead­heads on an al­most con­stant ba­sis.

In Septem­ber, the an­nu­als come out and fall plants — chrysan­the­mums at the top of the list — go in.

Reg­u­lar care and main­te­nance is es­sen­tial, she says. A gor­geous Nootka spruce and a ma­ture Ja­panese maple — “It turns bright red in the fall” — are pro­tected by burlap wrap ev­ery win­ter.

“It re­ally helps. They’re health­ier since I did that.”

Work­ing in the gar­den is not just a way to fill a teacher’s sum­mer, she says. She has other work. For Tish, it’s a labour of love.

“I like to work out­side. I like to cut grass. I like things nice and neat. I get a kick out of it.”

This gar­den is a mas­ter class in gar­den­ing with fo­liage.

In the back­yard around the pool Tish has planted the beds with grasses, hy­drangeas, se­dums, small conifers, gar­den phlox and, along a shady fence line, hostas and co­ral bells (heuchera).

The over­flow­ing bas­kets and con­tain­ers that line the house’s ve­randa are a mix of large pur­ple petu­nias, small yel­low petu­nias, lime green sweet po­tato vine, all with ex­tra ac­cents of pur­ple, bur­gundy and green.

Tish Jef­frey (above right), a Hamil­ton high school teacher, has done a lot of work on both the home and the gar­dens. It’s not just a way to fill a teacher’s sum­mer, she says. It’s a labour of love.

Ev­ery shrub and plant in Tish Jef­frey’s gar­den is healthy and vig­or­ous.

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