I don’t remember when I first became consumed with gardening, but it’s been for some time now. Another thing I don’t recall is why I’m so obsessed with the formal garden style.
One of the considerations about moving into my older neighbourhood was all the mature trees on the property. It was in the month of March, right after a heavy Spring snowfall, when we purchased our house with a July possession date. Two beautiful weeping birches flanked the front walkway, three large spruce trees stood along the back alley, and right outside of the dining room window was a Mayday tree with a treehouse built in it. It all looked so beautiful with snow heavy on the branches…and the symmetry was fairly (well not too bad!) good. What an unpleasant surprise to see what was actually under that blanket of snow!!! All the trees were unhealthy. The weeping birches in front were at the end of their lifespan. That was heartbreaking for me because I love these graceful giants. I did try to encourage them into living a few more years, but eventually, I had to concede that it was time to take them down. That was a tearful goodbye!!! The bottom branches of the spruce trees (in the back) were dead with barely any needles and the mayday was in distress. That poor tree never recovered from the trauma caused by building a very large treehouse in it. Even though we took down the treehouse it was too late to save the tree. Eventually, all of the big trees came down.
With a clean slate, it was possible to plan a small parterre garden. First, the sod had to go…it was mostly weeds. With the help of my mom and dad, we laid out the footprint of the garden and built the cedar frames for the raised beds. I was thrilled to find boxwood shrubs that were hardy in our zone and planted 100s of them around the raised beds. Next, I laid hexagon shaped cement block walkways. As much as I would have preferred to put pea gravel along the sides of the walkways I ended up with more sod. Having two dogs chase each other around the yard with gravel flying everywhere didn’t seem practical. “Dwarf” spruce trees were planted in the raised beds and creeping thyme to fill in around them. I found someone willing to install the extremely heavy three-tiered cement fountain. A hybrid tea rose garden was planted along the fence that happily thrives in this protected area. All of this was hard, very hard work. Having the store was more than a full-time job and Sundays were my only “zen” days to work in the garden. Needless to say, this took a long time, (many summers), however, I really enjoyed the process and was adamant about doing the grunt work myself. I won’t say I’m finished because a garden is never done!
Once the spruce trees came down at the back of the lot, a large space with the bonus of more sunlight opened up. That’s when the dream of a greenhouse began. When the store closed I had the time to start planning. I considered ordering a prefab greenhouse from BC Greenhouses. I really liked the conservatory style they sell but I didn’t have anyone willing to assemble it once the glass panels arrived on my driveway. After waffling back and forth on that idea I decided to start collecting reclaimed windows. A friend who had some beautiful old windows was willing to part with them and offered to store more windows for me as I found them. Over the next several months I had enough windows and doors to get started. I drew up a rough plan on graph paper based on the measurements of the windows and doors and we were ready to get started.
Construction started in early June 2016. I had an agreeable “handyman” who was willing to “humour” me by working without a professional blueprint plan and was happy to make changes along the way. My niece, Meg, helped me all that summer. We had to scrape, sand, replace broken and cracked panes, and repaint all the windows and doors. That took days (weeks). Then we painted (one coat of primer and two top coats…on both sides!!!) all the beadboard that wrapped the exterior.
Once the drywall was installed, we painted the interior a sagey green. The first coat of paint we tried was too yellowy green. We ended up mixing up our own colour by adding black and white paint to the original colour. A stencil was found online for the pattern on the plywood floor. Thankfully Meg painted that, doing a fabulous job…my knees were on strike!!!
Now for the fun part…the decorating.
The interior has a vintage garden look. Iron shelving units from the old store worked perfectly for pots and trays. Meg spray painted some old wicker chairs a soft green and we painted a patio table my dad made me many years ago. A cement table from the patio fit nicely between the back mirrored windows and a picture I’ve had for some time topped that off beautifully. A chandelier and wall sconces from the store were the final touches. Last summer a gas fireplace/furnace was installed under the cement table to keep the space cozy warm.
We have been away in the Spring for the past two years so I haven’t started bedding plants in the greenhouse yet…but next year I plan to have a real greenhouse experience.
Many of the orangeries and conservatories I’ve visited in the past have been converted into restaurants and social areas. I, too, like to entertain in my greenhouse. With screened windows to keep the mosquitos out in the summer and a fireplace to keep warm in the fall and winter, it has become a favourite place for luncheons and Friday night dinners.
Now I have to learn how to cook……..
Building the greenhouse was one of the best experiences of my life. Although it was a lot of work, spending time outdoors and laughing most of the time is something I will never forget. I have this view from my back windows as a forever reminder of “The Summer that Was”.