24th annual Mother’s Day garden tour Sunday in the Comox Valley

Sunday, May 12 marks the 24th year in a row that the North Island Rhododendron Society (NIRS) has opened the gardens of members and friends to welcome Comox Valley families to celebrate Mother’s Day with a profusion of blooms.

By fortunate coincidence, it seems the day is usually sunny, and many of the shrubs and flowers are at their peak of flowering.

This year, another bonus is that most of the gardens are first-timers on the tour – and although the garden of Adela and the late Roberts Smith has been on several times before it will be extra special this year. It is already in the process of being gussied and primped to perfection to coincide with a family wedding in June that will be held among the flowers.

The Smith’s garden is best known for its profusion of rhododendrons—more than 2,000 of them on seven acres of sloping hillside. When Adela and Roberts bought the property in 1993 it had a small collection of beds in front of the house and a lot of bush land. The couple was given three rhododendron plants for the property and then, says Adela with a laugh,” we promptly killed them.”

They slowly started acquiring more shrubs along with information on how to care for rhododendrons and soon built a showpiece garden with a wealth of species that burst into Gauguin-like splashes of vibrant colour in May. This is a large garden and worth allowing enough time to explore the winding paths that snake up and down inclines that are banked with rhodos.

Another garden that was more forest than garden was the two-lot parcel Barb Simonson acquired 28 years ago. It was mostly “just big trees” she says, “and lots of them.” One of the earliest projects was installing a pond with waterfalls, a stream and bridges and from there the garden “just grew like Topsy.” There was no overall master plan except for wanting a garden that had something blooming in every season. There were magnolias in early to start and then rhododendrons followed by Barb’s beloved roses. It’s a garden that surprises.

Looking at the immaculate layout and design of Lily and John Vanderhorst’s new garden in Crowne Isle, it’s hard to believe that five years ago it was just a bare lot with a couple of shrubs and trees. Lily’s keen gardening sense and taste in what to put where have made the most of a small plot and created a tableau that the Vanderhorsts can enjoy from almost every window in their home.

For anyone looking to pick up tips on designing a garden that looks great but doesn’t require endless maintenance, the immaculate design of Beth and Peter Sanderson on Washington Crescent is worth a visit. The couple started planting on a bare lot 13 years ago and have continued adding perennials as they spotted ones they liked. “It has to be a garden that looks after itself,” says Beth. “I would find something I liked so I planted it.”

Like most gardeners, she has favourites.

“I love hydrangeas and have many of those as well as spirea. The spirea is not an exotic shrub but it adds colour for a long time.”

Gene and Sharon Scheidl describe their garden as “an English-style country garden in the city.” It has a strong sense of being a private sanctuary, not just a lawn with floral borders that features winding pathways and mature perennials.

“Our garden is not manicured at all—we try to keep it simple and not ‘planted’ looking.”

Among the choice specimens are sequoia, a tulip tree, paperbark maples and a number of “out of the ordinary” shrubs.

Tickets cost $10 for all six gardens and include detailed driving directions as well as a coupon for a free draw for a prize rhododendron. The tours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and are self-guided but garden owners are on hand to answer questions or provide additional information on specimens.

Tickets are available before the tour at Anderton Nursery, Art Knapp’s Plantland, Blue Heron Books and Home & Garden Gate. A limited number of tickets will be available at the gardens.

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