While the 18th century poet William Cowper is usually credited with the line “variety is the spice of life,” there have been enough variations on the quote to make it a cliché.
Cliché or not, it’s a good way to describe this year’s 18th annual North Island Rhododendron Society (NIRS) Mother’s Day Tour this Sunday.
Each of the six gardens in Central Courtenay and Comox has been selected for a distinctive look, from small gardens with unusual shrubs and flowers to lush expanses that spill into the surrounding forest.
• Becci and Keith Russell’s medium-sized sloping garden at 2271 Lake Trail Road hidden behind a high wooden fence comes as a surprise. Formerly Stone Tree Nursery, this one-acre riot of colour seems much larger than its size implies with winding paths that weave past rare perennials and unusual trees and shrubs.
The Russells took advantage of the sloping terrain, elevation and natural streambed to create a vista that would catch the eye from their kitchen window. “The property shaped the landscaping,” says Keith.
• Ann Chevrier’s garden at 417 King Rd. in Comox has a similar sloping terrain but is definitely shaped by her love of rhododendrons, 135 of them, the botanical names of which roll off her tongue. For a .86-acre property, which Ann claims “grew like Topsy” there’s a strong sense of theme to the separate areas in the garden.
At the foot of the slope, there’s a small pond in a wet area and “bog garden” leads up to another area via a dry stony creek bed to yet another pond that is definitely Japanese with its small pagoda and weeping tree. Nurturing it over 25 years, Ann describes her horticultural creativity as a need to look after something.
“I’m painting a picture,” she says.
• Jaime Wilms and Dany Fortin’s garden at 680 14th St. in Courtenay is equally a labour of love and an example of what can be done with a compact city lot.
Starting with a boring grassy space more than three years ago, they have filled both the front and back yards with rare plants, each situated in spots that appeal to the plant’s special requirements for shade, sun or moisture. Dany searched out many of the plants after spotting them in their natural environments in places such as Machu Picchu or Chile. Like the Russells, this couple’s passion for gardening led them to each other, a true love story.
• Another small city space, Bernie and Gloria Guyader’s garden at 1965 Sixth St. East in Courtenay shows what can be done on a half-acre lot and is equally a garden to be viewed inch by inch. Filled with “dwarfs” such as dwarf rhodos and Bernie’s two passions — bonsai plants and alpines — there are also unusual trees and larger rhodos.
• Situated at the end of a cul-de-sac, Nadine and Gerry Boudreau’s garden at 1817 Preston Road in Comox is a gem carved to perfection.
Starting with a barren lot 10 years ago, Nadine has put her expert skills to work at shaping beds and paths that create separate moods throughout the small lot. Her special knowledge about plant culture plus her love of perfection have created an oasis of perennials that seem perfectly placed and nurtured. Another passion, stained glass, peppers the garden reflecting light and colour above the plantings and in the theme pockets.
• Garden No. 6 at 2393 Seabank Road near the east end of Seal Bay Park nurtured lovingly by Richard Bonney seems like series of special rooms carved out of the forest.
Starting with a forest-covered lot almost 30 years ago, Richard and his late wife, Pauline, created a maze of paths that wound past extensive perennial plantings into secret nooks and crannies.
• • •
The tour runs May 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets cost $10 to cover all the gardens. The ticket also has an entry into a draw for a rhododendron; draw tickets may be dropped off at garden No. 3.
Tickets are available at Anderton’s Nursery, Art Knapp’s, Home & Garden Gate (Courtenay and Cumberland) and Blue Heron Books in Comox.
— North Island Rhododendron Society