How My Garden Nurtured Me

Credit: Carol Taylor

Gardens are the clearest image I have after my husband’s sudden death. In autumn, friends led me through public and private gardens, and I pondered how to keep my life together. In winter I trudged through those same gardens so different in patterns of light and shape. Tiny birds balancing on delicate crests of ornamental grasses caught my eye. At home, shovelling snow from my front walk and driveway, I delayed thoughts of looming responsibility for my own property.

In my first widowed spring I struggled with yardwork easily managed by my husband – maverick sprinkler heads, a daunting power mower and the temperamental mechanics of a weed trimmer. I cut the grass too short, watered haphazardly and whacked lawn edges from their roots. My yard became an eyesore, and I hated being in it. In the privacy of my backyard I shed tears and cursed my fate and then decided to get on with life. In that first spring, I awakened from my plodding grief and the healing began.

I read garden books, plied friends with questions and consulted landscape designers. In the process I discovered the lyricism of the language: Astilbe simplicifolia, Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi ‘Variegata’, Buddleia davidii, Echinacea, Lavandula, Rudbeckia, Coreopsis grandiflora, Gaillardia, Perovskia and Achillea filipendulina.

Kelowna garden guru Gwen Steele offered classes on dry valley gardening. In her demonstration garden we learned about drought-tolerant plants suitable for the Okanagan’s semi-arid climate. I spent a day at the Summerland Ornamental Gardens and took notes in their water-wise perennial section. Traipsing through many sites on the Kelowna Garden Tour I saw endless possibilities for my own place. At Kelowna’s annual Guisachan Garden Show I visited the GardenWise booth and purchased a year’s subscription.

In mid-July 2003 Heritage Landscaping workers, directed by owner John Nybo, began the transformation. Under a relentless sun, the crew removed half the grass and house-hugging cedars. They brought in topsoil and mulch, positioned local granite boulders and aligned drip irrigation for the drought-tolerant plants we had chosen for the garden’s wide borders.

At the halfway mark, I sat on the largest boulder and surveyed the dirt and disruption resembling a moonscape. Visualizing the carefully planned garden was difficult.
Melissa, an eight-year-old neighbour, cycled back and forth. Parking her bike at the curb, she sat next to me and said, “You need flowers.”

“Good idea,” I replied.

Carol’s garden

On the fifth day, when the transformation was complete, Melissa parked her bike and said, “You need a fence.”

“But, Melissa, if I had a fence no one would come into my new garden.”

A month later the Okanagan Mountain fire destroyed 238 homes and 35,000 residents were evacuated. At the end of a five-day evacuation order I returned home with my two cats and tearfully surveyed my intact garden. The smell of smoke was heavy and ash from the fire covered everything in sight. A few neighbours drew close and we gave a collective sigh of relief and shared disbelief that our homes were spared. My neighbourhood survived thanks to Okanagan firefighters and Mother Nature’s sudden change of wind direction.

My garden is now a focus for people walking, jogging and cycling by. They comment on its fast progress and those who ask for details are impressed that I have reduced my water use by half and eliminated pesticides. Glancing from an upstairs window I take delight in watching passersby stop for a closer look.

The garden is a work in progress. I have already planted additional Anemone pulsatilla near south windows so I can marvel at its astonishing colour in early spring, and I must soon move some plants crowded by their neighbours. The abundant Stachys byzantina has grown into the dominant position on my favourite sitting rock, leaving just room enough for me.

From here I see the tall, graceful Gleditsia triacanthos whose roots are nourished by my husband’s ashes and I know this: in this first year, while I tended my garden, my garden looked after me.

Carol Taylor’s garden has been given the thumbs up by the city of Kelowna as a great example of Water Smart landscaping. For Water Smart tips go to: