An Urban Sanctuary in New Westminster is Built on Garden Paths

This New Westminster garden is a tapestry of colour and texture

Credit: Terry Guscott

A gently sloping path allows easy wheelbarrow access to the upper garden. Hosta ‘June’ echoes the colour of the potting shed.

An elegant walkway enhances the sense of arrival and enclosure—and leads into a lush city sanctuary that perfectly complements this restored heritage house in New Westminster

A succulent centrepiece

For the horticulturist’s table, only a living arrangement will do! To keep his terra-cotta planter looking new, Claude coated it (inside and out) with pot sealant. He filled it with 75 per cent potting soil and 25 per cent coarse sand for sharp drainage. In the middle is Aeonium ‘Sunburst’, rising above a criss-cross of ×Alworthia ‘Black Gem’. The side triangles are windowpane plants (Haworthia cymbiformis).

Claude used very small plants to start with. The surface is dressed with twilight gravel (1⁄8 – 3⁄16 grade), which looks black when wet. None of these plants are hardy, so they come into a cool (minimum 10°C or 50°F) greenhouse by mid October and remain there until the end of April. In another year, the succulents will completely fill the planter, like a tapestry.

Enveloping their handsome New Westminster home, the garden of Claude LeDoux and Adrian Michielsen is a tapestry of colour and texture. “We envisioned an easy, flowing garden of pathways with distinct areas to capture morning and afternoon sun,” explains Claude. “There was no garden here when we bought the home in 1996, so we had an open palette. The slope allowed for defined beds at differing elevations. By watching the patterns of sunlight, we developed an overall plan.”

In tandem with the garden’s development has been the restoration of the south-facing house, which was built in 1908. “We wanted to own a heritage home, and because of the extensive renovations this one required, it fit into our budget at the time,” he notes.

I recall visiting them shortly after the purchase – the original siding was covered in stucco; much-needed drainage repairs had resulted in huge piles of soil around the foundation. Claude spoke exuberantly about restoring the house to heritage flavour and creating a garden with multiple terraces and retaining walls. 

A professional horticulturist (New Westminster Parks’ horticulture manager), Claude has had an insatiable curiosity for plants right from the time of his childhood in Louisiana. Adrian’s family is from Holland, and his training is in engineering. This match of skill sets has produced a garden like a Southern belle’s hoop skirt – eye-catching and bold but constructed with hidden mechanics that are clever, practical and precise. An example is the backyard potting shed, once a garage. What passersby don’t see is that the western wall and half of the roof are glass – creating a greenhouse without spoiling the heritage effect.

Roses, chives, lilies, oregano and other perennials bask along this east-west path in the upper garden. Bergenia cordifolia ‘Tubby Andrews’ bursts from the dark-green pot.

Claude describes the circulation pattern: “East of the house, a long, elegant path goes through wrought-iron gates that define the transition between street side and the rear garden.” The sense of arrival and enclosure is heightened with a dramatic wooden screen of four trellised panels. Its architectural style is deliberately neutral, so that it works amicably between the two neighbouring heritage homes. Bold plantings cascade out from its base, and at night it is lit, providing safe footing.

This path starts near a blooming Hosta ‘Striptease’ and ends at the Japanese fibre banana near the patio. Espaliered fruit trees add a formal touch to granite-edged raised beds.

Inside the gate, one part of the path diverges past the sunroom, while the other continues to the potting shed. Turning there, it passes a vegetable garden delineated with espaliered fruit trees and arrives at a separate, upper patio area. 

By the gate, the evergreen tree Azara microphylla and a large Chinese fan palm provide privacy. Near the house, a variegated Ginkgobiloba adds a dramatic flourish.

“It is important to us to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruit trees have their own architecture and are easily incorporated into a sunny garden. Even in deep shade, evergreen huckleberries produce fruit for muffins, pancakes and syrup. My favourite is the U.B.C. introduction Vaccinium ovatum ‘Thunderbird’, which has red new growth,” Claude says.

Herbs jostle for space in flower beds and fill pots near the outdoor dining table. Vegetables grow near the potting shed, kitchen door and front sidewalk, some of them going to the non-profit Plant a Row • Grow a Row. Claude is New West’s coordinator of this program, which supplies fresh produce to local food banks. 

Left: Tools are at the ready on the potting-shed door. Right: Pitcher plants flourish standing in water on the raised pond.

Close to the kitchen, the compost box holds another invention: a wrought-iron armature that hooks over its sides, providing a summer home for large pots of tomato plants. They flourish in the sun and hide the compost below. Near a neatly coiled hose by the kitchen door, a decorative iron grate covers a large drain. With this arrangement, there’s no excuse for not hosing down muddy gumboots before coming indoors!

A hammock is suspended over corn poppies and a large clump of Helleborus argutifolius ‘Silver Lace’.

Claude travels widely, visiting gardens and nurseries to learn about current trends in horticulture. His plant collection demonstrates his wide-ranging taste in plants. This profusion is neatly framed and ordered by the garden’s tight floor plan and dramatic hardscape. “All of the rounded stones in the backyard came from the property. We lifted them as we dug over all the beds and then created retaining walls. We also used granite risers and concrete pavers, taking care not to combine more than three materials in any one area.”

Along the east side of the house, a gently sloping path and wooden screen direct visitors to the back garden.

This lush urban sanctuary, with its thick plantings, bird feeders and fresh water, welcomes wildlife. When I visited one midsummer day, bees buzzed from flower to flower, birds twittered and a fat spider basked near the pond. I couldn’t help feeling that Claude and Adrian’s garden would never be “finished,” for this magnum opus provides an outlet for their shared desire to imagine, innovate and accomplish. 


A cheery sunflower is one of many edibles.

Pitcher plants sit in a bowl of water.

The following plants are hardy to the zone numbers indicated:

Aeonium ‘Sunburst’ – tender succulent – zone 8
• ×Alworthia ‘Black Gem’ – tender succulent
Azara microphylla – zone 8
Bergenia cordifolia ‘Tubby Andrews’ – zone 3
Ginkgo biloba Variegata Group – zone 5
Haworthia cymbiformis (windowpane plant) – tender succulent – zone 6
Helleborus argutifolius ‘Silver Lace’ (Corsican hellebore) – zone 6
Hosta ‘June’, ‘Striptease’ – zone 4
Musa basjoo (Japanese fibre banana) – zone 8
Papaver rhoeas (corn poppy) – self-seeding annual – zone 7
Pleioblastus auricoma (variegated bamboo) – zone 7
Sarracenia sp. (pitcher plant) – zone 2 to 6, depending on species
Sedum ruprestre ‘Angelina’ – zone 6
Trachycarpus fortunei (Chinese fan palm, windmill palm) – zone 7
Vaccinium ovatum ‘Thunderbird’ (evergreen huckleberry) – zone 7

Find Claude Ledoux’s step-by-step on making a hanging basket here.