Water Features and Fragrant Plants Frame a Stunning East Vancouver Garden

This avid-plant collector has cultivated a breathtaking garden that will turn plant aficionados green with envy

This breathtaking view of the North Shore mountains is one of the many charms of Elisabeth Zoffman’s garden

This spectacular East Vancouver garden is teeming with bright and lively plants, and one of the most gorgeous water views in the city

Visitors to Elisabeth Zoffmann’s garden are initially dazzled by the spectacular view of Burrard Inlet with the North Shore mountains looming beyond. Clouds scud above cargo ships riding at anchor in the blue water while seabirds ride the air currents above.

But sooner rather than later, the astonishing array of plants closer at hand demands attention too. Although a sturdy railing separates her north-facing terrace from the sheer drop to rail tracks and wharves below, a long colourful border of shrubs and perennials flourishes on both sides of it, some clinging to the very edge.

A tall windmill palm in one corner with a carved stone tiki underneath suggests the steamy tropics rather than cool Vancouver. Bold shapes and bright colours reinforce this sensation.

A Serious Case of Plant Passion

Elisabeth is first and foremost a plant collector. “I have unrestricted plant greed,” she admits. Her garden reflects her passion with its many rare plants and unusual forms of familiar ones. Some she bought as young plants, some she has nurtured from cuttings and many she has grown from seed.

A purple-leafed silk tree, a kiwi vine with orange flowers and a double pink clematis stand out among the many unusual varieties she has cultivated.

But it is her skill in creating clever combinations that gives the garden its unity. Themes of gold, purple and soft sage green repeat throughout the borders.

Golden privet, golden succulents and gold-striped grasses gleam between dark-leafed perennials and shrubs. Low-growing black mondo grass and Sedum ‘Black Scallop’ thread between lemon-yellow Sedum ‘Ogon’ and the brass-and-copper leaves of pelargonium ‘Vancouver Centennial’. A yellow lily with a burgundy throat cosies up to both camps.

Elisabeth Zoffman East Vancouver Garden
The variety of plants on display is truly spectacular (Image: Bob Young Photography)

The pink flowers of a dogwood echo those of wild rose Rosa glauca, whose sage-green leaves are rimmed with purple. Hydrangea ‘Nikko Blue’ beside the tiki gets an answering chorus from the smaller flowers of a California lilac at the opposite corner. Corydalis ‘China Blue’ explodes like fireworks among the green-gold leaves of Hosta ‘June’.

More sparks fly when clematis ‘Niobe’, sprawling quietly over a nearby clump of salal, suddenly opens its velvety-red trumpets. The stems of the salal are a more subtle tomato red, echoed by the exotic bracts of a passionfruit vine, and the soft leaves of Coleus ‘Sedona’ among the black and gold groundcovers.
The garden at the front of the house relies more on foliage effects for its impact. A large stand of black-stemmed bamboo, purple elders ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘Midnight Lace’ and a filigree of Japanese maples screen the house from the sidewalk. Around the front door, frosty blue hebes mingle with clumps of green and golden grasses.

In the ten years that she has lived in this small pocket of Vancouver, Elisabeth has transformed her surroundings from curbside to cliff side and even beyond. She attributes some of her success to her father, a skilled gardener trained in Europe who passed onto her a love of green and growing things.

The Illusion of Water

Elisabeth Zoffman East Vancouver Garden
Zoffman’s garden is bursting with colour, from a vivid blue container to a jade birdbath and lime-green baby’s tears (Images: Bob Young Photography)

With Burrard Inlet on one side of her house, Elisabeth already has a significant water feature as a backdrop to her garden. But throughout the garden a clever use of certain plants suggests streams and even billowing waves to the imagination.

A Cretan pot lying on its side spills trickles of lime-green baby’s tears beside a rectangular pond fed by a dripping mossy pipe. Water in a jade green ceramic birdbath is mimicked by shallow bowls along the deck, brimming over with the trailing stems of succulents.

At the front of the house, clematis and honeysuckle pour over fences and cascade from pergolas. The white-dusted, fleshy leaves of Sedum ‘Capo Blanco’ foam like surf over a bed of pebbles while undulating waves of heather, thyme and mugo pine surge along the sidewalk and ripple out onto the unpaved shoulder of the road.

The Scents of the Garden

Although surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colour, Elisabeth has also paid attention to the allure of fragrance. “All the things in pots are about smells,” she says.

Many of these are displayed on the broad deck so that Elisabeth can enjoy their perfume as she dines al fresco on summer evenings. Among a collection of oriental lilies, a tall angel’s trumpet dangles fluted golden bells that fill the evening air with their fragrance. By the steps, a pot of Zaluzianskya ovata, a a tender annual with a flurry of moth-like white flowers edged in crimson, emits a sweet perfume out of all proportion to its modest size.

Pungent herbs like thyme, rosemary and oregano grow in a raised bed with a lemon-scented geranium that serves a double role as a mosquito repellent.
At the approach to the house a pergola supports a trailing shawl of Clematis armandii, which bursts into fragrant bloom every spring. It is succeeded by the pearly blossoms and exquisite scent of that fabulous old rose ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’.

In summer the scents of old fashioned sweet peas, English roses, and jasmine fill the garden. In winter the dainty white flowers of sarcococca wreath the front door in fragrance.