A Vancouver Garden Teeming with Roses

For over 40 years, Linda and John Dennison have amassed an impressive collection of magnificent roses

Credit: Andrea Sirois

Linda and John Dennison’s garden contains billowing paths littered with roses

A walk through Linda and John Dennison’s garden reveals an abundance of growth, particularly a large variety of astonishing roses

The perfect setting: cascading vines, an abundant array of flowers, shade from a giant Magnolia × soulangeana, air heavy with the scent of old-fashioned shrub roses, and a tea table and chairs set on a bright-green lawn. On a warm June afternoon, sitting with Linda and John Dennison, we chat about how their garden has developed over the past 40-odd years. 

The Dennisons moved into their Vancouver home in the late 1960s. The garden’s large rhododendrons were moved to the perimeter of the property to create an open lawn area for their youngsters’ play. Now those evergreens create a giant hedge that gives privacy. 

A stroll through Linda’s garden reveals an exuberance of new growth, everything flourishing happily together in cottage-garden style. Linda’s favourites are the old roses, of which she has quite a collection. Dating from the 17th century is a moss rose (Rosa × centifolia ‘Muscosa’), so named because of the tiny glands that cover its buds. They look like soft green moss but when brushed emit a fragrance of lemon and pine. The flowers have a true old-rose scent. 

(Images: Andrea Sirois)

Rosa ‘Fantin-Latour’ also has a delicious bouquet, along with blossoms shaped in such a way that they are reminiscent of old needlepoint. Beginning cupped, then opening to fully double, each light-pink bloom reveals a green button centre or eye. Branded as a “mystery rose,” its origin is not known with certainty. 

Another of Linda’s classic roses is a great bush of Rosa gallica var. officinalis, often called the apothecary or crimson damask rose. Cultivated since the Middle Ages, it has always been popular for scent and beauty. Its flowers are pinkish-red, semi-double, and cupped to flat in appearance. By late summer the flowers morph into reddish-orange rosehips.

Hundreds of years ago, the apothecary rose produced a striped variant. Rumour has it that it was named for Rosa Mundi, mistress of England’s King Henry II (1133–1189). Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’ reminds me of a summer dessert, a mélange of white, pale pink and rose red.


(Images: Andrea Sirois)

In February, Linda gives her roses a light general pruning and topdresses them with homemade compost. Near her back patio is a nice collection of blue-glazed and terracotta pots brimming with her favourite perennials and annuals, including pale-blue violas and annual ageratum. I admire her Salvia patens, possibly one of the best blue annuals. Linda overwinters this tender perennial in its pot in her unheated garage. In early spring she shakes the old soil off and repots it in good potting soil for another season of bloom.

Among her collection of clematis, Linda has three favourites. ‘Multi Blue’ has exquisite double blue flowers; its smaller central sepals and the tips of its larger outer petals are silvery blue, giving the appearance that the flowers are alight. ‘Etoile Violette’ has much darker violet-blue flowers that are a joy to behold. Meanwhile, her brilliant, double-white ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’ provides contrast. 

(Images: Andrea Sirois)

Linda treasures a baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata) that belonged to her grandmother and a white peachleaf bellflower (Campanula persicifolia ‘Alba’) from her mother. Both glow in the subtle light of evening and make excellent cut flowers. 

She chuckles as she tells a long-ago story about how her children frequented an area near where neighbours threw out their garden rejects. Numerous treasures were retrieved from that site, including crocuses, snowdrops and many perennials. With plants contributed by the entire clan, the Dennison garden truly represents a family tradition.