On Top of the World

Credit: Barbara Rayment

The village of Mackenzie is two hours north of Prince George, and the gardening isn’t easy, though it can be just as rewarding as gardening anywhere else. Once the short season and lack of native topsoil are accommodated, the possibilities are endless, as demonstrated in half a dozen interesting and unique gardens we visited at the end of July. Here, as everywhere, gardeners make do with what they have, create beauty and bountiful harvests, and fret that photos of their gardens would have been better last week or maybe next week. The McMullen garden is the first to be featured in this ongoing series on northern gardens.

It would be a nice front yard anywhere in the world: an acre of mown lawn with a few scattered trees, surrounded by lush forest. The landscaping leading up to the front door is formal and tidy, reminiscent of suburban front entrances all over the Lower Mainland. A small greenhouse is tucked over in one corner, there are flower and vegetable gardens, and orchid cacti hang in the fruit trees. And then you come around the side of the house and get a glimpse of the view. This is why we live up north, those of us who love the clean air and wide-open spaces – five million acres of wilderness leading the eye on and on to the distant mountains, and only more wilderness beyond that.

Steve and Sue McMullen’s garden has evolved over the past 20 years, shifting from the early stages of creating landscaping around a new house to productive vegetable gardens and play areas for the children, to a more low-maintenance collection of flower and shrub beds set in lawn and winding brick paths. Always, it has been home to one or another of Steve’s gardening obsessions (lilies being the latest) and an assortment of passing wildlife.

The centrepiece of the backyard is the koi pond and bordering flagstone patio. Situated at the edge of a plateau overlooking the wilderness, it provides the perfect place for a quiet glass of wine and contemplation of nature. Around the pond are a mix of native and garden plantings, with native birch, Schubert chokecherries, daylilies, bulrushes and tall grasses blending happily together. Lilies are everywhere and splendid in full bloom. The naturalistic pond harmonizes with the wilderness beyond and looks totally in place. Local wildlife seems to agree – Steve wishes his camera had been ready the morning he watched a curious young coyote at the pond edge cautiously sniffing noses with one of the large koi.

The koi, water lilies and orchid cacti will all come inside for the winter, but the stunning backdrop remains year round.

Barbara Rayment operates Birch Creek Nursery, in Prince George, where she grows and experiments with a wide variety of hardy plants.