Patio Perfection in Capilano

A stunning garden overlooking the Capilano River in North Vancouver.

Credit: iStock

Rosa Graham Thomas

A stunning garden overlooking the Capilano River in North Vancouver

If it’s true that you only get one chance to make a first impression, Margaret and Allen Price used their opportunity well when designing and building their house and creating their yard above the Capilano River.

Even before reaching the front door, one suspects this will be an extraordinary garden. It does not disappoint. On entering this private piece of paradise, a first glance reveals a stunning paperbark cherry tree (Prunus serrula) providing the perfect canopy for the first of four seating areas thoughtfully placed throughout the property. Funky yet elegant on this patio deck, built by Allen with preserved hemlock, are two French wrought-iron folding chairs acquired from a Main Street antique shop.

In raised beds around the deck, foxgloves, columbines and giant butter-yellow hollyhocks have seeded themselves among large-leafed hostas, assorted textural ferns and showy hydrangeas, including H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’, caught flaunting her mass of pure-white spherical flowerheads, and oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Two ecru-glazed pots of vividly coloured annual impatiens define the patio deck edge.

Oriental Red Poppy Curious eye-catching accents sit on a low fence separating patio from driveway: inverted, these earth-tone ceramic insulators from powerlines became three “water baskets” on display. Allen laughs: “We’ve moved them about the garden for some years now, looking to find the best esthetic placement. They seem to be very happy placed on the mini wood decks or within shaded garden alcoves with plants having small leaf structure.”

When Margaret and Allen bought the property 37 years ago, it consisted of two lots, one with a tear-down shack on it, the second with a tiny single-storey 1950s cottage. Allen, an architect by profession, quickly saw renovation potential. Upon completion, the house was considerably larger – giving them the space they would need to raise four daughters over the coming years. Through the busy years of raising a family and now as empty-nesters, Margaret has concentrated on garden layout while Allen has worked successfully to complement her planting choices with innovative structures.

The property is enclosed by 1.8 m (72-in), 1-by-2 cedar vertical fencing and Allen has retained similar dimensions when designing and building wooden structures. “What I have tried to do is create wooden textures with different patterns, such as vertical and horizontal lines and square grids that mimic the different textures in Margaret’s plantings.” Painted with soft, leaf-tone colours, Allen’s free-standing, turned wooden posts, with finials made from aluminum metal flashing, are also a natural fit with the landscape. Painting the house, fence and garden structures a similar hue allowed the garden to remain the main focus of the landscape year-round.

Sunrise finds Margaret and Allen enjoying that first cup of coffee in a favourite patio nook with a table and a set of comfortable chairs at the east side of the property. Surrounded by flowerbeds, luxuriant with shrubs, perennials and bright pots of annual petunias, these early birds love to observe subtle light changes on the garden as the sun comes up. Further evidence of Allen’s handiwork can be found here, beyond the tall shrubs, parallel to the driveway: driven by practical necessity, he has created a trellised enclosure, effectively concealing garbage and recycling containers.

Over the years, every corner of this large property has been cultivated. Margaret admits that she is finding it challenging now and is concerned they are “becoming slaves to the garden.” Conscious of this, she is gradually replacing smaller, labour-intensive perennials with shrubs and easy-care plants, adding to her large collection of thriving ferns and hostas and other foliage plants. By strategically placing planters filled with brightly coloured annuals – impatiens for shade and petunias for sunny spots – Margaret brings an element of surprise and unexpected colour to these low-maintenance areas.

Giant Ornamental Onions A third patio appears at the end of a path meandering down the east side to the back of the house. No sun umbrellas needed here: this patio and another seating area below are protected from the elements by a judiciously pruned mature Burkwood osmanthus. French doors lead conveniently from the kitchen onto this large patio, the main outdoor living and dining area for the family. It’s also a great play space for their grandchildren and has “often been a workshop for furniture construction for both inside and outside use.” For this area, Allen acquired – for the cost of delivery – quarry tile used in an interior architectural exhibition at the old Vancouver Public Library in the early ’70s.

Margaret too has worked her magic here: large pots of ferns and impatiens complement an understory of extensive periwinkle groundcover, lonicera, pulmonarias, rose-of-sharon (Hibiscus syriacus ‘Red Heart’), ferns and hostas. A variety of shrubs providing height, texture and colour are planted the length of the long east-to-west border, following an inviting path that leads to the bottom of the property and eventually wends its way back up to the main patio.

Along the border is a lovely selection of fragrant rugosa roses, more giant hollyhocks, lady’s mantle, ninebark, hydrangeas, shrubby redleaf rose (Rosa glauca) and scrambling clematis. These are framed by taller shrubs and trees, such as mountain ash (Sorbus ‘Pink Pagoda’), grown for its pink berries, and Japanese stewartia, grown for its stunning bark. A lush lawn – with no weeds – offsets this well-conceived design. Margaret explains: “Apart from annual liming and fertilizing, hand weeding is the reason this lawn looks so healthy.”

More artwork is displayed around this outdoor room: five pressed-brass Chinese candle lanterns – a Mother’s Day gift – hang at irregular heights, showing a natural leaf-like profile from all perspectives. Among the many enchanting conversation pieces is a wood-framed tile collage – made by Allen after foraging in a local tile shop – which lights up the wall a short distance from the lanterns.

The two yellow-painted Adirondack chairs, positioned at the top of the large lawn below the main patio, mark the spot where Margaret and Allen relax when the day is done. With the sun going down behind the green belt at the bottom of the garden, perhaps with a gin and tonic in hand, they enjoy the pleasures that dusk brings: the change of light, the subtle fragrance of rugosas wafting in on evening breezes, and the gentle sound of water from the nearby pond. Another day ends for this imaginative, energetic husband-and-wife team.

A former landscape gardener, freelance-writer Sally Spires now spends her time writing and gardening from her nest high on Vancouver’s North Shore mountains.