Sentimental journey

Lorena Baran has filled her garden with cherished art, prized exotics and "plants that visit"

Credit: Terry Guscott

Taking a stroll down memory lane, Lorena Baran has filled her garden with cherished art, prized exotics and “plants that visit”

The deep-pink double peony featured in her back garden comes to Lorena Baran via a circuitous route. When a friend’s mother (who had been close to Lorena’s late mother) went into a retirement home, she invited Lorena to take what plants she liked from her yard and Lorena chose this peony, discovering only later that it originated from her own mother’s garden. Lots of memories accompany Lorena as she meanders through her garden: her mother, an avid gardener and talented artist, created much of the artwork strategically placed throughout the house and yard, including the carved sculpture of a bird on the patio and many of the pottery vessels now overflowing with annuals and perennials.

Front porch: Blue star creeper (Laurentia fluviatilis), chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’), brass buttons (Leptinella squalida), and redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana), with hellebores, brunneras and coral flowers.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera ‘Mandarin’) is from the UBC Botanical Garden plant collection.

A Sentimental Journey
Planters made by Lorena’s mother.
A Sentimental Journey
Front garden from street: campanula, cranesbills, oxalis, hellebores, ferns and brunneras grow under light shade of sumac trees (Rhus typhina).

One year before retiring, Lorena and her beloved canine companion, Jesse, moved into their new home (pictured above: Lorena and Jesse relax on the private back patio). Designed by Vancouver architects Joanne Gates and Peter Suter, the house is a striking fusion of grey-painted siding and distinctive warm wood trim. Adjoining the garage at the back of the property is a greenhouse and potting shed, complementary in design with an expanse of glass and identical trim.
On the advice of her “most erudite gardening friend, Wendy,” Lorena’s first step was to spread and plough in manure throughout the property, with the help of her son, Cory. Then, covering the area with layers of newspaper and bark mulch, she ignored it for a year.

With the hardscaping and major plant structure in place, Lorena sought inspiration by visiting plant sales and open gardens organized by clubs such as the Vancouver Hardy Plant Group, and in just a few short years has managed to build up an extraordinary plant collection.

The north-facing front garden is cool, shady and inviting: the once-level ground is now a landscape of gentle berms and undulations, featuring a dry riverbed. Mature sumac trees (Rhus typhina) run the length of the front border. Their lanky, bare trunks invite some serious underplanting, which this intrepid gardener has effectively addressed with a ground-hugging tapestry of hellebores, brunneras, ferns, oxalis, primulas and pulmonarias. Variegated rhododendron (Rhododendron ‘President Lincoln’), heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) and an unusual Chinese plum yew (Cephalotaxus sinensis) form the first understorey, along with two of Lorena’s favourites: leopard plant (Ligularia tussilaginea ‘Aureo-maculata’) and a small Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Koko No Ito’).

With an aversion to lawn, Lorena bid farewell to her lawnmower and the turf on her portion of the boulevard. A current challenge involves this same boulevard: the city removed a large, diseased London plane tree (Platanus x acerifolia) under which she had planted shade-loving hellebores and brass buttons (Leptinella squalida), all now recoiling due to this sudden exposure. When the tree is replaced, she will reassess plant choices.

The back garden is Lorena’s interpretation of an English country garden – bursting with bulb and perennial favourites: masterwort, monkey flowers, lilies, heliotrope, “hair” alliums, knotweed, peonies, comfrey, Culver’s root and a strange-looking Campanula takesimana ‘Beautiful Truth’, whose lacy white flowers are amusingly unkempt. This fertile spot is full of “plants that visit,” says Lorena, who points to a bright-orange monkey flower (Mimulus), “planted originally on the west border, now also growing on the east border.”

Being a resourceful, practical person, Lorena was quick to accept chimney bricks offered when an old house nearby was demolished, and has used them to create the inviting, meandering paths throughout this garden. Her latest acquisition, replacing a diseased apple tree, is a small ornamental crabapple tree (Malus ‘Evereste’), which promises persistent, showy fruits in winter. When friends inquire about the fruits, she is quick to respond: “No jelly – these are for the birds, and to look at!”

Left: A meandering path, constructed with used chimney bricks from a neighbour’s demolition, winds through the perennial garden. Middle: This deep-pink peony originated in Lorena’s mother’s garden. Right: Rosa ‘Golden Cascade’

After eight years, Lorena expresses contentment that she now has a garden she can comfortably work in without feeling overwhelmed. It’s one that gives her “a great deal of visual pleasure and creative satisfaction,” one that provides the retirement retreat she had wished for, and one where she can savour memories as well as moments with friends and “plants that visit.”

Retired landscaper Sally Spires gardens and writes from her nest high on Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains.

The following plants are hardy to the zone number indicated: Acer palmatum ‘Koko No Ito’ (Japanese maple) – zone 6 • Campanula takesimana ‘Beautiful Truth’ (bellflower) – zone 5 • Cephalotaxus sinensis (Chinese plum yew) – zone 7 • Leptinella squalida (New Zealand brass buttons) – zone 4 • Ligularia przewalski – zone 4 • Ligularia tussilaginea ‘Aureo-maculata’ syn. Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculatum’ (leopard plant) – zone 7 • Lonicera ‘Mandarin’ (Mandarin honeysuckle) – zone 4 • Malus ‘Evereste’ (flowering crabapple) – zone 5 • Nandina domestica (heavenly bamboo) – zone 6 • Platanus x acerifolia (London plane tree) – zone 5 • Rhododendron ‘President Lincoln’ – zone 4 • Rhus typhina (staghorn sumac) – zone 3 • Rosier grimpant ‘Golden Cascade’ (climbing rose) – zone 5 • Syneilesis aconitifolia (shredded umbrella plant) – zone 5