Water features make a backyard garden paradise

A Fort St. James couple has worked hand in hand with Mother Nature to create this happy blend of wilderness and garden.

Credit: Barbara Rayment

A Fort St. James couple has worked hand in hand with Mother Nature to create this sanctuary in their backyard garden

The garden of Archie and Jackie Warren, near Fort St. James, looks like it was carefully planned with a view to the long-term, but there wasn’t a plan in 1971 – just five treed acres and a family to feed. A hole was carved out of the centre of the wooded lot for a trailer, and the gardens grew out around that. The house was built in 1985, a rear patio was added, then a large rockery, part of which was then developed into a pond . . . and so it went.

Existing trees aged and were removed, planted trees grew taller and broader, a wider variety of plants became locally available, and more shade-loving additions were tried, with stunning results. The whole development was guided by an appreciation of nature, a willingness to research and learn, and a love of spending the summer outdoors enjoying this happy blend of wilderness and garden.   


Several Japanese maples, not hardy to this zone, are planted directly into the soil behind the pond every spring. In the fall, they are dug, root pruned and potted into five-gallon nursery pots. They spend a month or so in the cold greenhouse, until they are fully dormant, then are placed in a basement cold-room for the winter. They start to bud out, even in the cool and dark, around the end of March, and are moved back out into the greenhouse and then finally to the garden again as spring progresses. Archie says that the trees do not seem to be at all set back by the continuous root pruning, and that it helps keep them to a small and manageable size.  
>>Read more on Japanese Maples

Garden water features

When the pond was built in the late 1980s there wasn’t a lot of information about building water features, and the original supplies had to be ordered from Ontario. The pond today is a masterpiece of simple yet effective design, and is as ecologically efficient as it is beautiful. Several shallow pools just above the main pond act as biological filters, and a small waterfall, flowing down beside a graceful red cut-leaf Japanese maple adds a lively note to the tableau while oxygenating the water. The main pond is a year-round home to goldfish, as well as native frogs, toads and salamanders that keep visiting children mesmerized. A crane sculpture is perfectly at home amidst the water-lilies.

An arbour at the far end of the sweeping patio area frames the passage leading to the back area and its 3.6 by 11-m (12 by 36-ft.) greenhouse, vegetable gardens and orchard. Some of the apple trees, including ‘Goodland’, ‘Battleford’ and ‘Fall Red’, are now over 30 years old. A tennis court, seldom used these days, was flooded every winter to make an ice rink when the boys were younger.

The gravelly soil throughout the garden has been heavily amended over the years with truckloads of black soil, peat and manure, but drainage is never a problem. The gravel also made the laying of the extensive brick patios easy.

The beauty of the garden puts it in frequent demand for wedding photos, but for the most part it is a private garden, for friends and family, and for the enjoyment the Warrens find working in it. Archie and Jackie say they will be retiring here; why would they want to go anywhere else when they’ve already created their own pocket of paradise?

Barbara Rayment lives in Prince George, where she grows and experiments with a wide variety of hardy plants, when not teaching the Master Gardener course or writing. The 2nd edition of her book, From the Ground Up: A Horticultural Guide for Northern Gardeners, is now available.