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Credit: Stuart McCall

Debbie and Leen Hoogendyk moved into their ranch-style home in West Vancouver in 1989. Leen, whose middle name might well be “renovate,” was already rubbing his hands together at the thought of transforming the rundown 38-by-19-metre property into the place of their dreams. He had already decided to landscape the front garden and provide an attractive entry that would give privacy to its corner location. There he had a clean slate for designing and building a lattice-style pergola and fence, but, he recalls, “The backyard was another matter altogether. There was this dinky little deck, propped up on stilts, leading from the kitchen door and down steps that led sideways to the so-called garden. No flowers—just wall-to-wall grass.”

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The front makeover came first, “and that ran away with the budget for a while,” Leen explains, “then I set my sights on renovating the house.” Sounds like a tall order, but to Leen the very thought of turning his and Debbie’s ideas into reality—all that painting and building—was an irresistible challenge. Both Debbie and Leen are long-time employees of Canadian Airlines (now Air Canada), she as a flight attendant, he as a flight supervisor. Flying all over the world, and usually not at the same time, means that Leen has a schedule that allows him to “build in fits and starts—whenever I get a block of time to really concentrate.” He does most of the work himself, “because I can adjust my ideas as I go along—and because I am careful to get the best dollar value for materials.” Leen recalls the challenges of the front garden. “Originally,” he explains, “because of the slope the front yard had three terraces, and right in the middle from the ranch-style house, the entry sidewalk looked like a tongue hanging out from the front door! I thought, this looks really ugly, it has to go. Besides that, it split the front garden in two. Concrete-block retaining walls for the terraces led up to the stairs and the house.”

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The effect was rather stark, but Leen softened the look and created a gentler slope by adding three truckloads of soil and clapping the walls. One side of the property still had a lot of rock walls and these were broken down to create a bona fide rockery. The Holland paver stones leading through the garden were adjusted to create a 1.5-metre-wide sidewalk that curves along and up the slope on the west side. A few stairs, at different elevations, were added along the way. Rototilling and packing in the soil came next. The gentle slope with grass and flower borders now forms one side of the sidewalk, while the other side concentrates more on the rock garden. Leen planted cedar hedges as a screen on the west side and, to complete the picture, he added trees and shrubs for colour throughout the seasons. (But the front garden is still not quite complete. “I have to do something to keep me out of trouble,” laughs Leen, “so I’m planning to install a pond near the rockery.”) Although he doesn’t put many plans on paper, Leen feels it’s vital to make a garden look interesting from both inside the yard and out on the street. To this end, variegated dogwood trees are mixed with Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’ (lily-of-the-valley bush), and because he didn’t want to hedge in the whole front, Leen planted low junipers on the east side. Here also is a variegated weigela.

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Chinese wisteria—which has two blooming periods—scrambles up and over the pergola fronting the street, while a pink mini-floribunda rose bush flourishes under the house windows. In between is coleus, along with waves of begonias in red, white and pink, bordered by fluffy white alyssum. The rock garden features heathers, sedum, candytuft, azaleas and mini rhododendrons. Above these a Japanese maple—originally on the property and quite ancient—spreads its greenery. As Leen explains, “The maple is lovely and creates a natural awning over the begonias.” The pergola offers a natural invitation into the garden from the street. Built by Leen, it is based on hemlock fir with cedar (that he stained) 2x4s and 2x6s. He created an octagonal window in one side by first drawing the shape on a cardboard box, “just like a stop sign.” He then measured the sides and angles, and cut out the shape with a jigsaw. “I just kept on building until it happened,” he smiles. The pergola is topped by decorative finials. Although Leen says he doesn’t particularly plan his renovations in detail, he knows what he wants. That’s when the next-door neighbour steps in ... which is often. “We are very fortunate to have Noreen and Lorne Wilson living beside us,” says Leen. “Lorne is a retired engineer and has been so instrumental in keeping me on the right track when I decide to build something. I think of him as my mentor. He always says, ‘Trust your eyes, if something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.’ ”

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Lorne was front and centre when Leen, after he had worked on the front garden and renovated the house, decided to build a new deck in the backyard. The house renovations included a 60-centimetre wall “bump-out” and a Dutch door in the kitchen, plus French doors in the dining room—all leading to the small, admittedly “dinky” deck. “A few years before,” says Leen, “I had fiddled around with the steps down to the back garden and made a small brick patio on the lower level, but the deck was still pitiful.” So he designed a deck that would sweep from the back of the house to the patio, and down wide steps to continue along the length of the property. At 276 square metres, it takes over almost a third of the yard. The deck had to include built-in seating, of course, as well as ample room for dining, as Debbie and Leen enjoy being outdoors (after days of being cooped up in a plane) and love to entertain. The new deck was an ambitious plan in anyone’s eyes. Fortunately for Leen, his neighbour Lorne was again on hand to help. “His advice was to start slowly,” says Leen, “and that when you do a project, the rule of thumb is to look at the small picture, don’t look at the whole ball of wax. Otherwise, a large project can be overwhelming. Start with the basic idea, then you can elaborate. I like to think of Lego in building the deck by degrees. Where do I need an angle? Where do I need a support? One thing followed another. I learned a lot from Lorne.”

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The deck is unusual in that its tight-knot pine is laid diagonally and shaped in curves along one side to provide architectural appeal in itself. The other side runs smack alongside another neighbour’s fence and garage so Leen has planted trees such as smoke bush and Japanese maples to provide screening, as well as shade. Hanging baskets abound and colourful pot plantings decorate the steps, patio and deck. Beside the deck is a swath of lawn, recently titivated by aerating, thatching, top-dressing and seeding. (“Do this every four years for the best results,” says Leen.) Next on the Hoogendyks’ agenda was renovating the lower level of the house so that Debbie’s mother could live with them. The drawback was that the suite only had a small patio off it, with not-so-easy access to the garden. Leen proceeded to dig the patio out to build a small landing leading from the suite. He then built stairs that were easier to negotiate, leading up to a new lower courtyard and into the garden.

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The landing, stairs and retaining walls are framed in honey-tan-coloured slate, while the courtyard, measuring about 60 square metres, features Holland paver stones laid in a herringbone pattern. As accent pieces, tiny, gold, diamond-shaped ceramic tiles are set into the slate. The stairs are flanked by a wrought-iron railing/fence that Leen designed and had crafted by a local company. “The company loved the fence so much,” he laughs, “that a photo of it is used in their ad in the telephone book!” So where does Leen get his ideas—while zipping through the wild blue yonder, perhaps? “No, I’m too busy then,” he chuckles, “but I think I am a frustrated carpenter. I have my equipment in a workshop in the garden—what I don’t have I rent. Next I’m thinking of building a veranda off the master bedroom.” Meanwhile, it has taken 12 years, but the Hoogendyks have done what they set out to do—in stages and while always keeping an eye on the budget. But what’s left after building, painting and papering throughout most of their “leisure” time? “There’s always another project,” Leen admits. “But the best part is that this summer we can finally enjoy the deck with family and friends, instead of being ashamed of the old one propped up on stilts.” Betty Campbell is a freelance photojournalist based in Victoria. In 1994, she founded the Victoria Flower & Garden Festival.  ILLUSTRATION Jim Beadon