Everlasting summer in a Salt Spring garden

This Salt Spring Island dried-flower and herb farm is one of the many gardens in British Columbia where a couple can pledge everlasting love.

This Salt Spring Island dried-flower and herb farm is one of the many gardens in British Columbia where a couple can pledge everlasting love

In summer, the half-acre annuals bed spreads quilt-like over the meadow – larkspur, safflower, nigella, flamboyant poppies and row upon row of statice, a dried-flower bouquet staple. And for Marcia Jeanne, owner of this dried-flower and herb farm on Salt Spring Island, how a flower dries is more important than how it looks in its summer splendour.

Marcia established the first flowerbeds at Everlasting Summer 18 years ago when she parlayed her artistic background and passion for flowers into a business. Her first foray into the marketplace – like many other islanders – was the popular Saturday Market in Ganges where she sold dozens of pearly everlasting, yarrow and strawflower posies every week.

In addition to the Saturday Market, Marcia has marketed her flowers through various other channels, including the Circle Craft Co-operative, but she finally decided to narrow her focus to her onsite gift shop where floral bunches complement colourful ceramics, bird baths and statuary.

Over the years she added a three-acre parcel of land to her original acreage, moved the cottage to a site away from the gloomy shadows of tall cedars, added herbs, perennials, roses, a display garden, a gift shop, a nursery and, most recently, a lavender maze.

Lush peonies and roses are
surrounded by a border of pinks

eryngium (Miss Willmott's ghost)Eryngium (Miss Willmott’s ghost)

Dried poppy pods
Dried poppy pods

Marcia Jeanne Everlasting Summer farm
Marcia Jeanne, owner of
Everlasting Summer

Frog on lily
Pond frog resting on a lily

Perennial bed with cardoons,
yarrow and a fancy variety of eryngium

The lavender maze is intended to complement the display garden, which has become a popular venue for weddings. The inner maze is planted with an assortment of lavenders, including the showy Lavandula ‘Grosso,’ often the species of choice in the lavender fields of Provence, where it is cultivated for its fragrant oil used extensively in the cosmetics industry. While the inner maze is the exclusive preserve of the blue lavenders, a white L. angustifolia marks the perimeter.

Appropriately, but not by design, the display garden is a picture of the age-old wedding rhyme: something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

The “something old” component is a particularly fascinating one. Many years ago Marcia was visiting a friend near St. Mary Lake, whose Victorian-style garden was about to be spruced up. “It had obviously been a beautiful garden. I could still see the ‘bones’ – just lovely. Then I spotted a lavender bush on an old compost pile. It had probably been cut back that day and thrown on the pile. It was a huge mass of leggy, woody branches. When I asked for a cutting I was given the whole bush.”

That bush yielded 1,000 cuttings, which became the foundation lavender at Everlasting Summer, although Marcia has added a few other types, such as Lavandula ‘Hidcote.’ The original, very vigorous species remains unidentified and is simply referred to as “English lavender” by Marcia.

Something new? New plants are added every year. Recently it was the trendy Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens,’ which adds its purple-blue tubular flowers and distinctive grey-green leaves to the bed of heritage roses and perennials at the northern end of the garden. Commonly called honeywort, this native of the Mediterranean blooms for a long period in summer. Marcia collects seeds from the plant to grow the following season – although she learned a hard lesson with her last batch. The mice like them!

Something borrowed is easy: Nature is a generous provider and loans plenty of colourful insects, bees, butterflies and a few frogs that live happily in the pond at the southern end of the garden.

The statuesque cardoons are one of the “blues” that complete the rhyme. Cynara cardunculus is an imposing presence in the “flowers for drying” bed in the display garden, and it makes an interesting backdrop for bridal photographs (watch out for the bees that feast on the flowerheads). While the cardoons attract most of the attention – especially when they are in flower – other notable neighbours are silver thistle, Chinese lanterns, quaking grass and several varieties of yarrow, including the vigorous Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen,’ whose magenta-pink flowerheads add a burst of colour to this corner.

However, most bridal parties exchange vows under the rose-covered arbour or on the lawn at the northern end of the display garden where Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ scrambles up a cedar – its clusters of semi-double white flowers adding a whimsical air to the scene.

The arbour itself is a delight. In early summer, Rosa ‘Kew Rambler’ is a harbinger of the warm days to come as its scented pink flowers signal the start of the season. Rambling alongside is R. ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk,’ the pale pink-lilac blooms releasing the musky fragrance of its name. R. ‘The Garland,’ creamy white with a hint of pink, and the elegant powder-pink of R. ‘Adelaide d’Orleans’ mingle with the double violet-cherry blooms of the aptly named R. ‘Bleu Magenta.’

On the western side of the farm are the perennial beds, where a summer visitor will find a variety of plants, such as globe amaranth, allium, yarrow and liatris. A row of Salpiglossis sinuata Casino Series (painted tongue) also thrives in this sunny, well-drained soil and nearby is the biennial sea holly Eryngium giganteum (Miss Willmott’s ghost). “Have you heard about Miss Willmott?” laughs Marcia. “It’s quite a story.” Indeed it is.

Ellen Willmott sponsored plant-hunting excursions, wrote a well-regarded book on species roses (Genus Rosa), and in 1897 shared the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victoria Medal of Honour with none other than Gertrude Jekyll. She had many plants named after her, including Iris willmottiana, Ceratostigma willmottianum (Chinese plumbago) and Corylopsis willmottiae. However, it is this eryngium that recalls the eccentric behaviour of this plant-obsessed woman: Miss Willmott carried the sea holly seeds with her and “planted” them in the borders and beds of unsuspecting gardeners. It’s not clear whether the ghostly name of this 90-cm-tall (3-ft.) eryngium is because of its spooky-looking steel-blue flowers, its silvery bracts that evoke a definite eeriness at night or simply the fact that the plants appeared unexpectedly, seemingly without being planted. Miss Willmott’s fortune gone, she died in 1934 and her garden at Warley Place in Essex – tended by over 100 gardeners in its prime – no longer exists.

If you would like to cultivate your own “ghost” and dry the heads, Marcia suggests the best time to cut them is when they change from green to blue. Although you can collect seeds to sow the following year, she has found that once it has a presence in the garden it will always return. “I usually leave a few plants to go to seed and let the wind and birds scatter them – I have more success that way.”

For more information about visiting Everlasting Summer, contact Marcia Jeanne. Write or drop by at: 194 Mclennan Drive, Saltspring Island BC V8K 1X2. (6 kilometres/3 3/4 miles from Fulford Harbour on the way to Ruckle Park).
Phone: (250) 653-9418
Fax: (250) 653-9419
Email Marcia at everlastingsummer@saltspring.com

In addition to the display garden and gift shop, there is also a small nursery where a variety of roses are grown and sold onsite.

The following plants are hardy to the zone number indicated:
Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ – zone 3 • Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ – zone 5 • Cynara cardunculus – zone 7 • Eryngium giganteum (Miss Willmott’s ghost) – zone 5 • Lavandula intermedia ‘Grosso’ – zone 5 • L. angustifolia – zone 5 • L. ‘Hidecote’ – zone 5 • Rosa ‘Adelaide d’Orleans’ – zone 6 • R. ‘Bleu Magenta’ – zone 6 • R. ‘Kew Rambler’ – zone 5 • R. ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ – zone 6 • R. ‘Rambling Rector’ – zone 5 • R. ‘The Garland’ – zone 5