by Charlotte Jackson
I consider myself very fortunate to have lived in 2 beautiful homes in the charming town of High River, Alberta, 60 km south of Calgary.
The first home we moved into in 1984, 3 scant years after I immigrated to Calgary from Texas to marry my husband Ken.
The home was a lovely brick California bungalow built in 1914 and reminiscent of the homes in eastern Canada -a rarity in this part of the country. It came complete with a giant carragana hedge, a plethora of Cottonwoods several crab-apples and of course several evergreens. While the lot was almost half an acre there was very little planted in flowers‘ a couple of shrub roses and three older peonies that struggled to bloom amongst the trees and hedge.
These 3 peonies were the first peonies I actually remember ever noticing, Texas being too hot for them‘ and I was charmed when they produced a few blooms. After doing some research I decided that this was the flower for a novice gardener in a brutal climate. It seemed it couldn't miss; it was made for this harsh environment.
I did indeed plant several peonies in that lovely garden and when we left it in 2002 the hedge was gone as were most of the cottonwoods‘ replaced by sweeping beds; but this isn't really about that garden but my lucky "second chance‖ and a blank canvas.
Gardening in an old established yard is tough unless you have the resources- physical and financial- to rip out a lot and replace it all-- amending soil in spots among large established plants and dealing with decades old weed loads-- need I say more?
In 2001 we decided to move to a new community in the NW corner of town - a totally blank canvass backing onto the Highwood River on virtually virgin prairie.
Our house sold 3 months be-fore the new one was completed and I spent that summer in a 600 sq ft log cabin, sans electricity and plumbing so I had lots of time to plan my new garden on paper. I suspect it was mostly what kept me sane. Turned out I wasn't much of a pioneer.
New communities often come with many restrictive covenants. The only major concern I voiced to the developer was that I would be able to garden, as I wanted to in my new yard. I think he got the message that I was a serious gardener, not a golfer. The hint came when he
informed me he had decided to name our street "Riverside Garden". It is the only street in town with the word "garden" in it and that pleases me immensely.
I'd been told by the ladies in the previous cul-de-sac that the landscaper we would have to use was very good at nodding and saying "yes ma'am" then going and doing what he felt should be done when you weren't around. I am sure he thought I was a visitation from below sent to hound him for as the time neared for his crew to be working on the yards on our cul-de-sac I was in attendance from morning to evening with a spray bomb of marking paint to mark out the flowerbeds, as I wanted them to be. The standard landscape plans were 2 little mounds‘ like grave-sites‘ in the front‘ with a lilac or honeysuckle, covered in rock‘ and 2 trees - one in back, one in front!
Because of the proximity to the river the soil ranged from solid clay to gravel beds and sand bars so rather than live in gardening purgatory in my golden years- this is after all my retirement home- I insisted that they bring in a mini backhoe and excavate out a minimum 1 foot depth in the beds I had marked out and replace it with screened garden loam. He in-formed me that my landscape allowance was only $7000.00 .I informed him that I wasn't up-grading with granite counters in the kitchen but rather an extra $5000 in soil and we would cut him a cheque! Another 7 half-ton loads of compost were off loaded that fall and winter. In the spring of 2003 I began ordering plants and visiting local nurseries and haven't stopped since.
The largest beds run along the east, south, and west of the lot and range from 2 feet wide to 25 feet wide. They contain a mixture of prairie hardy perennials lilies, iris, hostas, lilacs, Therese Bugnet roses, clematis, Bergenia, hundreds of daffodils, and at last count more than 50 different varieties of peonies. I have appropriated space for a 2ftx 110ft bed on the outside of the fence as I "ran out of space" in
the yard but the town seems not to mind my land grab and of course there are peonies in some of the island beds on the boulevard along the river walk! I know I need to stop buying them but it seems impossible with so many catalogues of beautiful blooms arriving every year.
It is coming up to 10 years now since we moved in and the garden brings many people to the fence to view it, take pictures and ask what the lovely flowers are all summer long. I sell blooms to the local florist and donate rootstock to charity auctions almost every year.
With the borrowed view of the river as a backdrop I couldn't have landed in a more delightful spot to retire. The plaque hidden in the clematis on the arbour truly says it all..."one IS nearer God's heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth."
As a non-profit organization, our mission as a Society is to promote cultivation and enjoyment of peonies in Canada.
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