On central Vancouver Island, in a small community called Coombs, Nick and Linda Rehlinger nurture a showy yet principled garden, a two-hectare piece of property that's lushly beautiful while maintaining a clear sense of its rural integrity. Some 6,000 square metres are cultivated and draw on strong English garden roots (and Linda's planting magic) for their style. Beyond the fence are 1.5 hectares of creek, pasture and forest, along with a big, man-made pond. Here, nature (and Nick) rule.
The Rehlingers haven't planned their garden in the traditional sense. Instead, it has evolved bit by bit, with time and a touch of serendipity.
Linda is the hands-on gardener and Nick, who owns and operates a one-man machine shop, is the resident builder, inventor and keeper of the lawns. The Rehlingers joke that Linda's sphere of influence lies inside the fence while Nick's remains on the outside. In reality, however, the couple have played up the property's strong points by capitalizing on their own personal ones. "We complement each other well," Linda says.
Nick's design skill is evident in many of the hard structures that he has created, such as the metal rose cages that support Linda's floppy moss roses, trellises, and gates-including the wrought-iron one at the front of the property that looks like a spider's web. Many of his garden projects are made on the property in Nick's machine shop, from metal scraps left over from jobs.
Linda is the planting wizard. Yet when they moved in 27 years ago, the property was waist-high with grass, the house needed fixing and fences had to be built. There was a son to raise, cows to keep and jobs to perform. So for the first 15 years, the only gardening Linda did was to plant a few rhododendrons around the house and put in a vegetable garden.
That all changed in 1990, when Lene Geekie and Joan Wouters, two of Linda's friends, passed on their enthusiasm for old garden roses to her. "So I purchased some, planted them near the house and the first few beds sprang up from there," Linda says. One of the first roses Linda ever planted, 'Fantin-Latour', is here and it remains one of her favourites. "It blooms gorgeously, smells fabulous and doesn't get blackspot." Today, there are more than 40 rose bushes. Peonies are another passion and Linda has more than 50 planted throughout the property.
And a great deal more besides. Now that her son, Jake, 30, has grown, the farm animals are gone and she's retired from her job as an elementary school teacher-librarian, Linda spends about five hours a day in the garden during the summer, considering it part of an exercise routine designed to keep her diabetes in check.
Her task is challenging. Size aside, the property features well-drained, sandy patches on both flat and sloped ground, dry shade, a boggy area and rock combined with clay in front of the house near Nick's workshop and greenhouse. Her trick is finding the right plant for the right spot. "I want plants that are happy to be here," she says.
Size: 2 hectares (6,000 square metres cultivated)
Conditions: sand, clay, bog and rock
Growing season: February to November
Garden focus: English garden style with rural, West Coast touches