Garden at a glance
Gardener: José Koes
Family: Husband, Rudolf
Pastimes: art collector, Winnipeg Art Gallery volunteer; conducts art travel tours, mainly abroad
Size: back garden: 36 metres wide, 27 metres deep
Conditions: shade from mature trees; clay loam
Growing season: May through September
Garden focus: outdoor art; plants with interesting foliage textures and shapes
About the garden
A garden in winter is mainly nature's show. We marvel at the special effects only it can create: the drama of long shadows on pristine snow, the sinewy snowdrifts punctuated with tawny grasses, the patterns of bare branches against a clear sky, like ink strokes on a blue canvas. Gone are the hurly-burly colours of summer and the fiery hues of fall—now the scene is set with a subtler tableau.
Drama combined with simplicity was what José Koes hoped for when she began rethinking her Winnipeg garden four years ago. A winter garden was not foremost in her mind: her primary goal was to create a design centred around sculpture. As an art collector and 28-year volunteer and fundraiser for the Winnipeg Art Gallery, José had visited many such gardens over the years and longed to adapt one to the landscape surrounding her pre-1900 farmhouse in the city's East Kildonan area. "I had always wanted a large contemporary garden sculpture to help define the shape of our backyard—to bring art outside,” she says. "When I came across a wall installation in an outdoor exhibit I visited a few years ago, a light went off.” Although it was made from steel, José could envision something similar made from wood for her garden.
Creating the sculptures With the help of Urs Dietschi, a landscape architect in Winnipeg, a plan for a contemporary installation made from cedar posts was devised. "I didn't have photos to show the architect, but I used some Popscicle sticks, and he got the idea,” José says with a laugh.
The three separate sculptures (one is at the side—to create added privacy—and the other two are in the backyard) are made up of 124 pressure-treated cedar posts, ranging from 1.8 to three metres tall, each sunk several metres into the ground. "When the wood was delivered, neighbours asked if we were building a barn,” José recalls. "I began to think What have I done! but I am thrilled with the results.”
The posts appear to reach up to the large 200-year-old bur oaks on the property and provide the bold yet simple effect José was after. Visually anchoring the posts to the ground and providing a sense of cohesion to the three installations are several large limestone boulders from a nearby quarry. According to José, as much thought was given to the placement of the boulders as was given to the placement of the cedar posts. Planted among the posts and the rocks are specimens chosen for their foliage and texture—no flowering perennials or shrubs. Junipers, ferns and ornamental grasses are repeated throughout the planting spaces. Besides the majestic oaks, there are several mature birches, spruce, pines, cedars and red osier dogwoods in the backyard. Careful pruning and editing help keep the balance of plants, wood and stone to José's satisfaction. "I like the simplicity of the wood, combined with the boulders and plants,” says José. She also values how the installation's modern design contrasts with her century home, each accenting the other.