Gardens - Featured Gardens

A lot in a plot in Victoria, B.C.

Karen York
Photography by
Janis Nicolay

Full of exotic details and quixotic plants, this garden offers brilliant combinations and a tip of the hat to Dr. Seuss

a-lot-in-a-plot-inset.jpgGarden stats
Size: 765 square metres
Zone: 8
Orientation: Back garden faces north; front garden south
Age of garden: 6 years
Conditions: Mostly sun; clay with pockets of friable soil thanks to ongoing conditioning; wet in winter, dry in summer
Focus: A collector’s garden with more than 1,000 species and varieties
Growing season: Year-round
Favourite product: Hori hori knife, excellent for digging, weeding, planting, root pruning and more
Tip: Use mulch and compost but don’t forget micronutrients: Add glacial rock dust and bone meal when planting and liquid kelp fertilizer throughout the growing season

Paul Murphy’s plant-packed urban property in Victoria, British Columbia, is part botanical garden and part Dr. Seuss. By the front door, a tropical-looking tree dahlia (Dahlia imperialis) with stems “as thick as my wrist” looms over the roof; huge thistly cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) brandish spiked globes resembling medieval maces; and giant Broussa mulleins send up towering spires of flowers over felty silver leaves.

“I like plants with character,” says Paul, with considerable understatement. “They can stand alone and also work with others.

“My garden is my laboratory, where I experiment with plants,” adds this self-taught garden designer, who turned a passion into a profession. “It also allows clients to see various plants in situ, even though they’d never want this themselves,” he says, gesturing to a particularly exuberant area.

A plant showcase, yes, but it’s still a home garden and retreat—a rather exotic one at that, thanks to the design eye of Paul’s wife, April. A cedar-hewn backyard deck adorned with glowing onion-shaped lanterns, potted Japanese maples, patterned cushions and a shimmering backdrop of sari fabrics marries Morocco and the Far East.

“Lanterns are our favourite souvenirs,” says Paul. “Most recently, we found a beauty in the Marché aux oiseaux in Paris.”

The Murphys arrived here in 2007 to an ocean of bindweed-studded lawn lapping around an ancient apple tree, the last remnant of what was once an orchard. Paul quickly set about removing most of the grass, gave the apple tree a good haircut, hauled in loads of good soil and installed an irrigation system. Then it was all plants on deck. “I came here with about 400 potted plants; now I have about 1,000 different species and varieties, including more than 50 varieties of hosta.”

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