Gardens - Featured Gardens

A Quebec artist tames a bluff

Larry Hodgson
Photography by
Harold Fortin

Turn a steep cliff into a verdent garden with thumbnail terraces, tumbling cascades and stone-edged planting pockets

Fall colour is abundantly supplied by numerous sugar maples, as well as other shrubs and trees, including blueberries and chokeberries (Aronia spp.). In winter, interest is provided by tree bark and conifer needles silhouetted against the snow.

She also lets plants self-seed. The volunteers sprout in narrow cracks in the rock walls and insert themselves successfully into spaces where nothing else will grow, some even sprouting and thriving year-round in pots. Many of these are native conifers, such as white spruce, arborvitae and white pine, which could eventually shade out her other plantings. But Teresa has another trick up her sleeve: she's learned to selectively prune them into bonsai-like forms, thus keeping them under control.

Her passion for gardening extends indoors as well. Her home is full of exotic trees and shrubs, from brilliantly coloured bougainvilleas to fruiting lemons, oranges and figs, and orchids are everywhere.

The result is that Teresa has achieved what she started out to do: create a garden that's truly full of colour throughout the year—although she likely never imagined she'd first have to carve it out of solid rock.

Cliff notes
Almost all of Teresa Pacheco Roy's plantings are in soil pockets behind stone retaining walls, most of which she built herself. There's no lack of stones of all shapes on her property, so she chose relatively flat ones or used two triangular ones to make a flat surface.

To create each pocket, she placed the first row of stones in a half-circle, curving outward from an existing rock wall. To ensure good drainage, Teresa either left a small hole at the bottom of the rocks or occasionally inserted a piece of tubing or pipe, since considerable moisture flows down the cliff at snowmelt. For mortar, Teresa used a mix of cement and sand, with about one-third more cement than the directions recommended for a stiffer, more solid mortar. After mixing well, she added only enough water to make a thick paste. The stones were set into the mortar. She then created a second row that overlapped the first (like bricks in a wall), and mortar it into place. The stones had to fit perfectly, much like a jigsaw puzzle. It sometimes took five or more layers, depending on the size of the stones and the size of the planting pocket, before it was finished.

For additional drainage, Teresa added 15 to 20 centimetres of gravel to the bottom of each new pocket, then filled it in with soil. All the cement, sand, gravel and soil had to be lugged up the cliff by hand, bag after bag, to wherever she was working, which usually meant to higher and higher elevations year after year.

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