You could never accuse Deborah Fisher of being unimaginative or conventional. Her property -- a small gem set amid the lush orchards of the Okanagan Valley in south-central British Columbia -- bears quite a number of distinctive touches. The purple chairs, for one. And the personalized sculptures and the composter made of twigs. Then there's the house -- a tiny cottage painted "Deborah's Green", a khaki-coloured mix of her own invention, punctuated with sage and taupe trim and a bright blue door. As for the garden, the pièce de résistance, Deborah is modest about having created a local showpiece, but it's clearly the work of an intuitive and dedicated gardener with an eye for colour and a skilled sense of design.
The cottage, built 70 years ago by the local school caretaker, was once out in the country, but the city of Kelowna has since extended its borders. Even though the property is now on the edge of town, it's still surrounded by orchards and woodland.
Apple trees in the area can thrive in the shallow soil of the Okanagan -- it's only about five centimetres deep -- but to create a garden, Deborah had to haul in soil for the planting beds. She augments the sandy, naturally light soil with 10 centimetres of Ogogrow -- a product named after Ogopogo, the mythical monster of Okanagan Lake -- and made from treated sewage, and an organic mulch made produced by the municipality from shredded garden waste. She applies this combination every year. Less snow in the Okanagan in recent winters has led to water rationing, so Deborah irrigates sparingly. She designs gardens for some of her neighbours in exchange for help with the heavy work in her own.
Deborah enjoys teaching her design clients the fun of applying right-brain thinking to gardening -- using your creative side to work with plant material imaginatively. "Do whatever you feel like in the garden and forget about what someone else thinks is right or wrong," she advises.
On a hot, dry summer day, it's a delight to stroll in this garden, where the scent of nearby ripening apples mingles with that of the pine needles underfoot. Every spring Deborah keeps an eye out for bags of pine needles waiting for garbage pickup after neighbours have raked their lawns. She spreads the needles over the path that encircles the house, creating a soft, spongy carpet that defies any weed trying to penetrate it.
The front of the house is hidden from the adjacent rural road by a huge, old western white pine (Pinus monticola), an Arctic willow (Salix arctica) and a large Chinese snowball shrub (Viburnum macrocephalum). Immediately behind the screen of trees and shrubs is a seating area, where a lawn that "just wouldn't behave itself," according to Deborah, was replaced by an attractive gravel circle about five metres in diameter, which is dotted with wooden garden furniture that she painted purple.
A three-metre-long central bed of loosely arranged perennials dominates the front garden. A large clump of tall, jewel-coloured lupines rises above lambs' ears (Stachys byzantina), pink yarrow (Achillea millefolium 'Fire King'), yellow daylilies (Hemerocallis 'Cartwheels'), red valerian (Centranthus rubber), violet sage (Salvia x superba), bellflowers, irises, spurges (Euphorbia polychroma), peonies and a collection of grasses -- Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus', M. s. 'Strictus', Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Stricta', Leymus arenarius -- are all underplanted with a variety of groundcovers such as periwinkle, bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) and sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) to reduce the need for weeding and to retain moisture.