Gardens - Featured Gardens

Improvised impressionism

Veronica Sliva
Photography by
Jerry Pavia

A bloom-filled West Coast garden, reminiscent of a Monet painting, is returned to its former glory, but with an Asian twist

“We looked out past San Juan Island to Washington State and could see Mount Baker,” explains Ed Chwyl. “The back of the lot slopes gently down to Arbutus Cove on the Pacific Ocean.” Smitten with the spectacular view, he and his wife, Mary, purchased the 2½-acre property in Victoria in May 2000 and made the move westward from Calgary in August of the following year with their three children in tow.

Renovations to the U-shaped, 1950s bungalow occupied the first year. In 2002, the Chwyls turned their attention to the property. “At one time the garden was the pride of Victoria. It had good bones and there was lots of colour, but was…in a state of neglect,” reflects Ed. With little horticultural experience to draw on, the Chwyls hired landscape design team John and Moon Eng to restore the garden to its former glory.  

impressionismB.jpgWhile the basic layout of the garden remained the same, the Engs added an Asian flair the Chwyls loved and encouraged. “John could stand in a spot, and without putting anything down on paper, he was able to create,” enthuses Ed. “We gave him artistic freedom and he didn’t disappoint.” All told, the garden renovations took a year.

Driving down the driveway, past a large open area known affectionately by the Chwyl family as the “soccer field,” the Asian influence becomes obvious. Trees such as weeping blue Atlas and Japanese cedars (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’ and Cryptomeria japonica) have been artistically pruned to resemble Japanese bonsai. Granite boulders strategically placed near the trees further contribute to the Asian mood. 

Continuing eastward, beyond the soccer field an Emerald white cedar hedge (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) conceals what turns out to be an irresistibly romantic English-style garden. “We call this the rose area and enjoy having tea out here. It’s probably our favourite spot,” says Ed. Paths divide the space into five smaller gardens arranged in a circle—much like the spokes of a wheel—and all lead to the courtyard’s focal point, a three-tiered water fountain.

In the English tradition, each of the five gardens is bordered by low boxwood hedging.

At the gardens’ peak in spring, bright pink rhododendrons and orangey red azaleas erupt with colour. “Combined with the different bulbs—crocuses, tulips and daffodils—the explosion of colour reminds me of a Monet painting,” says Ed. Other plants contribute to the season’s complexion as well: Mexican-orange shrubs (Choisya ternata) make an elegant statement with their clusters of white, spicy-scented blooms; Japanese pieris (Pieris japonica), prominent throughout the gardens, provide bold splashes of raspberry red and cotton candy pink; and neon yellow California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) pop out here and there, as if to take you by surprise. Clumps of lavender accent the beds with their sultry, silver-green foliage that releases its old-fashioned fragrance when passersby brush against them.

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