Entering Maureen Hannaford's garden through the silver lace vine-enveloped gazebo is a little like discovering C.S. Lewis's Narnia through the wardrobe-so unexpected is the profusion and range of plants. Maureen has transformed an ordinary suburban lot in St. John's into an enchanting sanctuary for both body and soul.
Maureen and her sister Margaret purchased the property, part of a new subdivision, in 1984. The site was an uninspired plot that provided little privacy and was complicated by a steep slope in the back. The slope was unstable (posing a threat to Margaret when she mowed it), and the sisters were continually losing more of the yard to erosion. As well, the property was not level with their neighbours' on either side. At the time, however, Maureen, a physician, was too busy to think about gardening. But by the early 1990s, she was ready to take action.
Although she knew something had to be done, Maureen, mindful of her neighbours, decided against erecting a single, high retaining wall and opted instead to hire a landscaper to develop two terraces, each buttressed by a small wall. A lily pond was also installed and planting beds were created.
What started as a means of dealing with a landscaping challenge evolved into a form of healing. "As is often the case, something happened that made me more contemplative, and brought me into gardening in a big way," muses Maureen. That "something" was her mother's illness. She had lived with her daughters but became ill in 1990 and died two years later. As a way to cope, family members, including Maureen's younger sister, Helen, and her brother, Edward, pitched in with an intensive gardening effort, hauling in soil and planting new beds. "The garden seemed to give us a focus outside the loss," says Maureen. "Physical work with a creative goal was a way to fill in the void we felt."
She adds, laughing: "I planted so intensely those first few years – I could have run my own nursery business." Maureen found places for all her initial wants: an English oak as an anchor tree, magnolias, creeping vines and old-fashioned roses. She bought large plants that immediately gave the garden a more mature look and removed a little more lawn each year to expand the width of the beds. Margaret's gardening duties, meanwhile, gradually switched from mowing the lawn to pruning.
They had grown up in a rural area, and Maureen always liked gardens. "My mother introduced us to flower gardens when we were children," she says. "Sweet peas were the first flowers I remember, probably because of their scent."