More practical but just as lovely is a hedge of rugosa roses, many of them Canadian bred. The hedge not only buffered the vegetable garden from chilly winds but seemed like such a perfect border backdrop that we were soon setting out stripling Siberian irises, painted daisies, balloon flowers, more lilies and an edging of 40 or more Allwood's pinks broken at intervals by clumps of dwarf catmint. A special treat for sight and smell, the pinks (Dianthus spp.) were all raised from two packets of seed – a real floral bargain – and no two were alike.
Pinks thrive in sweet (limed) sandy soil in full sun – and that is just what we have to work with. From the start we resolved to fill the garden with plants suited to our site, soil and climate. For example, summers are often dry here, and we do all of our watering by hand. Ever on the lookout for drought-proof perennials, we give lots of border room to silver-leaved plants and herbs:
• Artemisias, especially the elegant 'Lambrook' silver variety of A. absynthium;
• Yarrows or Achilleas of all kinds including 'Moonshine' (our favourite) and the new colours of A. millefolium;
• Mulleins or Verbascum, seldom seen but striking silver giants (unfortunately biennial) that light up with yellow flowers in summer. We have both a Greek and Turkish mullein, and now a spontaneous cross between the two that we're calling Verbascum 'Larkwhistle';
• Wooly lamb's ears (Stachys byzantium), two prominent patches in place for almost a decade at the front of a long border;
• Thymes in variety, including fragrant lemon thyme and grey wooly thyme that tumble over warm limestone rocks that edge several beds.
For hungrier and thirstier plants - roses, peonies, delphiniums, aconites, clematis, phlox, helenium among them -- we often prepare a special zone of fertility. This entails digging a hole deep and wide, removing subsoil altogether and backfilling with topsoil thoroughly mixed with crumbly old cow manure, peat moss, compost, bone meal and the like. Then, as a neighbour remarked after watching us go to these lengths only to tuck in a skinny slip of a peony root, "It's not your fault if it doesn't grow." But of course things do grow because they can't help growing if we do a little homework, find out what conditions the plants need and then do what we can to make them feel at home in the garden.
From the moment the snow curtain is lifted in spring until a fall freeze-up puts an end to the season, the flowerbeds and borders are a constant source of pleasure and interest. The perennials become friends that we welcome back each year, observing and encouraging their growth and changes. From late May until November and beyond, the vegetable garden continues to yield a daily harvest of superb food. What more could we ask for? Willingly we give our energy, care and love to a garden that has become our home; the garden responds in kind with generous gifts of colour, fragrance and natural beauty nourishment for body and soul.