The secret garden

The secret garden

The secret garden Author: Style At Home


The secret garden

Through an archway heavy with masses of honeysuckle and delicate petals of purple and yellow clematis vines, the entrance to the garden is beautifully overrun with creeping thyme and moss underfoot. The smooth stone steps and path, surrounded by astilbe, ivy, lythrum, dahlia and peonies, pass by a trickling pond and wind mysteriously around a lush corner.

This verdant space, with its grass paths, evergreen alcoves and climbing flowers, could have been plucked from the pages of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic, The Secret Garden. Who would imagine it coming to life in the heart of Montreal, just beyond the sidewalks and streets of this cosmopolitan city?

From the moment one sets foot in this garden, alongside and behind Sheryl Black's hillside Westmount home, it is a voyage of discovery for every sense. "I wanted a garden that was lush and romantic that drew you in and made you want to spend lazy summer days there," says Black. She chose an English Country garden, with nooks and stone walls, and a wide range of plants that would bloom and scent the air from early spring until the fading of autumn. "Everything is constructed, yet deconstructed, so it looks entirely natural."

The structure of the garden, created by landscape architect Christiane Bouchard, made liberal use of stone terraces, paths, stairways and walls. "The main objective was to enlarge the space. It was very narrow in the back, with just a little path along the house," Bouchard says. In order to remodel the landscape, they pushed the slope upward and created a second level, thereby expanding the lower path and creating a wide green space. What had once been a rocky slope became a two-tiered garden with sandstone retaining walls. At the back of the house, at ground level, water trickles into a stone pool basin from a sculpted fountainhead in the cut stone wall.

Black cedars, crabapples and Japanese maples were introduced into the plan, along with mature white lilac. "We wanted the person in the garden to be able to walk through it and see the view down the hillside," Bouchard says. "It's not very large, but it wanders. And it's private."

At 630 square metres, the garden has enough room to carry out some of Black's other wishes-namely, to keep her garden thriving in a special way. "I wanted a range of plants that would bloom at different times of the year," she says, "and I wanted fragrance, like the scent of lilacs all summer long."

For this she went to plantsman Robert Gamache, a veteran garden designer whose artistry is evident in every element of the garden. His archways-iron frames covered with saplings and branches in willow and birch-give the garden their distinctively magical feel. "I like things very natural," Gamache says. "I really like movement and I like to give the impression you're inside a hidden place."

In summer, not only do half a dozen varieties of clematis wind their pretty petals through the arches, but hydrangea, malva, juniper, English ivy and white cosmos spill over the stone walls. The plantsman also favours intensely pink dahlias and stands of spiky magenta lythrum, set off against the green leaves of hostas and iris. Visitors tread on creeping thyme and yellow flowered sedum growing underfoot.

"It is a secret garden," Black says happily. "When I look out, it's like I'm looking through windows on the world, surrounded by beautiful flowers."

HoneysuckleZone 4Summer
Varieties of clematisZones 1–7April to Sept
AstilbeZone 3Summer
PeoniesZone 2Early summer
CrabapplesZones 2–5Spring
HydrangeaZones 3–6Late summer
English ivyZone 5 All year
White cosmosAnnualSummer



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The secret garden

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