Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Garden filled with Lavender & Heather


Above the sky is a clear cerulean blue. In the near distance the sea shimmers in the August sun like a mirage. In between the two, set on the crest of the rolling Nova Scotian hillside, sits a navy-blue house.

It's the simple, salt-box design of the dark blue house with its crisp white trim that first catches your eye and the garden in front of the house that holds it there. Soft billowy clouds of lavender and heather together–what a striking combination!

Everything is balanced with perfect symmetry: the chimneys, the windows and even clusters of white lilies on either side of the white front door.

The edge of the old windy highway along the Annapolis Basin is narrow, but I can't help but pull the car side of the road and get out for a closer look at the garden. 

Working along the stone wall that borders the driveway is an old man with a wheelbarrow. Used to tourists, he calls out, "Are you lost?"

Lost? No, not lost. 

I tell him it's the garden that has made me stop the car. One of my sisters, who is travelling with me, joins us and the three of us get to chatting.

Amazingly in a matter of minutes, we shift from being complete strangers to three people with something in common. It turns out the grey-haired man was a professor at St Mary's University before he retired. He knows my sister-in-law and her mother, who taught English in the same department. He even knows of my late father-in-law, who taught business and marketing in another of the university's departments.

Sometimes you can travel a very long way only to discover it is a very small world!

The retired English professor tells us that it's his wife who is responsible for the garden. Sadly she is out on a shopping errand and is unable to hear our compliments, but he invites us to wander around and have a look on our own.

A few notes on different Types of Lavender: 

English lavender is Lavandula Angustifolia is considered to be the hardiest of lavenders. Lavender species ( Munstead, Hidcote, Royal Velvet, and Vera) have the most medicinal properties. 

French Lavender or Lavandula Intermedia (Grosso, Provence, Giant Hidcote) are bigger plants whose flowers have a higher camphor content, making them best for perfumes. Unfortunately, they tend to be less hardy. 

Lavendula Stoechas or Spanish or spike lavender must be grown as an annual in northern garden zones such as Ontario.

In the centre of the front garden is a stylized fiddlehead, the handiwork of a local stone carver. Perched on top of the fiddlehead fern is a naive carving of a little bird. In a busier setting the simple, unpretentious carving might be lost, but in this understated garden, it is the perfect focal point.

UPDATE: Donna, a good friend who lives in Nova Scotia, has identified this sculpture as the work of Heather Lawson. You can watch a terrific video about stone carver Heather Lawson here. Here is a link to Heather's website.

A few Tips for Growing Lavender:

Lavender forms rounded mounds of grey-green foliage with white, pink, mauve or blue flowers. Depending on the cultivar you choose, they may range from 30 cm to 60 cm. Planted in a row, compact varieties can form a low hedge, which can be attractive in a formal or knot garden.

Good drainage is absolutely essential when growing lavender. The cold won't do them in, but wet, soggy soil in the winter months will cause them to perish. If you have clay soil, amend it with sand and small pebbles to increase the drainage. Another enemy of lavender is the wind. Plant lavender in a sheltered, sunny spot, where they are protected from harsh winter winds.

Lavenders are quite happy growing in poor soil. In fact, you should avoid overfeeding them with high nitrogen fertilizers or manure.

Once lavender is established, it doesn't need regular watering. Lavender prefers dry conditions and is very drought tolerant.

If you don't prune lavender it can become leggy and will produce fewer flowers. Pruning should be done at least once a year. After your lavender shows signs of new growth in spring, prune it to about 2" above the old wood. Never prune away all of the new growth. Also, if you prune too deeply into the old wood, you run the risk of the plant never coming back.

A link to a supplemental blog post: How to make a Lavender Sachet

I am curious to see the back garden, so we follow the gravel driveway that curves past the side of the house. As we walk, we pass a more informal perennial flowerbed where everything is growing marvellously out-of-control.

The rusty metal obelisks are made by local artist Alexa Jaffurs. I love the whimsy of their slightly wonky shapes.

Alexa replied to the email I sent her, "...we too, have three dogs coexisting with a big garden. I've made a number of small moveable things that help redirect doggish energy. We also have had to move plants, bow-wowing to the inevitable."

Here is a link to Alex's website.

Coneflowers, Echinacea

Globe Thistles, Echinops ritro

Globe Thistles, Echinops ritro is a great mid-to-late summer flower. Don't be put off by the fact that its a thistle. I have them in my own garden and they are a well-behaved perennial. The foliage is grey-green. Bees love the blue flowers. Globe Thistles aren't fussy and will grow in normal, sandy or clay soils. They like full sun and average to moist growing conditions. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm ( 23-29 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

This is an evergreen that you don't see too often. I believe it is a Tamarack (please correct me if I am wrong). I have only ever seen one in here in Southern Ontario, probably because it isn't particularly hardy here.

It has soft evergreen foliage and tiny magenta flowers. I couldn't find any references for growing conditions online, so if you are familiar with this evergreen tree, please share.

UPDATE: Thank you to a couple of readers for helping me to properly identify this plant. It is Tamarix. One reader has recommended Tamarix ramosissima 'Pink Cascade' (Tamarisk). Tamarix is apparently considered to be somewhat invasive in the western US, but not in the eastern part of the country where cold winters keep it in check. I found a source online: Rare Find Nursery.)

At the end of the driveway was a small outbuilding with heather growing in and around it.

Brief notes on Growing Heather:

Common Heather (Calluna vulgaris) is a compact low-growing evergreen shrub that has bell-shaped flowers from late summer into fall. It is native to the moors and bogs of Europe and can be a challenge to grow. Sadly for me here in Southern Ontario, it is hardy only in USDA zones 4-9. Heather is fussy about soil and water requirements. They require moist soil that is acidic, well-drained and rich in organic matter.

The character of the garden at the back of the house changes once more. In this a gravel garden, perennials mix with evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. The style is restrained and yet informal. Foliage texture and color are key elements. 

The colorful foliage of a Heuchera is seen on the left, and in the foreground on the right, there is the maroon foliage of a Barberry bush.

In the photograph on the right, you can see the deep blue waters of the Annapolis Basin peeking through the trees. The English professor told us that he and his wife have always had the good fortune to live in a house near the sea.

It is a testament to their remarkable garden that I did not take a single picture of the splendid view of the Annapolis Basin.


  1. This post is like a breath of spring and I feel like I can smell the lavender! A lovely home too!

  2. Jennifer, you made my day! What a rich post - a story itself, pictures, info about plants! Thank you SO much! You made me think again about Heather: we have acid soil and moisture, but no heather! Have a great weekend. Love your blog!

  3. How lovely! I really want to reduce the amount of lawn that I have to maintain - this looks so perfect!!

  4. Great garden, nice you stopped to have a better look at it and met the owner, that´s a bonus. The house and the lavender match perfectly together and they show the feeling that the sea is nearby.

  5. What a gorgeous garden, Jennifer, and your photos are wonderful. I learned to love Lavender when I lived in Italy. I'm trying to introduce it to our garden, but this winter has been exceptionally harsh... Well, at least Calluna vulgaris grows here (Eastern Finland) very well. :)
    Enjoy your weekend!

  6. As you say, perfect in its simplicity. Great area for gardens - and this one is lovely. One of my biggest regrets is that I'm allergic to lavender - throat closing, run for the hills allergic. So it's perfect to read about your terrific meet-up and see all those gorgeous varieties safely tucked behind the glass of my computer. Going to L.O. this week? B.

  7. What a happy coincidence this was, Jennifer, and her gardens are just beautiful. I especially love all of the lavender.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  8. Good thing you stopped. Besides the lovely gardens, I also love the rich blue of their saltbox home. A beautiful backdrop for that casual garden.

  9. How lovely - and what an unusual combination - one that I wouldn't have thought of. My soil isn't acid so I can't grow heathers but using the different coloured lavenders works just as well. If only I had the space that this house has. I have to say I am most impressed with this garden.

  10. This front garden is so beautiful, good for you, stopping to have a look! It looks so perfect, with the perfect house too, what a shame you missed the gardener, you would have had so much to talk about.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this garden. It is splendid from the plant choices, colors to design. It feels very welcoming. I struggle growing lavender yet continue to try. Your tips will be helpful. Amazing what a small world it is!

  12. Your posts bring back memories of a lovely vacation we had in Nova Scotia a few years ago. I spent a lot of time enjoying roadside gardens as we drove from place to place. My wet coast garden is perfect for heather and I intend to plant more after seeing your lovely pictures. Lavender is more of a challenge. I have it in pots to aid with drainage. Thank you for all the information, I found it very helpful.

  13. I really enjoyed your post. Nova Scotia looks wonderful, and the house is just like something out of a picture book. I love the fact that the gardener knew so many of your relatives.

  14. It is indeed a small world. I love the garden and the house, I really want it.

  15. Lovely post! Lavender is my favorite scent; wonder if I cd grow it: Im one hour south of Lake Erie in NE Ohio.

  16. Oh my what a stunning salt-box house with lavender and heather in the front garden....heaven to me!

  17. I have never seen a photo of Tamarix on a garden blog before. It is on my list for spring, but being difficult to find, I'm not holding my breath. The genus is Tamarix, also called Tamarisk. Tamarack, or Eastern Larch, is a tall conifer...the ones that turn yellow in the fall and drop their needles. Confusing! There are many varieties of Tamarix, some rather scruffy and others more refined. My favorite for the garden is Pink Cascade, hardy to zone 5. I can always find the unexpected on your blog!

    1. Hi Annie, Thanks so much! I had the spelling of the name almost right, but had a feeling that Tamarack was wrong when I couldn't find any proper references online. Thanks for letting me know it is a Tamarix. I have updated the post.


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