Monday, May 11, 2020

A Visit to Duff & Donna's Garden in June

At the back of the house, there is a small plateau of land with a deck and then the 
property rolls down in a gentle incline to a lake. 

My friendship with Donna Evers began years ago when she sent me an invitation to come and photograph her garden. At the time, my blog was still young and relatively unknown, so the offer of a place to stay while I did my photography was novel, to say the least.

That open, friendly Maritime hospitality was impossible to pass up, so I went to visit Donna's garden on my next trip home to see family. Over the years we've kept in touch, mostly by email, but I always make a point of stopping in to say "hi" whenever I return home to Nova Scotia. Last summer my husband and I stopped in on a hot, sunny afternoon in mid-June.

Duff made the yellow chairs. "It is a great place to sit and watch the birds in the 
birdbath," says Donna.

What can I tell you about Donna? She's been married to Duff for 54 years this July. She loves her three kids and dotes on her four granddaughters (whom she misses dearly). Donna's tall, slim and looks younger than someone in her mid-seventies (she may scoff at this last statement, but it's true). She's a masterful gardener who I respect and admire enormously. I'll let Donna tell you a little more about her ties to the local gardening community with her usual injection of humour:

"All the things that come with age, like issues with night driving and nodding off after supper, has limited our participation in our garden clubs. We do still belong to the ARHS/ Atlantic Rhododendron and Horticultural Society and the Nova Scotia Rock Garden Society. Both clubs have tolerated our lack of experience and taught us much over the years. Members of both clubs have become dear friends. Our garden is always open to any and all events these clubs organize."

"Garden tours and friends are always welcome. I love sharing our garden and the rewards are many. Knowledge and plants have been generously shared and long-lasting friendships made with every visit. Garden visits by local clubs have resulted in a few talks on the unique part of our garden that we affectionately call "The Swamp". It was fun and the audience was kind but I don’t think I’ll need an agent," she writes.

Purple and white Campanula

Birdbath with colorful glass fishing buoys.

The low stone wall, that runs most of the width of the property, was no small undertaking.

I must also introduce you to Duff, the other half of this gardening duo. A love of plants and nature is something both Duff and Donna share. The stone walls that terrace the hillside is a great example of his contribution to the garden. Duff also keeps bees and helps with all the heavy labour like hefting and hauling compost and shredding leaves.

"Duff made the benches, the arbours, the obelisks, the birdhouses, the chairs, the fences, the deck, all the stone walls, the troughs and the patio. I have been asked if he can be cloned", Donna once joked.

Cranesbill Geranium pratense 'Double Jewel' has double white flowers and deeply-lobed green leaves. Deer and rabbit resistant. Drought tolerant once established. Moist, well-drained soil is best. Full sun to part-shade. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (18-24 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Old Man's Beard, Clematis heracleifolia 'New Love' is a self-supporting clematis with a bushy habit. It has fragrant, star-shaped blue flowers and fluffy seed heads (giving the plant its common name). Height: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches), Spread: 45-50 cm (18-20 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

"There are days my aching bones make me wish I was gardening on a flat plot of land, but on the whole, the positives outweigh the negatives. And we don't have to go to the gym to work out," Donna laughs.

"We handpicked the stone from a local quarry and trucked it home. The walls began with a three- to-four-inch tamped base of crushed gravel. Fitting the stones together was a bit like working a jigsaw puzzle," Donna recounts.

The stone walls with their excellent drainage have provided unique planting sites for Lewisia, Saxifraga and Hens and Chicks", says Donna.

 False Indigo, Baptisia Decadence® Deluxe 'Lemon Meringue' is a vigorous cultivar that has lemon-yellow flowers on a compact, upright mound of blue-green foliage. Height: 76-90 cm (30-36 inches), Spread: 76-90 cm (30-36 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

 The plumes of a pink Astilbe and a Japanese Anemone in the foreground. A pale pink iris, more Astilbe and a Peony in the distance.

Anemone 'September Charm' has single rose-pink flowers on branching stems. It prefers rich, moist soil and will naturalize to form a large patch (Donna no doubt keeps her plant in check, but many would say it spreads aggressively given the right conditions). This is a tall plant that may require some support. Full sun to part-shadeHeight: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Giant Fleece Flower, Persicaria polymorpha is a herbaceous perennial that dies right back to the ground in fall. New growth rockets upward each spring, and by the end of June, it's almost six feet tall. In July it is covered in big white plumes. This plant is pretty adaptable to a range of soils and moisture conditions. Full sun or light shade. Height: 3-6 ft, Spread: 3-5 ft. USDA zones: 4-9.


Japanese Iris, Iris ensata 'Variegata' requires neutral to acidic soil and moist soil through its flowering time. This iris is quite happy on the banks of a stream or pond and can even be grown in pots sitting in water. Iris ensata 'Variegata' has green and white striped leaves and purple flowers. Divide every 3 to 4 years. Height: 70-75 cm (27-29 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

On the lefthand side of the house, there is a woodland garden with a series of arbours dividing the long space into smaller rooms. In the spring, this area has magnolia trees, primula and rhododendrons in flower. In June, the creamy-white bracts of a Cornus kousa mark the entrance to this shady woodland.

"On the edge nearest the lawn, we planted a border of rhododendrons. In the area between these plantings, there were native hemlock, maples and poor spruce. Again, we weren't planning to garden in this area. Nature took care of the unsightly spruce, we limbed-up the hemlocks and bought more plants. Another garden to fill", Donna sighs.

Chinese Dogwood, Cornus kousa 'China Doll' has creamy-white bracts in June and oval green leaves that turn shades of orange and red in autumn. Small pink fruits that look a bit like strawberries are a feature in the late-summer/fall. This is a slow-growing tree with an attractive branching shape. Height: 15-20 ft, Spread: 10-15 ft. USDA Zones: 5-8.

In another part of the garden, there is a second dogwood tree.

Japanese Dogwood, Cornus kousa 'Wolf Eyes' is a small, deciduous tree with horizontal spreading branches. It has wavy, grey-green leaves with an ivory margin. In the fall, the foliage takes on a reddish-pink color. Creamy-white flower-like bracts are followed by red fruit. With age, the bark develops colorful mottling. Part sun to part shade. Height: 10-20 ft Spread:10-20 ft.  USDA zones:5-8.

Rhododendron 'Pink and Sweet'  has fragrant pink flowers tinged with yellow. The glossy narrow leaves turn red in the fall. This broadleaf evergreen shrub likes highly acidic soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter.  Height: 3-4 ft, Spread: 3-4 ft. USDA Zones: 5-9.

Photos by Donna Evers

Photo by Donna Evers

Donna posted pictures of these Corydalis recently on her Facebook page. The fern-like foliage and flowers are equally pretty. When I visited in June, this blue Corydalis was blooming:

Corydalis Blue Line® 'Couriblue' has lightly-scented, spurred flowers and matt-green leaves that are deeply lobed. This plant likes moist, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. It may go semi-dormant in summer. Cut the plant back to encourage new shoots in the fall. Part sun. Height: 30-50 cm (12-20 inches), Spread: 50-80 cm (20-32 inches). USDA Zones: 6-9.

Donna jokes, "The pink colouration starts out so white the kids used to call this the bird splat vine."

Actinidia kolomikta 'Arctic Beauty' is a hardy kiwi vine with fragrant, greenish-white flowers that mature into edible berries (when both a male and female plants are present. Only a female vine will produce fruit. Male vines have the best variegation.). The foliage is green when it opens in the spring and then develops white slashes tipped with pink. Be warned that this is a fast-growing, vigorous vine that can easily swamp other trees and shrubs. A heavy hand may be required to keep it in check. This vine is not considered to be invasive. Actinidia kolomikta is best grown on a sturdy support like a trellis or fence. Prune when dormant in winter and again in spring and summer. When growing fruit, plant in full sun. This vine is somewhat shade tolerant and can also be grown in part-shade. Height: 10-20 ft, Spread: 6-10 ft USDA zones: 3-8.

Donna and Duff never intended to garden along the lakeshore. They removed some of the scruffy spruce and maples to open up a view to the lake and then called it a day.  

This woodland area became the spot that they dumped surplus plant material that resulted from routine division, as well as perennials that had for one reason or another fallen out of favour. When Donna and Duff finally ran out of room in the rest of the garden, they turned their attention to their "dumping ground".

"To date, we have not amended the soil. We have just planted among the roots and the rocks. We have a central path leading to the lake and this year Duff put in steps and two boardwalks so it is easier to walk around and enjoy this wild garden", says Donna.

"We started with three Primula Japonica, gifts from a gardening friend, and now there are three hundred or more- all self-seeded. They fill my heart with joy," Donna tells me.

Candelabra Primrose, Primula japonica is a group of woodland plants with fresh green foliage and a crown of flowers in late spring. They prefer part shade and moist or wet clay soil that is rich in organic matter. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9

Christmas Fern, Polystichum acrostichoides forms a low clump of dark-green leathery fronds. It also likes moist, rich soil. Part to full shade. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Peltoboykinia watanabei is native to the woods of Japan and is a clump-forming perennial. It has large, showy, peltate leaves that have a pinkish cast in the spring. In summer it has upright flower spikes of yellowish-green flowers. This plant likes rich evenly moist soil. May self-seed. Part shade to full shade. Height: 30-60 cm (12-30 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-30 inches). USDA Zones: 5-7.

Umbrella Plant or Indian Rhubarb, Darmera peltata has leafless flower stems that emerge in the spring, with clusters of white or soft pink flowers. The large, lobed leaves are cupped and can reach almost 24 inches across. This is a plant native to mountain stream banks and woodlands from southwestern Oregon to northern California. It needs moist, clay soil and some protection from the sun (i.e. shade/part-shade). Darmera peltata prefers cooler climates and does not do well in southern parts of the States. Divide this perennial's rhizomes in the fall. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches). USDA zones: 3-9. 

Rodgersia in the foreground.

A natural berm formed along the lakefront when receding glacial ice deposited rocks.

Tree roots clinging to the rocks and moss.

Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia (Donna warns me this carnivorous plant needs winter protection). 

Please excuse my poor focus. In among the moss are tiny carnivorous plants (pinkish in color)
that trap and eat flies.

I should have had Donna stand in front of this ginormous plant for scale. It was easily five or more feet tall (the flowers are pictured below).

White Skunk cabbage, Lysichiton camtschatcensis is native to northeastern Russia and Japan where it can be found in damp, boggy areas. Plants spread by rhizomes to naturalize and form large colonies. It likes soil with lots of organic matter. Full sun to part shade. Height: 2-5 ft, Spread: 2-5 ft. USDA zones:5-7

Photographs of Skunk Cabbage flowers which Donna posted recently on Facebook.

The yellow Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus is a North American native. Oddly enough, this unusual looking plant has been brought to the UK where it is now considered to be a noxious weed (More often it works the other way. European plant imports escape North American gardens and become an invader here).

The white Skunk Cabbage, Lysichiton camtschatcensis is from Russia and Japan. In some parts of the States, it has become a problem plant. If you do want to grow this really interesting perennial, do be environmentally conscientious and curtail it to the boundaries of your garden.

Rodgersia Henrici has bold, textured foliage with a bronze cast in spring and plumes of pink to rose-purple flowers in early to mid-summer. The flowers are followed by interesting seed heads. In the fall, the leaves take on red and bronze tones. This large specimen plant likes rich, moist soil. Clumps rarely require division. Part-shade to shade. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Pink and white Astilbe

Pale pink Astilbe

Many people would be curtailing their garden projects in their seventies, but not Donna. Recently, she wrote excitedly about her project for this spring.

"The plans for a pollinator meadow are going ahead. The city has given us permission and some help in the way of soil, to plant on a piece of ground Duff has been cutting for 25 years. I wake up at night and wonder what I've taken on!...I'll post on Facebook as soon as we get underway."

I have no doubt that this new meadow will be as spectacular as the rest of the garden.


  1. Replies
    1. I have been to visit Donna's garden many times and am always thrilled to discover some beautiful perennial or striking plant combination. Magical it is!

  2. What a beautiful garden! Love it! So much inspiration...

    1. Glad to know you found the post inspirational Titti.

  3. Wow, what a garden, and very well covered by both word and photo.

  4. oh my goodness, what a lot of work. Hard to believe they are mid-seventy and still going strong. This garden must be in Dartmouth, on the shores of Lake Banook, I am guessing. I lived in Hfx for 30 years so know this climate zone well. Lots of things grow there than can't survive my zone 3B where I live now.

    1. Donna and Duff have worked very hard to make their beautiful garden and it shows.
      I know Lake Banook well. We used to swim there every summer. Donna is actually on the other side of the harbour out Hammonds Plains Rd way. I doubt with the COVID-19 situation there will be any tours of the garden this year, but you might want to follow Donna's Facebook page (link in the post) for notices of future events. Her garden is well worth a visit.

  5. Thank you for introducing us to this lovely couple. Their garden is spectacular and clearly a labor of love. It is fantastic when a couple share such a passion. It is clear in the result.


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