2.14.2010

A Vancouver Garden

I am a fairly proud Canadian. I enjoy maple syrup; I ski; I speak French and I'm pleased that we're hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, one of Canada's most beautiful cities. To further highlight the beauty of this seaside city on Canada's west coast, I thought I'd showcase a garden there that I have loved for several years. It is the private, residential garden of Thomas Hobbs and Brent Beattie, both artists and both owners of the renowned Southlands Nursery. It has continued to inspire me.

The home itself was built in 1933 in the Mission Revival style, nestled in the nape of a hillside above a beach known as Spanish Banks. Hobbs and Beattie took possession of it in the 1980s, making a dream come true for Hobbs, who had admired the home since he was a teenager:

"A friend drove me by in his sports car, knowing I would be enchanted by its faded Hollywood awnings and intricate tile roof. I was more than enchanted; I nearly got whiplash. The street was still unpaved at that time and difficult to find, and the house looked almost abandoned. Strings of old Christmas lights were falling off the eaves and a poor looking stuffed pheasant stared sadly out of the living room window. On the cliff side, concrete stairs with rickety wooden handrails rose through blackberry bushes. I returned occasionally on my own to sneak around. There were three underground garages, I discovered! I imagined Norma Desmond's car was still inside one of them and that 'Max' was probably watching me from one of the windows."
The house, with its pink stucco walls and arched windows, is reminiscent of Old Hollywood. Giant Chamaecyparis lawsoniana trees (left) dwarf the house and are becoming a rare species of tree in the region. The views of the mountains and the city across the bay are breathtaking.

When Hobbs was 33, 19 years after he first spotted it, the house was at last his. He Christened it Casa Triangulo, because of the multitude of triangular shapes that govern the architecture. More than a decade later, the home's refurbishment was still not complete, but it was a labour of love and passion that he likens to the drive and ambition of a prolific painter. Of particular interest to Hobbs, a professional landscaper and designer, was the garden and the home's spectacular grounds.

Hobbs says his style of gardening was influenced greatly by the landscape of this property and almost none of the original plantings remain. The property's dramatic slopes and curves brought the bold, dramatic side in Hobbs (a side that was always very evident, by the way) to his gardening philosophies. Among his design signatures: zone-defiant planting, unusual foliage, terra-cotta pots overflowing with succulents, and black iron furniture, tucked mysteriously into the nooks and crannies. Below are examples of his style and the gorgeous results of his efforts to restore the home.
Palm trees in Canada, you ask? Well, yes! Vancouver's temperate climate (Zone 7) allows for the growth of many plants and trees that are found nowhere else in the country, including the non-native Trachycarpus fortunei, the hardiest of all palm trees. Hobbs also grows species of Yucca and Magnolia on the property, and has great success with all manner of succulents.
The sweeping terrace at the back of the house was built by Hobbs and Beattie to maximize views of downtown Vancouver and the bay. Gold-leaved Fuchsia, Ballotta and Abutilon spill out of a raised, circular planter in the foreground. Another palm tree, one of five on the property, has proven to be completely winter hardy. "Uplit at night, it is easy to imagine oneself on the Riviera," says Hobbs.
"The garden is actually quite small," says Hobbs. "It encircles the house, and a path of cast-concrete pavers that look like mellow Yorkstone allows you to see it all without much effort." The entry fountain, above, is edged with Asplenium scolopendrium, Thalictrum Elin and Bergenia.
Hobbs abhors anything typical or tacky in the garden. And that goes for garden hoses, too. He opted for a black garden hose, barely visible wound around a pair of copper hooks on a stucco wall that is laced with Abutilon Huntington Pink and Hedra Helix Goldheart. Stipa arundinacea frolics about while scculents in a shallow moss-and-chicken-wire nest adorn the top of the wall, looking as if they had always grown there.
Here is another garland of echeverias, sempervivums and other succulents. This one, studded with coloured-glass ornaments for dramatic effect, is growing along the staircase leading up from the terrace.
Hobbs has an extensive collection of handmade terra-cotta pots from Impruneta, Italy. This one holds the very dark Echeveria "Black Prince" which constrasts well with a chunk of coral, creating a sort of undersea vignette. So extensive and unusual are Hobbs' succlent plantings that he has taken to calling them Echeveria pizzas: "A little of this, a little of that."
An antique plant stand from France holds personal favourites. Pots of Saxifraga fortunei would get lost if they had been planted in the garden. Elevated here for all to see, their primary status in Hobbs' list of preferences is evident.
An inexpensive antique cabinet from Indonesia stands gracefully along one of the garden walls. Inside, a pillar candle illuminates the dark leaves of Cimicifuga simplex.


Thomas Hobbs has written two beautiful books on gardening: Shocking Beauty and The Jewel Box Garden. Both are highly recommended.

6 comments:

hydroponics said...

Well, plants were really something that you are expecting on your garden because they give a good purpose.I must say gardens were really a nice topic to discuss.

Ailsa said...

Such an incredible eye he has. I visited his nursery (Southlands) several years ago and took pics of his merchandising displays which were just as gorgeous as those at his home (which feature Whichford pottery -- that pic you include that shows what appear to be two floor pillows is really made of terracotta!)

Alas Andrew, Tom and his partner have sold that house and spectacular garden to move into a condominium. There is some outdoor space in his new digs, but nothing like the Spanish place. Here's a link to an article on his new place in the Globe and Mail last year.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/style/a-bold-new-space-for-a-new-lifestyle/article1252326/

Gabriela said...

Hello Andrew,

Thanks for posting such beautiful photos of gardens in Vancouver.
Love, love, love these sedums...
Is this house in West Vancouver?
I remember that I saw majestic mansions and houses there while visiting Vancouver years ago...


~ Gabriela ~

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

Ailsa, how could they every sell such a place!? I'm stunned. But thank you for the link and the info. I'll be sure to read about their new place.

Stephane said...

I'm lusting after the antique French wireware planter. It's spectacular. However will it fit into a condominium?

gail said...

Hi,, what a beautiful home and garden. I always enjoy reading your blog! Have a pretty day..:)

Gail