Because we are now at the height of the summer season and because I love gardens I thought I would start my first post about Fernie in the gardens of Fernie.
Fernie is a marvelous place to garden and in Edwardian times almost every home in Fernie had a garden. That garden was usually a vegetable garden. Until very recently the vegetable garden was a necessity of life in every community and it certainly was critical to life in remote mountain communities such as Fernie once was. Heritage photos that I have seen show that the gardeners of Fernie also cherished the beauty of flowers and so many gardens had some space dedicated to flowers. The gardens of the most affluent included fully designed landscapes tended by gardeners.
You will note that I did not write that Fernie is always an easy place to garden, I wrote it is “marvelous”. And it is marvelous so long as you accept that a winter garden with a lot of snow has to be a part of your garden planning. When it is not winter, the climate in Fernie is relatively cool and damp as befits a temperate rain forest, and but for the odd unseasonal frost during the spring or autumn, or some hot days in July or August, it has many of the advantages of the English climate and therefore suited the gardening that the Edwardians from England would have undertaken here.
The settlers sought to recreate the gardens they were familiar with but quickly learned many tricks for extending the gardening season by introducing hardy varieties as well as the use of hot houses, cold frames or even just sheets to good advantage for the odd unseasonal bit of cold, or for starting plants earlier than our weather might sometimes allow. Of course the early Italian immigrants would have been very discouraged – at least at first – until they got the hang of it and now there is no doubt that the gardens of the residents of Fernie of Italian descent are a real delight. Fernie generally ranges through zones 3 and 4 and the region (that is Elkford to the South Country) through zones 2 through 5 depending upon where your property and your house is situated in the landscape. It is amazing how you can change a zone by moving a tree, or taking advantage of a building or even a simple structure like a trellis.
If you are interested in vegetable gardening in Fernie a good source of information and inspiration is “down to earth” by Jennifer Heath and Helen McAllister. For flower gardens with an Edwardian feel great resources are anything written by Gertrude Jekyll and Margery Fish – adapt their thoughts to our climate and you can’t go wrong. I should note that most of our modern ideas and ideals about a flower garden are due to the influence of Jekyll and Fish. I also think another very good resource are the books of Lyndon Penner, who focuses on the Chinook and Canadian Prairie Zones. Even though the climate is not quite the same, some of the hurdles are very similar. And if you really want inspiration for what can be done in a climate that can be more challenging than Fernie’s visit the Reader Rock Garden in Calgary. This is one of the best Edwardian, Arts and Crafts, style gardens in Canada and it was created in a place that few would have ever thought possible. Stroll the garden and you will be inspired as well as impressed. Admittedly Reader knew a lot more than the average gardener; he was Superintendent of Parks for the City of Calgary. What fascinates me about the garden is that it is very much on a human scale and while bigger than the average household garden it is not a princely garden or even the garden of someone of great wealth. It was built by a family to be worked and enjoyed by themselves and their friends. While you are there stop in for a good lunch in Reader’s house which is very much like some houses you will recognize in old Fernie. And most of all look at the flowers, plants and trees that Reader planted, all of them will likely thrive in your garden in Fernie.
It is not easy to find traces of original Edwardian gardens in Fernie, but throughout this post I include some photos of a garden I discovered that I think recalls the feel of the Edwardian garden in the form of a cottage garden that might have been found in Fernie.
This garden was created by a treasure to Fernie flower gardens – Rosanne. She kindly let me take a few photos and you will see that her gardening naturally honours the spirit and ideas that were given to gardening by Gertrude Jekyll and Margery Fish. Using plants which she largely grows from her own seeds and cuttings, as well as gifts from others she creates small vignettes with a little surprise in each part of the garden. I admire this garden because in the best spirit of cottage gardens it has a very homey feel and reflects the tastes and priorities of the gardener. Rosanne experiments all the time and moves plants about until they find their right home. She takes what she has and what she can find and using her own resources she crafts her garden. Her garden decorations would in less intuitively skilled hands appear out of place but in her garden they are charming. Rosanne has been living in her house since 1962, but she tells me she believes it was built in 1907, and I have seen a photo after the Great Fire of 1908 in which the house is standing. My suspicion is that the house was built in 1907 and then rebuilt in 1908 because the street on which the house stands was in the path of the fire. If I find anything further out about the house I will share it in the future.
I hope these photos will share some of the joy I had touring Rosanne’s garden with her.
A warm and cozy corner made all the warmer by the orange of the lilies which are very striking next to the dark purple of the clematis. Rosanne told me the clematis used to climb all the way to the second floor and filled the corner until a bout of weather a few years ago reduced its grandeur.
The rich fullness of a garden much loved by gardener Rosanne and enjoyed by everyone who walks past her home.
If you have any historical photos of gardens in Fernie please share them with me and I will post them here along with any information you would like to share with readers about our gardens of the past.