BY DANIELLE POPE | PHOTOS BY LIA CROWE
In a city lauded for its extravagant gardens, springtime welcomes with it a certain fervour for digging up the dirt. It takes experience, however, to create an oasis of flora and fauna in west coast weather.
That’s why Spruce asked Manon Tremblay, certified horticulturist and principal of Manon Tremblay Garden Design, for her wisdom on how to create a functional outdoor space: one that helps people, plants and pets enjoy as much time outside as nature allows.
Tremblay has been in the industry for over 20 years, studying and teaching at Victoria’s Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, and acting as head gardener at Abkhazi Garden. She has owned two landscaping companies — her current one launched in 2014 — and she oversees projects ranging from edible and pollinator gardens to winter shade spaces.
How do you help people decide the best way to use an outdoor space?
The first task is inquiry. How do you currently use this area? What’s important to you? Some people want a space where they can host a nice dinner with friends and have a table fit as many people as possible. Others want a quiet place to sit and have a drink. Consider what your life requires. Do you have kayaks you need to store? How do you move in this area, and does it make sense? A lot of what I focus on is functionality.
Then we do a site analysis. We consider things like screening; where are the neighbours, do you need privacy, or are we leaving openings for the sun? How does the weather behave here; are we close to the ocean, is there a lot of sun or wind? With all of that info, the design is already starting to take form.
What do you do with a space dominated by sun or shade?
An all-sun space would be ideal for a food garden or a rose or flower garden. If we want food in the garden, we need to think about fencing it in with gates to protect it.
If we are working with shade — and I love working with shade gardens — we think about what will continue to look beautiful, year round. You can make these lovely winter shade gardens with many Japanese plants, for example, which are very conducive to having a little bench and a quiet introverted space. You lean into it rather than fighting it, because you want your plants to be happy.
How do you advise people who aren’t sure what they want?
I’m always in favour of choosing food plants when you can, using native plants, creating meandering paths and planting in groupings. If I’m working with a family, we’ll often keep lawns if they want to play soccer or have room for kids to play, but otherwise I often advocate for removing lawns and using plant groupings — like a series of lavender, a group of grasses and a number of sage plants in an area.
A lawn can become the neutral space with a busy garden in the back. But, if you remove the lawn, you can do so much more with repeating patterns, or work with shades of leaves and dark colours that repeat softly so it’s calming.
Do you always have a vision for an outdoor space?
I definitely have a style. I like to create different “rooms” in the garden. For edible veggies, I suggest using raised beds, but we can also integrate beauty within these beds — you can have grapes or kiwis growing above you. We can build an atmosphere with wide stepping stones, a pergola, a table to dine at, surrounded by creeping vines and flowers. Suddenly, you have a room that inspires you to be in the garden, and it’s nice to reflect that edible nature with a place people gather to eat.
If your dream is to have a nighttime lounge with a fireplace and chairs, then we want to create an open space to see the stars with your family. We might use more Japanese maples and ferns, and choose interesting plants in contrasting colours. In either case, you want to have some kind of screening from the neighbours so it feels private. We also want to inspire you to look up, which you can do with vertical height from trees or vines, so if you’re looking out the window to the garden, there are some flowers to meet your eye.
When working with heritage plants, what do you pull and what do you keep?
A lot of this comes down to knowing the plants and considering the emotions you are feeling. With a heritage rose, for example, when it’s doing well you know the location is perfect and you need to plant around it. You would then focus on companion planting. If a plant is suffering, you can consider what your connection is to this plant and consider transplanting it to a new location, if it’s a plant that can handle that.
What are some of the most common misconceptions you’ve heard from people around gardening?
The biggest misconception is around what a “low-maintenance” garden means, especially when it comes to flowers and food plants. If you want to have many edible plants, you do need to tend to them more; they take more time and water. Lawns also require a lot of water and care. Even drought-tolerant plants need support. And, every plant, edible or not, will need a good prune once a year.
A garden is always changing, which means these aren’t ever going to be projects that are installed and complete, as is. Plants will always need some attention. It’s important to do your research.