Embracing the spirituality of gardening in Edmonton, Alberta

Paul  George  Christopher,

        garden design, planting and maintenence.       


"The garden is a place of many sacraments, an arena - at once as common as any room and as special as a church - where we can go not just to witness but to enact in a ritual way our abiding ties to the natural world."

Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire

  I am an avid gardener, perhaps even a little obsessed, and I love designing, planting and even maintaining gardens. Being a native of Canada's East coast, only a little over six years in Edmonton, I still find myself testing a lot of the time, trying to determine which perennials and shrubs are hardy in the winter cold and increasingly dry summers of Edmonton's climate [Hardiness Zone of 3A].

I have studied perennials, shrubs, roses, and trees for over 15 years and have experimented with various plantings and soil conditions. I am a fan of the hardy Bugnet (pronounced 'boon-yay') family of roses. I also love the Parland, Morden, and Explorer roses, developed by Agriculture Canada stations in Manitoba and Quebec; they need minimal care, are environmentally friendly, being very disease resistant (requiring minimal toxic spraying), are hardy down to -35 C with only snow as protection, flower continually or repeatedly throughout the summer, require only minimal pruning and come in a variety of colours and sizes. Most importantly, they are truly beautiful.

When I was an employee of Virginia Park Nurseries, I was constantly consulted by customers of the greenhouse who were attempting to meet the challenge of planting in our clay soils. Our particular soil conditions can necessitate the adoption of a long-range plan for soil enrichment, or creation, for those who are keen to garden. In many of the new developments, where the already shallow loam topsoil has been scraped away, and not replaced, by the developers, unless one is able to bring in a significant amount of new topsoil, it may take many years to develop soil conditions which are able to support healthy growth of trees. Berming and the use of raised beds can permit establishment of perennial borders and shrubs almost immediately, however.

If you are interested in having a flower-bed, a border or a garden designed, planted or maintained,
you can reach me by .


Dr. Georges Bugnet was one of the major francophone writers of Western Canada. He homesteaded at Rich Valley, west of Legal in 1905. For eighteen years he struggled with his farm without much success. During the same time he published three novels (one being La Forêt in 1935). He was also an avid botanist and he experimented with plants that would thrive in the northern Alberta climate. Using seeds from the Lagoda Lake region of Russia, he developed the Lagoda pine. He developed the 'George Bugnet' and 'Julia Bugnet' sweetberry honeysuckles.

Bugnet took a double wild Kamchitka rose from Russia and crossed it with the Alberta single variety to produce the famous Thérèse Bugnet rose, which some sources claim was named for his sister. Others say that all of Dr. Bugnet's roses were named for his daughters. Thérèse is a very hardy plant, the result of her unusually complex heritage, combining 'Rosa rugosa,' 'Rosa acicularis' and 'Rosa amblyotis.' Her double flowers are fragrant, deep pink, softening with age, and she makes for an interesting plant in winter as well, when deep crimson-red branches stand in contrast against the snow. Thérèse is even somewhat shade tolerant, as roses go.
Marie Bugnet is another of Dr. Bugnet's rose-children, named for another of his daughters. Marie shows her hardy 'R. rugosa' heritage more visibly in her crinkled "rugose" leaves. She bears very fragrant, double white flowers of tousled form in small clusters amid an abundance of light green, crinkled foliage, on a bushy, healthy plant. There are other roses (such as Rita Bugnet and Louise Bugnet) that he developed, but they seem to be mostly unavailable in the nursery/greenhouse trade; I would welcome any information about these roses.

Bugnet became a knowledgeable horticulturalist and contributed to the development of plant species in Alberta. In his honour the Alberta government named a forest reserve the Bugnet Plantation Historical Site. It is the Bugnet Homestead at Rich Valley (Legal Sub Divisions 9&10) in the County of Lac Ste. Anne, near Lac Majeau.
For more on Bugnet see the Devonian Gardens' Alberta Pioneers in Horticulture site.

Bits of My Garden

A sculpture student's rejected work graces the west garden. For me, the sculpture evokes, and invokes, the spirit of Lilith, the rebellious first wife of Adam and, through her, the presence of Gaia, the living Earth to whom we belong, and within whom we "live and move and have our being."
A fence can be a fine backdrop as well as offer surfaces on which to hang baskets and other "treasures that amuse".
The wooden structure of the deck supports green cotton netting for climbing plants, bringing scent and colour nearer to nose and eye level, whether one is picnicing, or just relaxing, on the deck.
These dramatic dark red lillies add a base note throughout the sunny gardens.
Delphiniums beside the deck in company with that pesky creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) which spreads everywhere and has such an efficient root system. NOT all Campanulas are such thugs, however.
This is Baxter. My mother and I adopted him as a tiny stray early in 1994, back in Hillsborough, NB, and he came with me to Edmonton when I moved here in 2002. He was a supremely lazy cat, always at home in his own skin and in the world, and always ready for a sleep, as here, on the deck among the plants of the container garden. His favourite, of course, was the catnip near his deep, white water bowl. Baxter disappeared from my life toward the end of Summer 2007, but hopefully he is cheering some other person's life, still.
The Quadrant Labyrinth Garden

When I came to Edmonton in 2002, I faced the new challenge, as a gardener, of working in an already established garden. Some things simply could not be changed, nor did I wish to change them. The principal, and most inspiring, feature of my new garden was a quardrant labyrinth built of grey brick and pale sand-coloured gravel, its walking paths bordered and separated by narrow planting areas. Here it is, soon after it was first created in 2000.
Over the past six years years, I've tried to achieve a fuller and more varied planting using many different perennials, and some miniature evergreen shrubs, so that the labyrinth can function both as a mediation walk and as a garden stroll. Many of my experiments were unsuccessful! But gradually I am learning which plants will thrive.
In spite of the frustrations, it is always a delight to walk the labyrinth, or to simply sit and gaze from one of the seating areas in the south-facing backyard. (The backyard is deliberately without a fence, and our neighbours are always welcome to come and spend time in the garden, and especially to walk the labyrinth, or contribute to the compost heap! ) Here: a new planting of Yarrow "Moonshine" and an established clump of Veronica "Red Fox", as well as an accidental seedling of the Texas blue-bonnet, growing quite happily in the 3 inches of fine crushed rock, with its roots tucked under a flat limestone rock.

The north quadrant is actually the sunniest of the four, shaded as here only in the very early morning. Included in the planting are sun-loving succulents, a native prickly pear, several grasses and perennials with silver foliage. The cardinal points of the compass, the four corners, are marked by the slow-growing dense foliage of Eastern white cedar "DeGroots' Spire."

At the centre if the labyrinth is a smooth sandstone rock which is beginning to sport silver and orange lichens. Other more angular stones scattered among the four quadrants have small plantings of moss, miniature sedums and sempervivums. When the weather is dry and hot, the first order of business is to water the rocks in the labyrinth!

Coral-bells (Heuchera), in red- and green-leaf forms thrive in the hottest, sunniest part of the north and east quadrants. The tiny crimson flowers sparkle in the light of the low, raking light of early morning in June. Some of the labyrinth's whimsical ornaments can be seen here as well, such as the ceramic table-fountain which depicts the safe landing and disembarkation of the animals from Noah's Ark, in the foreground.

Four small battery powered lamps store solar energy during the day and release it again at night, marking each of the path entrances with a faint shimmer of radiance.

A Spring-flowering dwarf alpine columbine (Aquilegia scopulorum, the Utah columbine) with tiny flowers in subtle hues of palest yellow and lavender was lost against the sand-coloured gravel, and unhappy in the heavy loam soil which underlies the labyrinth. Now it lives in a black-glazed bonsai pot which frames its delicate and intricate beauty. Sharply draining, gravelly soil hopefully will ensure its health.

Again, if you are interested in having a garden designed and planted email me.