It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who expect, once Summer kicks in and business at the garden centre slows down while most families turn their attention towards vacations of one form or another, for me to head off somewhere either hot and exotic [Umm, no!] or somewhere cool, shaded and perpetually raining. [Now you're talking my language people!]
Truth is, I usually find myself already headlong into what I can only refer to as being a mid-Summer withdrawal. Not a pretty sight! For he whose life is most content in the presence of his green children, the month of August can be downright jarring. He could spend his entire time off basking in the beauty that is his garden, [just today the rest of the family packed off for a week at a lake in Orillia.] or else he could sequester himself on a shaded veranda with a pile of half read books, [He might just do that for the days that have rain in the forecast] but more than likely he will find himself up at the 'crack of stupid' on his first official vacation day, with trusted iPhone and Sam Smith playlist at the ready, and thanks to his ever generous employers for letting him use their Rio while they too are away camping, on his way to the woodland plant nursery where it all started seven Summers ago!
Rumour has it some people leave their hearts in San Francisco of all places, but for me, a pulsating piece of my heart will always reside at Lost Horizons, that mecca of all things shady and woodland in nature located a whisper away from Acton, Ontario. For me, the year I made its discovery, it was my 'dirty little secret' insomuch as it was unlike any other garden centre I'd ever witnessed. I quickly learned the difference between a garden centre and a garden nursery [the former being where plants and grown and propagated] as opposed to most 'centres' who order in stock and sell through over the course of a gardening season. Nurseries are usually owned and run by certifiable plantaholics, male or female. Such is the case with Larry Davidson, who, twenty years after he began humbly selling plants from the end of his drive, is now one of Canada's most knowledgable plantsmen - a career that seems more at home to England or China, but is a most welcomed treasure for plant geeks like myself. I did spent the better part of two seasons basking in the generous knowledge that is Larry, and although I have moved on, for me every visit is reminiscent of 'going home' again.
'Did you say you were looking for a specific Hosta?'
I have two stringent requirements that I use to gauge the merit and credibility of a 'nursery': I want to be able to print out a catalogue of all of the plant product that they carry - [ it doesn't all have to be available on the day that I visit!] and it should not be printed on glossy paper, nor for that matter should it include often mis-guiding photo shopped to hell and back pictures, and one last non negotiable stickler - it must use botanical latin names. Ah huh! I think I have just 'separated the wheat from the chaff' as my Gran was fond of saying. I know I am not the only garden enthusiast who is more than tired with the 'dumbing down' that has been occurring within the industry. Gardens Illustrated is the ONLY gardening magazine that I read, thanks to it recognizing that we're not all looking for watered down information about what for many of us is, the love of our lives! Ok. Rant over!
So we've established the difference between a 'centre' and a 'nursery,' I've introduced you to the remarkable plantsman who created this amazing woodland plant mecca, so I guess its time to do a walk through if you're ready! Granted, there is a sales area with benches near to the check out area, but for the most part plants find homes along pathways, in hoop houses and anywhere else that affords them the cool shade and moisture that are essential to their prosperity. The alphabet is for nursery 'schools' - just saying! Meander the paths, stopping to bend down to examine a specific plant that might have caught your attention. For me it was Aconitum 'Burgfurst' - a delightful 'monkshood' selection with heavily divided, almost lacy foliage. But no, he did not come into my greedy clutches, at least not on this visit. I had my mind set on a single plant, one that is part of a genus that currently holds me its eager and willing captive/hostage. More of this later! Oh! Well seeing that the following set of photos may or may not focus on said Genus, guess I'll spill.
I encountered what was my second certified 'Epiphile' - those who enamoured to the point of obsession with the genus Epimedium during my second year at LH. The late Elizabeth Ingulsfrud made a lasting impression on my mind, both with her dowageresque presence on that quiet Sunday [dressed as she was from head to foot in black, aided with a cane] and I was soon sucked into the beguiling world that is the Epimedium. Larry and she between the two of them were likely in possession of the largest collection of Epimediums in the entire province. And now, all of these years later, and with a personal inventory that is closing in on twenty, I was looking for Epimedium sutchuenense, a sublime newer species from China that has attractive, mottled foliage as it emerges in the Spring. According to Larry's catalogue/tome it, '... possesses sprays of twenty or more medium sized flowers with white sepals flushed purple and reddish-purple, and long spurred petals!' Spurred petals and bruised Spring foliage: done deal!
The photo directly preceding, as well as the three below are all taken in what is one of my two favourite hoop houses on the property. Most plants are grouped by genus, and while not all pots contain identification tags, the majority do or can be easily identified if you're able to find the green wizard [Larry] himself. I was thrilled to see his enigmatic presence as I walked the gravel drive toward the retail area, knowing that we'd likely get a few minutes to commiserate about the 'green world' that we call home.
Epimedium 'Amber Queen'
Next to the Epimedium house is where Larry has assembled his collection of rockery plants. It too is a rather substantial collection. Its pathway always makes my heart beat a wee bit faster, as this is also where one can be, if they know where to look and are thoughtful and respectful of their surroundings, introduced to some of Larry's latest discoveries, all cohabitating happily among one another in a delightfully shaded series of beds. It is where I first stumbled across the surreal Meconopsis grandis, not to mention three of my all time favourite plants: Diphylleia cymosa, Deinanthe caerulea, and one must NEVER leave out Anemonopsis macrophylla.
It was in this secret haven of future offerings that I was introduced to a stunning new Actaea - one of delightfully large foliage and stature that is happily bulking up so that we plantaholics might soon be able to welcome a division or two to our own garden sanctuaries!
The irrigation provided a nice respite from the sun that was getting warmer by the minute. While it is regaled for its woodland plants and atmosphere, Lost Horizons also offers a comprehensive selection of plant material that have slightly sunnier dispositions! Having said such, it is the plant in the photos below that never fails to stop visitors in their tracks. Massive, lightly lobed, toothed foliage is suspended 1m above the ground. Deep wine-burgundy fruit [somewhat aromatically challenged = unpleasant] hang below the magnificent foliage. It is always in high demand, so it was heart warming to see that it is happily self propagating itself in the raised bed where it resides!
Crossing a wooden footbridge, you enter the display gardens, which to some, rival the selection of plants available at the nursery. Approximately 2 acres of woodland scrub have been, over the past twenty years, transformed into a magical green sanctuary which is home to some of Larry's favourite plants. Hand planted himself, he hand chooses each plant, carefully assessing its growing requirements, its architectural structure and presence once mature, which has resulted in magic! Just look at the following photos!
A sharp squeal permeated the tranquil silence when I noticed this superlative Acer tegmentosum 'White Tigress' - which may or may not have been the same single specimen that resided in a 'not for sale' section of the Acer hoop house during my tenure. Look at that amazing striped bark. and that foliage. It looks so very much like that of another of my perennial favourites - Kirengeshoma palmata!
Run Will Robinson, Run! We're going to burn to a crisp in this hot sun!
Forgive me Larry for venturing into your 'living space' but I simply had to photograph this stunning vignette. Look at the stone slabs, and those planters are beyond words. This is what one can expect when they contract Larry to design, construct and install a garden for them. Nothing but the very best in available product - from the masonry down to the dwarf Iris!
The instantly recognizable 'Lutyens' bench
Visitors to my own green sanctuary, are always commenting on the 'layering' style of planting that I favour. I wonder where I may have learned that? I think when you are as passionate a collector/hoarder as some of us are, you simply find even the smallest sliver of available space and add yet another mesmerizing child to the family. For me it wasn't intentional in the beginning - but as the years have passed, I find myself appreciating the tapestries that this style of planting often rewards one with!
I found myself walking in circles, looking for this stunning clump of Kirengeshoma palmata - the very one that first introduced me to what I consider to be an essential element to every woodland garden. How stunning are those ebony infused stems, each one clasping gorgeous palmate foliage, and to know that delightful shuttlecock shaped waxy, canary yellow flowers will smother the plant from mid August well in to September..... what is there not to love about this gem!
Back over the bridge, I spoke with a new face to the nursery,hopefully impressing upon him the opportunity that he is newly embarking upon: If you can show Larry that you are passionate about the plants that make up a large part of his world, the green world is in essence an oyster that he will generously serve up to you one portion at a time. I will forever be greatly indebted to this generous, knowledgable plantsman, and know that wherever my horticultural career takes me, there will always be a sliver of my being that will forever be attached to Lost Horizons.
Single Epimedium in tow I walked towards my car with a rejuvenated appreciation for my own garden which contains many of the same plants I stumbled across today. Larry had magically appeared at the front gate, and after another short repartee, I headed for home, looking forward to next Spring at Cedar Spring Nursery where I hope to be able to woo even more gardeners over to the wondrousness of the 'shadier' side of life.