Like so many gardens, it started with the planting of a purple-leaf sand cherry.
“Then we planted a gold-flame spirea and they both came back,” says Stephen Kostyshyn. It was 1997 and he and his wife Claire Kostyshyn were hooked.
It was a time when perennials were hot, and the couple planted drifts of them in their small East end garden. Then the romance faded, the perennials needed dividing, and fertilizing and they didn’t have much appeal in the winter.
“In 2010 we bought that statue Jing, and Claire decided he didn’t like being beside the tomatoes,” Kostyshyn says.
So out came the tomatoes, in came Japanese maples, unusual evergreens and conifers, paths and fancy rocks.
In Jing’s special bed, he peers out over a planting of Japanese blood grass, daphne is in bloom at his back and a collection of stone cradles a tiny hens and chicks plant called Cobweb.
“It’s a serene garden now, I like the simplicity of it,” Claire, who is also president of the Mount Hamilton Horticultural Society, says.
They both like the new design, where special plants have space to breath. Scotch moss and the felty-leaved Geranium renardii form little islands of green in Jing’s bed, and a lovely dwarf Dawn redwood called North Light waves its soft yellow leaves in the slightest wind. Since the crowded perennials have gone, so have the snails and slugs that hid among the foliage.
A walk through the Kostyshyn’s garden is like going on a treasure hunt. You must move slowly and be alert for little gems, like Tom Thumb oriental spruce. Packed tight with gold-brushed needles it will not grow much taller than your ankle in ten years.
“I always loved evergreens but I never had a real source for them until I met a couple of people from ORGS,” Stephen says. ORGS is the Ontario Rock Garden Society (onrockgarden.com) and once you fall under their spell you might find yourself trekking through the Czech Republic searching for puny pines.
Now Claire and Stephen will pack their lunch and go on safari to Vineland Nurseries (vinelandnurseries.com), Lost Horizons (losthorizons.ca) in Acton or Whistling Gardens (whistlinggardens.ca) in Wilsonville, south of Brantford, to find the rare and the unusual.
The pines in their garden are a revelation. A gorgeous, twisted beauty called Snow-in-Valley Japanese white pine swirls with the energy of a fireworks display, another Japanese white pine called Gin Setsu drapes over a stone lantern, and the pretty Ogon yellow-needled Japanese white pine has a graceful, slender form perfectly suited for a small garden.
Though they push the limits of hardiness, the Kostyshyn’s choose their plants wisely and rarely lose a specimen. They have good soil, built up over the years with compost, and fertilize only when needed.
Among the vibrant evergreens and conifers like the Golden Glow Korean fir, you can find flowers, but of course they are special too. A bright yellow alstroemeria called Sweet Laura blooms year after year. Most people know this plant also called Peruvian lily as a cut flower, but Sweet Laura is hardy. In a corner of the garden, in front of the bamboo fencing that screens the yard, the tiny flowers of Formosa toad-lily lean against a dwarf bald cypress to catch the sun.
After the switch from flowers to foliage and form, the Kostyshyn garden has become complete. “You should see it under a blanket of snow,” Stephen says. Jing is happier too, without those tomato plants ruining the view.