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House Beautiful: A lifelong love affair with stones

Gardener-collector of evergreens, maples and giant rocks opens her stunning Uplands garden for the Victoria Conservatory of Music garden tour.

With exotic evergreens, giant boulders, Japanese maples and pools of grasses lapping around the lavish landscape, Sheila Greckol has created a striking artistic statement in her Uplands home.

“The property was a bit of a wilderness when we my husband and I first saw it, with lots of grasses and bushes, and no protection from the deer which just wandered everywhere,” said the recently retired judge.

She and her late husband bought the property a dozen years ago and moved here from Edmonton.

He was ill at the time and died a couple of years later, but in his last months he loved the home’s contemporary design and the peace and quiet of their green retreat.

The garden has long been important to Greckol, too, and since re-envisioning the property she has become a keen collector of evergreens, maples and giant rocks.

It’s no surprise that one of her first moves after buying the house was to contact Rusnak Gallant landscapers.

“I’ve had a long-time love affair with stones and so Illarion Gallant and I went out to a quarry and chose all these large, tall ones. We brought a truckload back with us and dumped them — and just the way they fell turned out to be the perfect position for most of them.”

She stresses she is an amateur gardener but as luck would have it, almost immediately after moving here she met designer Terry LeBlanc who lived a stone’s throw away, in a house with a stunning garden.

The two have worked together as Greckol discovered what can be achieved in this climate.

“It began to dawn on me that I could do things in Victoria that you just can’t do in Edmonton,” Greckol said with a laugh.

“It seems as if anyone can garden here — and I am loving it.”

She is so “entranced” with her new pursuit that she has agreed to open her place for the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s garden tour, a two-day, self-guided event that features 10 outstanding gardens as well as live music. (See details below)

“I am very much an amateur so I was surprised that my garden was considered worthy enough for the tour … and humbled, too.”

Her half-acre garden now contains layer upon layer of texture and boasts every shade of green, from deep crocodile tones to limey chartreuse.

“I am quite entranced by Japanese influences, by the culture, the way of life, the whole aesthetic,” and she also happens to admire the clean look and lines of concrete too.

This was another highly appealing aspect when she first saw the property.

When the previous owners built the house in 1997 they created numerous hardscape elements including walls, a sloped walkway and a raised terrace with triangular pond. This has helped frame outdoor “rooms” on various levels.

By adding flat pavers and small round stones to line pathways and support the soil in some sloped beds, Greckol (who placed every one herself) is doing her best to create a Japanese look. This now includes a wall of tall, black bamboo bordering her upper patio and a growing collection of evergreens, mock orange, maples, alliums, ferns, hosts and rhodos.

One of her favourites trees, planted beside the upper pond, is an elegant eastern redbud. It is a picturesque beauty with maroon-purple trunks and clusters of bright pink flowers that are about to burst into bloom right on the bark.

She’s had a few disappointments along the way, “but Terry taught me that a garden is a living organism where things grow and change, and to not be afraid to move something or give it away if it’s not working where it is.”

LeBlanc said the plant world is “all shook up” this year because of the bitter two-week cold snap in the winter, followed by a cool spring.

“Even the nurseries lost things,” she said, but she is highly optimistic that everything will perk up in time for the garden tour.

Greckol noted that she and her husband, who was a criminal lawyer, decided to come here in part to escape the cold climate in Edmonton.

He retired when they bought the house but she continued to work and commute from Edmonton until recently.

“So it was a slow drift to Victoria.”

She explains that, while her whole life involved working as a judge, her passion was always focused on art and design. “Apart from my family, that has been my outlet: studying art, going to international art shows …”

It was not about buying things.

“I was not competing with the Rockefellers — although I do spend money on books and garden magazines,” she said with a chuckle.

“It’s about appreciating, learning, satiating the sense, trying to live in a beautiful setting, and doing a lot of the work ourselves.”

She recently remarried and her new husband, Bruce Hagstrom, is a discerning gardener, too.

“I grew up on a farm and my new husband, who is also from Edmonton, did, too. We are both completely engaged with this garden. There’s nothing we like better than working all day with our hands in the soil moving things here and there.

“He has a real gift and it’s wonderful to have a partner in crime …. and someone to do the heavy lifting.”

Entranced by Japanese influences, artistic esthetic and cultural influences, she aims to create a tranquil, timeless environment and she knows it’s a work in progress.

While the project evolves, she’s enjoying every minute

“Gardening here is a terrific form of yoga and an elevating experience.

“And every single morning, regardless of the weather, I have my coffee at a little table down in the garden and spend time communing. It’s my favourite thing.”


WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 11-12

WHERE: 10 spring gardens

TICKETS: Two-day pass $45 at the Conservatory box office, 900 Johnson St. (250-386-5311) and the VCM in Langford at 210 – 1314 Lakepoint Way (778-265-5355). Online tickets (until 3 p.m. April 29) visit: Musical Garden Tour.

WHAT: In its 42 year, this popular event features fabulous gardens alive with music performed by soloists as well as small and large groups.

“The Mother’s Day Musical Garden Tour makes the perfect outing for anyone looking to enjoy time outside this spring with family and friends, enjoying exquisite music and stunning gardens, while helping us raise essential funds for the Victoria Conservatory,” said Nathan Medd, CEO of the Conservatory.

“One hundred per cent of the ticket proceeds support efforts to keep music education, performance, and wellness thriving in Victoria.”