Free Spirit Nursery and Garden

Alliums (Alllium senescens and A. 'Summer Beauty') , spill along the zig-zag bridge, a feature likely inspired by Chinese and Japanese gardens.
Alliums (Alllium senescens and A. ‘Summer Beauty’) , spill along the zig-zag bridge, a feature likely inspired by Chinese and Japanese gardens.

European gardeners have the enviable benefit of visiting and supporting specialist nurseries with beautiful gardens (Marchants Hardy Plants; Henk and Dori Jacobs; Le Jardin Plume; Jardin Sec) whereas North American gardeners must search for them.  One find is Free Spirit Nursery, run by Lambèrt and Marjanne Vrijmoed in Langley, south of Vancouver and close to the U.S. border. The nursery sells a wide assortment of herbaceous perennials and grasses propagated on-site and grown sustainably, and some of these perennials, such as German rodgersias and Molinia caerulea ‘Poul Petersen’ are yet unavailable in United States. Their 2013 catalog states: “All our plants and mother stock are grown in garden loam or containers with a composted bark and coir (coconut fiber) as a base medium…Except for a minimum amount of quality slow release fertilizers for the containers and about 3 applications of Safer’s slug and snail bait, no chemical herbicides or pesticides have ever been used here. All weeds are picked by hand and pests are controlled with appropriate (and sometimes quite novel) organic methods.” These methods result in well-hardened plants rather than the mollycoddled ones from larger commercial firms. and such plants are all better for gardens.  In addition, the Vrijmoeds have selected and introduced Epimedium ‘Free Spirit Spring Chocolate’, Clematis tubulosa  ‘Sheharazade’, and Patrinia triloba ‘Blushing Lace’. Like any resourceful nursery proprietors, they too created a garden, a private laboratory of some sorts where ideas are born and tested before deployed in their private design commissions.

Ceramic bee houses are hung along the fence in the nursery area, affirming the Vrijmoed's pollinator-friendly philosophy.
Ceramic bee houses are hung along the fence in the nursery area, affirming the Vrijmoed’s pollinator-friendly philosophy.

Intimate and small in scale, the Vrijmoed garden unfolds and seduces slowly like a silent film.  The remnants of the old-growth forest, largely Douglas-firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and cedars (Thuja plicata), outside of the garden, dictated the Vrijmoed’s naturalistic look, and the resultant gardens, sunny or shade, are in tune with their surroundings. The coniferous trees gives the garden a mature scale harder to achieve in denuded or open landscapes, and become the foremost structure during wintertime when the herbaceous layers have retreated.

FS_Rustic_Arbor

There is nothing brazen or ostentatious, none of the modern gimmickry like glass and shiny metallic surfaces seen in contemporary garden designs. Instead, rustic materials dominate – stones, driftwood, and ceramic tiles. Where modern touches are included, they feel in symbiosis with their surroundings.

A Dutch cigar sign (Hofnar Sigaren translated as Jester) has been re-purposed as a cheeky ornament in the Vrijmoed's sun porch filled with garden antiques. The contrast between the rustic objects and the contemporary white chair on the right can hardly be more striking.
A Dutch cigar sign (Hofnar Sigaren translated as Jester) has been re-purposed as a cheeky ornament in the Vrijmoed’s sun porch filled with garden antiques. The contrast between the rustic objects and the contemporary white chair on the right can hardly be more striking.

Hedges are quietly threaded throughout the garden that their essential presence is easily overlooked.

The hedging at Free Spirit is modernist and quirky, reflecting the continental European technique of using hedges and topiary  as a framework for lush herbaceous plantings.
The hedging at Free Spirit is modernist and quirky, reflecting the continental European technique of using hedges and topiary as a framework for lush herbaceous plantings.

The woodland garden is filled with unusual shade perennials of such rude health, a testament of Vrijmoeds’ horticultural skills. Epimediums, podophyllums, ferns, and grasses entice one to study them either individually or in consort with others. It was hard to tear away from this area, and endless photography and questions were tossed about.

The lotus-like flowers of Anemonopsis macrophylla, a Japanese woodlander, grace the shade garden at Free Spirit.
The lotus-like flowers of Anemonopsis macrophylla, a Japanese woodlander, grace the shade garden at Free Spirit.

A feeling of airiness suffuses the atmosphere of the sunnier areas. Shrubs are permitted their natural silhouettes that continually shift and change with the light, playing off their herbaceous partners. The colors may be too muted for some people, but they are sensitive to the place.

Alcea rugosa (Russian hollyhock) lights up above dried Allium seedheads, purple Agastache foeniculum, and plumes of Deschampsia cespitosa.
Alcea rugosa (Russian hollyhock) lights up above dried Allium seedheads, purple Agastache foeniculum, and plumes of Deschampsia cespitosa.

Despite being farther inland from the coast, the garden pays tribute to its cool rainy climate through a pond, which allows for reflection between the plantings and the wilder landscape. It too functions as a wildlife habitat.

The pond quietly tiptoes between the 'wild' and 'cultivated' realms - the rock bed echoes the waterlilies while the hedge reinforces the distinction between the garden and the outlying woods.
The pond quietly tiptoes between the ‘wild’ and ‘cultivated’ realms – the rock bed echoes the waterlilies while the hedge reinforces the distinction between the garden and the outlying woods. On the right, a weeping katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum f. pendulum) forms a loose screen against the adjacent propagation area.

Kept narrow, the paths force you to embrace and study the plants up-close. Sometimes surprises, such as ceramic cones popping forth like the teeth of a mythical creature, bring you out of your plant-centric mindset.

Black glazed ceramic cones tempt the inquisitive visitor down the pathway through anemones, Veronicastrum virginicum, and Persicaria amplexicaulis.
Black glazed ceramic cones tempt the inquisitive visitor down the pathway through anemones, Veronicastrum virginicum, and Persicaria amplexicaulis.

The front planting that immediately greets and bids farewell to the visitors before the nursery is a homage to their landscape – the alliums (Alllium senescens and A. ‘Summer Beauty’) and salvias symbolizes the Fraser River, the thalictrums the clouds, and the wattle fencing the mountains.

Rustic structures (wattle fence, stone plinth, and zig-zag wood pathway) are skillfully used in harmony with the herbaceous planting, an understated approach that is the signature  mark of the Vrijmoeds.
Rustic structures (wattle fence, stone plinth, and zig-zag wood pathway) are skillfully used in harmony with the herbaceous planting, an understated approach that is the signature mark of the Vrijmoeds. The browning Salvia seedheads takes your eye to the rusty spires of Digitalis ferruginea in the background.

Free Spirit Nursery is as charming and grounded as its owners who are creative and knowledgeable (Lambert once worked for Piet Oudolf and Marjanne trained in ceramics). Lambert and Marjanne have designed private gardens in the area, and the one we did see during the trip was a beautiful refinement of their ideas with an impressive Douglas-fir wooden house (unfortunately photographs cannot be posted due to the owners’ request).

Visit their site at http://freespiritnursery.ca/

~Eric

Categories: Gardeners, Gardens, Horticulture, Plants, ScrollTags: , , , , , ,

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