From devastation to devastating Beauty

When Diana and Les Helm bought their dream home in 2011, they had no idea how their lives were about to change. They moved into their home on a rural one-acre lot just 10 km from Lac la Biche that February. They were ecstatic! Finally, a yard with the potential to design and build their own garden, another long-time dream of theirs.

That first spring Mother Nature hit them with a sucker punch by flooding their acreage. When they realized their home was built on a low spot on the street, their dreams were swept away.

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“We had to park on the street and walk through our neighbour’s yard to get to our house. The driveway was gone and the water was 20 feet from the house,” says Les. A road engineer, arborist and forester, Les immediately knew that they had a huge and expensive problem on their hands. More stress for the couple who had also just opened their own business, Silver Sage Enterprises Ltd., a consulting firm for companies using resources on Crown land.

What happened next was unexpected. Clients, friends and family gathered together to help Diana and Les. The project was gargantuan. First, they had to repair the flood-damaged land. “The backyard had logs in the fill that were rotting. Our clients just jumped on board donating their time and resources. With their help we hauled out 62 loads of dirt and replaced it with 62 loads of good clean fill,” says Diana with awe.

Thankfully Les had the knowledge base to deal with their flooding problem. They built trenches with sumps and piping that would hold enough water in the surrounding rocks to nourish the trees while letting the overflow into the ditch and culvert leading to the lake. Now, hidden from view, water can run through the gravel and rocks; no more flooding!

The project, however, didn’t stop there. More help came pouring in and the Helms were able to go from complete devastation to the devastatingly beautiful garden of their dreams. “I’m just so amazed,” exclaims Diana, “We always dreamt of doing this, but without the help everyone gave us, we couldn’t have made it happen. People really went above and beyond.”

Their sons and families, Adam and his daughter Kayla, Marcus and Cassidy and their children Jackson and Marley, came to help. “It was so nice to have them. Adam, Les and I built the greenhouse together not really knowing what we were doing, and Jackson, who was just 2 years old at the time, followed Les around with his shovel “helping”.”

The end result was a beautifully sculpted garden. The small creek that they had planned grew to become 40 feet with a waterfall that continuously recycles the water. “Diana went a little overboard on the statue,” laughs Les, but it and the fountain add grace and elegance reminiscent of a European manor.

“We hired professionals for the stonework,” says Diana. “It took some convincig but I finally got them to follow my design. Instead of six inches of sand underneath we put down two feet of gravel to prevent it from heaving. I wanted curved walkways and they kept telling me they had to be straight lines, but I dug my heels in. I wanted curves, it romanticizes the garden.” An interior designer before she became an entrepreneur, Diana had a specific layout in mind; she wanted everything to make sense. They rebuilt the deck, and installed a unique fire pit made from a 54 inch crusher cone with a welded grill and stone work. They choose the plants together asking experts what would work best in their area. E Tree Farm provided them with great advice. The design has colour throughout the year with bee-balm, peonies, hostas and hydrangeas and dwarf barberry bushes surrounding the fountain. In the front yard, 50 mounds of Karl Foerster grasses provide movement without the fuss of flowers.

Being out of town and needing to truck in potable water for drinking and household use, they decided to conserve water by placing an insulated 1200 gallon underground cistern to collect rainwater for watering their plants.

Les’s dream was to incorporate landscape lighting was realized. “My favourite part of the garden is looking out the backdoor and seeing the statue and fountain lit up − it’s pretty phenomenal. Just the tranquility of the space amazes me,” he says.

For Diana, she loves experiencing her garden at different times of the day. Walking around with her morning cup of coffee or entertaining with the friends and family who helped make her dream a reality gives her immense pleasure.

Garden Feature Alberta Gardener Early Spring 2015

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