Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Alberta Gardener

Gardens, gardens everywhere!

Jon and Pat Brehaut share a passion for gardening. It’s more than a hobby; it’s relaxing and deeply satisfying. “Gardening should move you, and inspire you to greater things,” says Pat.

Their inspiration for greater things is evident when you look at their Sherwood Park property. The most visible difference is the absence of lawn. Neither the front nor the back is graced with a blade of grass. A trade in which the Brehauts definitely came out ahead.

Street side, they traded a lush lawn for the gentle sway of Karl Foerster and Overdam grasses and a graceful Tolleson’s Weeping Blue Juniper, colourful ground covers, evergreens such as dwarf mugo pine, juniper, cypress and yew, textured shrubs and perennials. Spots bare of greenery are filled with shredded bark mulch, but the eyes focus on the dry stream bed, which is carried off by rocks of assorted sizes and complimented by the placement of driftwood, an abandoned boat and other ornamentation.

“We often get passers-by stopping to chat about the garden and the children in the area also love to stop and look. They enjoy our ornaments,” says Pat of their unique front yard.

A dry stream bed is the focal point of the front yard.


Mounds of perennials and shrubs replace lawn.
The stepped entrance adds elegance and shows off the front garden.
A sheltered front patio offers privacy and a fantastic view..

The backyard is just as stunning, though in a more relaxed manner. It’s inviting with surprises and interesting plantings around every corner. The seating area beside the pond is a great place to entertain guests while listening to the burbling water. Bright yellow heliopsis ‘Loraine Sunshine’ and purple phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Purple Kiss’) add vibrancy and pizazz, complemented by plants of contrasting textures and tones. Vegetables line the side of the house and thrive in planters.

The Brehaut’s are especially proud of their four smoke bushes – one Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ (deep purple colour), two C. coggygria ‘Grace’ (greenish to coppery colour) and one C. coggygria ‘ancot’ syn. ‘Golden Spirit’ (green). These specimen plants are labeled for zones five through nine and generally sport large billowing summer blooms that have a puffy cloud-like or “smoky” appearance. The smoke bushes are uncommon for Edmonton, as few attempt to grow these fragile plants. Unfortunately, while they are known for their smoke-like blooms, they do not bloom here. Pat and Jon grow them for their lovely foliage colour, shape and texture. “We think the lack of bloom is because of the difference in growing seasons and because they bloom on old wood, which we usually cut back in order to cover them against our winters,” says Pat.

Jon and Pat love their lawn-less yard so much they encourage others to try it. “Homeowners should consider going lawn-less, especially if they don’t have children who need play space. Dry stream beds, ponds, seating areas and paths can fill spaces around planting beds just as nicely as lawn and are generally lower maintenance. However, filling your yard with rock will just make more work as debris fills in around the rocks and weeds grow,” explains Jon.

The backyard is an oasis surrounded by greenery and beauty.
The backyard is an oasis surrounded by greenery and beauty.

How it started
The couple decided to engage in a massive makeover in 1996. “We began a serious overhaul, starting with the back pond and patio area,” Pat says. Then, in 2005, they attacked the front yard and have been working on improving the gardens every year since.The transformation did come with some challenges. They began with a vision and general design, but as we all know, designs change. The removal of trees resulted in issues of light and proportion which led to the building of a pergola and the lattices. In addition, they found that they needed to make some changes in their plant selection and redesigned the pond, patio and terracing.

Getting inspiration
Jon and Pat find garden tours such as the Strathcona County Library Tour and Edmonton Horticultural Society Tour sources of great inspiration. “Design ideas can spring from viewing public or private gardens within the city or abroad and by reading books and locally oriented garden magazines. We also recommend joining a garden club such as the Edmonton Horticultural Society to learn from speakers, newsletters and other local gardeners,” says Pat. They are always looking for new ideas and projects they can adapt to their space.As our garden has become more mature, we are not buying as many plants. We tend to look for specific varieties now,” explains Pat of

their more focused buying habits at local garden stores, large and small. The garden is also reasonably sized, so to reduce future labour, their plans for next year include adding more shrubs to replace some of the perennials. “We’ll add some shrubs, hardy roses probably, to one back bed. We’d also like to remove a rock border along our front walk, it is tedious to keep free of debris, and add some ground covers and small shrubs,” says Jon.

The garden brings a lot of joy to the couple and they enjoy sharing it with others. “We love entertaining and sitting in our garden and do so as much as possible each season. Once we had a group of friends here for lunch on the patio and they were thrilled by a visit from a hummingbird, this was especially fun as we live in Hummingbird Court,” laughs Pat.

They also believe in passing on their love of and value of gardening at every opportunity. They recommend that people buy plants that are suited to the amount of sunlight, soil conditions and heat/cold they will get where they wish to plant them. “Read plant tags and ask the experts at garden centres. Don’t be afraid to experiment though and move plants around. Be prepared to lose some now and then to pests, harsh winters, etc. Get the children or grandchildren involved in learning and appreciating gardening whether it is veggies or flowers. We should pass on our love of and the value of gardening at every opportunity,” advises Pat. Great words for every gardener.

First featured in Alberta Gardener Beautiful Gardener issue 2015.