The Schlosser garden of Calgary Teeming with life, brimming with love

You know a garden has real magic when the potentillas plant themselves. That’s what happened in the garden of Cathy and Neil Schlosser of Calgary.

It’s been 27 years in the making, this oasis of colour and calm. It started with a great expanse of gravel, literally. The large pie-shaped yard was an old gravel bed. This, the Schlossers say, provided wonderful drainage, but along with some very average topsoil, presented a challenge when it came to growing. Many rocks had to be raked away and removed. Today, you’d never know this is what faced them back then. The garden has a lushness that only appears in places where the soil is as close to perfect as possible.

They used plenty of peat moss, manure and compost to amend the topsoil that was original to the yard, and more recently added B.C. compost, a magic formula of a fish meal bi-product and waste from the forest industry. Called Sea Soil, you can find it at Green Gates Garden Center.

Neil does all the hard landscaping. He does most of the heavy lifting, hauling and heavy digging. He built the pergola and gazebo, framed the garden with landscaping timber and with Cathy’s help, designed the space, which is made intriguing through the use of grand vistas and rooms – a secret garden here, a hidden gazebo there.

Cathy is a plant lover who enjoys her hours in the garden beds. She enjoys the big plants – the ligularias, monkshood, the large leafed Astilboides, the shade loving Actea rubra, and the tall Filipendula palmata with its striking maple-leaf shaped leaves. But she also adores the little alpine plants, hepaticas, gentians, pretty pink lavatera, the purple, white or pink Canterbury bells, the ornamental grasses and the stunning gaillardias with their brilliant red and yellow petals. The garden is home now to many restful, shade loving plants. She indulges her passion for colour in the 40-plus pots she uses to punctuate the garden, matching magenta with yellow, cooled by the grey leaves of licorice plant and the striking blue of annual lobelia.

Here and there she has placed outstanding displays of succulents, some in little turf pots, others at the edges of beds where, in later summer, they can spill over the wooden restraints placed on their growth. An octagonal planter set as a centre piece on her patio, just in front of a lawn swing, acts as a living coffee table. The pot is highlighted by a vertical piece of lava rock that looks like driftwood. It has little sedums growing from crevices and along its stony margins and all sorts of other alpine wonders that will entertain the viewers for hours on end as the summer progresses.

Although the garden has all the variety displayed by a true plant lover, there is a restraint shown here that is the mark of the skilled gardener who knows how to stay within the boundaries of good garden design so that the plants can show themselves off. Neil makes sure the lawn is a velvety green, which also sets the stage for the plants.

The deck, surrounded by beauty, is an ideal place to relax.
This lava rock provides an ideal centrepeice for this outdoor coffee table garden.
Rudbeckia adds bright and happy colour to any garden.

The garden is filled with lots of variety, the sign of a true plant lover.
But more than this, this award winning garden has that feeling of happiness that exists in a space where the owners really love what they are doing. Not that they started out as master gardeners or anything. At the beginning, the back yard was home to a couple of little boys (now 30 and 32) where the most compelling feature in the space was a large trampoline. Still, Cathy got the bug early, mainly after admiring the garden of a neighbour, Linda Goh, who lives two doors down the street. Linda was a member of the Calgary Horticulture Society and helped Cathy get started on her garden career.

“We began a little at a time,” she says. “I started going to plant exchanges and sales.” She remembers that she got her lovely alpine Clematis ‘Ruby’ from one of the Calgary Horticultural Society’s plant shares. The clematis now covers a good section of fence. A Blueboy clematis sprawls over a tall obelisk providing a stunning colorful accent to one bed all summer. Many varieties of clematis have found homes in her yard, some climbing trees or obelisks and others sprawling over bushes.

They planted trees and shrubs, studying books and choosing varieties that were hardy as well as beautiful. They are proud of their Red Jade crab that has a lovely spring flower followed by red berries and enjoy their large Laurel Leaf willows and spruce trees that provide welcome privacy and shade to their expansive yard. A new Thunderchild crab is thriving in one bed.

That they let their cotoneasters to grow in their natural shape and that the Mayday tree planted itself, just like the potentillas, is a mark of the kind of gardeners the Schlossers are. “Neighbours used to marvel that I let the boys and their friends trample flowers while playing when they were young,” Cathy says, but she knew the plants would grow back and that boys will be boys.

Growing and changing and thriving is what a garden is all about and as Cathy knows, that’s what life is about, too.

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