Trendiness in the garden is not something I have much time for, but it is fascinating to observe how various enthusiasms ebb and flow through the world of gardening. Among its other attractions, a long-running event like the Denman Home & Garden Tour offers a fine opportunity to observe these arcane comings and goings.
Back in the 70s when we started growing on Denman, it was all about food. Back to the Land, Self-sufficiency, Grow Your Own – we were rich in slogans, even if not in topsoil. Harrowsmith magazine and The Whole Earth Catalogue were our sacred texts. Mocked at the time as addle-headed idealists, we “new pioneers” had a fundamentally sensible ambition: to live and eat healthily by cultivating our own organic fruits, vegetables and livestock.
At a certain point – for Sandy and myself it was in the late eighties – the lure of ornamental gardening began elbowing its way into the process. The island’s big vegetable gardens became complemented – in extreme cases, usurped — by equally ambitious rose arbors and perennial beds.
Shortly thereafter, a mania for ornamental gardening swept across the culture, as it does every few decades. Lawns and tennis courts were torn up and swimming pools filled in to provide space for splendid new gardens. Throughout the nineties, glossy new gardening magazines were launched, huge flower and garden shows were mounted in many communities, garden clubs grew exponentially, specialty nurseries abounded, gardening television programs were inescapable and the gardening sections in bookstores threatened to push mere literature out the back door.
Eventually the worm began to turn, as more and more enthusiasts came to realize just how much work and cost and commitment was involved in maintaining the splendid designer garden they’d installed. A great retraction ensued. Many of the big gardening shows stopped happening. Small specialty nurseries tumbled out of business. Gardening TV shows dwindled. The glossy magazines either quit or morphed into patio décor advertisements. The bloom was off the rose.
And then another twist, as the issue of food security and sustainability caught the imagination of a new generation of growers. Seedy Saturdays boomed while the dahlia shows faded. Allotment gardens thrived. Like many other communities, Denman is now blessed with an influx of smart new gardeners who are taking the growing of edibles to heights scarcely dreamed of back in the hazy seventies.
But don’t take my word for it. Instead, take the Denman ferry on June 15 & 16 and tour a dozen Denman gardens in which these convolutions, and more, will be on display for your amusement and amazement. To buy tickets on-line, click here
Award-winning writer, broadcaster and public speaker Des Kennedy has spent the past 40 years earning a reputation as one of Canada’s foremost gardening personalities. At the same time, he and his partner Sandy have transformed their 11-acre rainforest property into an enchanting hollow of flower, shrub and food gardens brimming with colour and intrigue, which, along with their hand-crafted fairy-tale house, has long been a favourite on the Denman Island Home & Garden Tour.