Gardens - Featured Gardens

Against the odds in Dawson Creek

Sara Begg
Photography by
Jerry Pavia

Packed with blooms, this Zone 2 
garden defies the elements and basks in its own colourful glory

Gardener: Anita Haight
Family: husband, Jack
Occupation: Former cattle farmers
Years in house: 54
Years gardening: 19
Size: 1½ acres of old farmyard
Orientation: all directions
Conditions: full sun to full shade; heavy clay soil
Growing season: mid-May to mid-October
Garden focus: shrubs and perennials
Zone: 2, with microclimates

At first glance, in a place where frost in June is the norm and moose are a common garden marauder, sticking out your green thumb in Dawson Creek might seem like a bad idea. But in this small town in the far northeast corner of British Columbia, Anita Haight has spent the past 19 years creating a colour-saturated, lush garden laden with perennials, shrubs, trees and bulbs that would rival most gardens in Canada’s banana belt.

And it all began with cows. Well, more specifically, their leftovers. As cattle farmers, Anita and her husband, Jack, had access to a never-ending supply of manure. When Anita branched out from vegetable gardening into ornamentals, she had Jack dump huge mounds of composted cow manure in the old farmyard. “Planting into pure manure might not have been the best thing to do,” admits Anita, “but most plants survived.” 
In fact, they thrived from the nutrients, and the raised 
beds kept the plants protected from the late frosts, 
transforming the vista of the couple’s property.

Anita’s great success is also down to her close attention to what grows well in Dawson Creek’s cold climate. Her garden is dense with pinks, geraniums, peonies, Asiatic lilies and delphiniums—all plants that appreciate a good solid dormancy. Anita’s delphiniums, in particular, love composted manure and they 
love Zone 2. Many of the exquisite varieties she grows were started from seed bought from New Zealand plantsman Terry Dowdeswell. In 2002, Anita and her best friend, Anne Good, travelled to Dowdeswell’s nursery on the north island of New Zealand.

against-odds-ch1inset2.jpgBut even the happiest gardener indulges in a little zone denial from time to time, and Anita is no different, although perhaps her success rate is. Many plants she’s had luck with are rated for Zone 5 or higher. In fact, among her stars is a gorgeous fluffy, white fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha) that has flourished in one of her big beds for the last 10 years, and lots of the 35 hardy geraniums she grows are generally best suited to warmer climes. Her current favourite is 2008 Perennial Plant of the Year Rozanne cranesbill, with its delicate-looking, pale purple blooms that flower from July onward.
Looking at such a richly planted garden, it’s hard to imagine that Anita wants for anything. But every gardener pines for something, and in Anita’s case it’s a Japanese maple. She’s discovered, though, that several of the new elders, such as the dusky, fine-leafed Black Beauty, are suitable stand-ins. Many shrub roses also thrive in her garden, offering much of the beauty and fragrance that the less vigorous tea roses might provide. Anita’s one weakness, however, is for the Bonica rose (Rosa ‘Meidomonac’), a delicate, shell-pink shrub rose she replaces every year when it inevitably succumbs to yet another harsh winter.

Anita loves the opportunities and challenges this harsh climate offer. During the summer she spends every minute she can in the garden. “It gives me such joy,” says Anita. “I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t explain the delights of my passion to people who don’t garden, and I don’t need to explain it to those who do.”

Top photo: The pastel shades of catmint 
(foreground), peonies and phlomis (also known as 
Jerusalem sage) brighten the edges of a 
shady corner 
on Anita’s 
property. Centre: The delicate petals of this ‘Jen’s Munk’ rose growing in Dawson Creek, B.C., belie the plant’s tough constitution. Bottom: A Clematis integrifolia cultivar shows off its purple blooms.

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