Blending Determination, Fascination and Creativity — A Manitoba Gardener’s Story By Sarah Coulber
Within Winnipeg, Manitoba’s largest city, is a miniature wildlife haven. It is the garden of Vincent Fudge and Graham Isenor — and it is beautiful.
This small urban property has been lovingly tended under Vincent and Graham’s care for the past five years. In that time it has become a place for birds and turtles to call home or to rest and feed en route. But its appeal doesn’t stop there. They have won the favour of many neighbours.
“There is an endless show of people stopping, admiring, asking questions,” recounts Vincent. “I love it when they ask me the name of my professional landscaper. I have had neighbours tell me they have relatives who time their visits according to what is blooming in my yard. That is truly flattering. I even have beautiful garden ornaments — sculptures that people have placed in my yard as a “thank you” for making the neighbourhood beautiful.”
Different aspects of their property appeal to different people. The same holds true for the varying species of wildlife that come to visit for shelter and food. But no matter the species or the location, the garden’s success relies on certain key elements: a water source, and a variety of native plants and plant heights.
Wildlife gardening incorporates not only these key elements, but also environmentally minded principles. To care for their pesticide-free lawn, Vincent and Graham use compost and mulch. They leave grass clippings where they lie, and collect water in a rain barrel for watering. Their practices met the criteria of CWF’s Backyard Habitat Certification Program, and their garden was certified in 2006.
When asked if he encountered any problems along the way, Vincent explained that being a Newfoundland and Labrador native, he was used to dealing with lots of rock and minimal soil. In Manitoba he found there was ample soil but it was primarily clay — the densest and most difficult to dig. He and Graham also had the challenge of clearing the garden of weeds. “When I first moved into my residence,” explains Vincent, “the backyard was basically overgrown with grass and thistle, both of course, bowing to the almighty dandelion.”
Once the weeds were cleared, they put in a couple of ponds, a natural choice for two people who grew up by water and love wildlife. Vincent jokes, “Did I mention that I hate lawn mowing?” Then the fun of choosing plants began.
Some of their choices included native trees, shrubs, vines and perennials, such as Virginia creeper, wild rose, Saskatoon juneberry, harebell and blue vervain. Their garden’s head count now numbers over 2,000 plants. “At first, my planting was very unconventional. I would find a plant that caught my interest and think, ‘That would look nice in my yard’. And so went my planting frenzy. I liked a challenge. I also liked to experiment with plants. With my trusty zone map in hand, I would push the limits. Plants that were zoned 4, and sometimes 5, I would try. If they survived the winter, excellent — I would plant more. So far my success has been very good. I stick to perennials.”
Regarding his newly planted perennials in the clay, Vincent adds, “Constant amending and fertilizing was a must, not to mention watering!” Once established, the native species take care of themselves. In fact, Vincent has become a big fan of natives, as have those who stop to enjoy the garden — be it person, bird or butterfly.
Unexpected plants even take up residence from time to time. Vincent recounts with delight seeing his first wild orchid pop up out of the earth…and then another. “Then the second variety stuck its delicate bloom out of the clay. I was blessed!”
Through their determination to unlock the secrets of working with such nutrient-dense soil, Vincent and Graham have become fans of clay and are reaping the rewards. “The muskrat wandered in, the butterflies, the hummingbirds, the turtles, and so on and so on. They loved the prairie-type plants and plants that were suited to this zone, and really did not mind the restrictions of clay.”
“So I now choose plants that are zoned for this region, love the soil conditions, and invite the wildlife. (I still save a few spots for those not quite right plants that would look just beautiful if I placed them here or there…wait, maybe there, maybe over there.) Native plants fit the bill perfectly. I think they had a plan when they started showing me their wonderful bag of tricks.”
And thanks to Vincent and Graham’s enthusiasm and curiosity (and desire to not mow much lawn), we get to see Nature’s tricks in full force in their urban Manitoba garden.