By Sarah Coulber
Stepping into the garden of Theo Wouters and Roger Thibault is like immersing yourself in a dazzling re-creation of a Canadian woodland. You can’t help but fall under the garden’s spell. With its enticing walkways, ponds, art and lush native vegetation, it is both tranquil and awe-inspiring.
Theo and Roger’s Montréal home was part of a housing project built in 1948 for Canadian veterans of the Second World War. When Theo and Roger bought the property in 1978, the landscaping consisted of a lawn and one weeping willow. Neither Theo nor Roger like lawns and wanted, instead, a more inviting garden for themselves, birds and wildlife in general.
So they rolled up their sleeves and pulled out the grass. They began collecting rocks every evening after work and 127 metric tons later, they put in their first pond. It was such a success that they built another, bigger one.
One of the garden’s ponds is 2 metres (6 feet) deep and houses goldfish that live there all winter, thanks to a pump that circulates the water to keep it from freezing. Along with the fish and pond plants, another beautiful water feature is a wooden bridge built over one section of the pond.
Theo and Rogers gradually filled their 1,114 square metre (12,000-square-foot) property with a wide variety of plants, including trees, shrubs, vines and herbaceous perennials. Birds make great use of these plants. Cardinals nest in a wild rose bush and feed on winterberries while brightly coloured warblers and woodpeckers feast on bugs. Many other birds feed, nest, hide and rest in and among the greenery.
Among the many native plants that provide essentials like nectar, pollen, fruits, seeds and shelter are high bush cranberry, trilliums, dogwoods, false Solomon’s seal, yews, cedars, maples and ferns.
Theo and Roger keep their garden safe for themselves, their dog and wildlife by avoiding pesticides. They rely on nature to maintain the balance now that they have created habitat for pest-eating allies, such as bats, birds, frogs, toads, grass snakes and beneficial insects. They also don’t spend much time weeding or dividing their plants. “We try not to interfere too much in the garden; now that the garden is mature, it takes care of itself. Species come and go. Every year it is different and we like it that way,” admits Theo.
Despite the size of the property, it boasts many features that benefit wildlife, including a snag. This dead standing tree is home to many visitors, including a large and beautiful pileated woodpecker searching for insects. In North America, there are 85 bird species that are known to make use of snags, including wood ducks and small owls, as well as the more commonly known chickadees and nuthatches. Theo and Roger also have a bat house, nesting boxes, brush piles, rock piles and rotting logs (for little allies like salamanders). “Keeping garden debris brings surprises … one only has to open one’s eyes,” Theo comments, referring to the “most amazing variety of mushrooms and all small things in a wild garden, for which you have to bend down to observe. [These] are the most interesting for us — their shape and structures are of great beauty.”
Theo and Roger’s beautiful garden attracted the attention of the CBC as well as Châtelaine and Décoration Chez-Soi magazines, both of which profiled the garden with in-depth, full-colour articles. In recent years, Montréal newspapers such as the Suburban and The Gazette also featured their garden, the latter with a front-page spread in its Home section.
This wonderful garden could inspire anyone to create a gorgeous and inviting wild garden in their outdoor space. Click here to find out about CWF’s Backyard Habitat Certification program, which recognizes efforts, like those of Theo and Roger, to provide habitat for wildlife. Wherever you live in Canada and whatever the size of your garden, you might want to try a similar project.
Images: Theo Wouters and Roger Thibault