Garden rooms, artistic touches

Garden after garden, I kept hearing, “Have you been to Joe’s garden yet? No? Oh, you’re in for a real treat!” These enthusiastic comments were from seasoned green thumbs whose own country gardens were featured on Bobcaygeon’s Sixth Annual Garden Tour last summer. So, I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.

Joe’s country garden turned out to be more than a treat. It was a feast for the eyes. At the entrance, an old wagon wheel resting against a rustic split-rail fence among sun-drenched day lilies rising from a pile of fieldstone catches your eye and draws you onward.

Joe Rasmussen, a retired interior landscaper whose work with plants has been a lifetime passion, studied ornamental floriculture at a horticultural college in Holland. He started his career at a greenhouse in the south of France, specializing in sub-tropical plants. When he arrived in Canada, he began landscaping interiors and atriums of Toronto’s commercial buildings and major malls. Joe now showcases this lifelong experience and talent for horticulture in his cottage garden near Bobcaygeon. He and his wife, Ria, purchased the country property 15 years ago. For the next three years, he and his daughter, Cathy, made the trek on weekends, clearing the wooded and rocky landscape before construction on a house began. Stones, boulders, logs and anything else that looked like landscaping material was set aside for future building of rock gardens, ponds and patios. It’s no wonder with all that heavy labour that Joe, 69, is the picture of health and fit as a fiddle.

“Every home we’ve ever had, no matter how big or small, had a wonderful garden,” says Ria, adding that it was hard to leave Joe’s gardens behind every time they moved. But Ria knew he had great plans for their newest garden, and once their retirement home was built, it didn’t take him long to dig in and get started.

“Doing the rockery is my favourite part of creating a garden,” says Joe. In fact, Joe built all the stone patios, walls and ponds himself as well as all the romantic and charming split-rail arbours and fences on the property.

Next page: Garden melts into woodlandGarden melts into woodland
Using natural materials found on the property makes the unique garden rooms and structures appear as though they’ve been there forever and helps dissolve the boundaries between the house and its lush woodland surroundings.

Once the major landscaping was in place, Joe began adding his artistic touches. He filled the beds and pond with favourite perennials he brought from his city garden, adding annuals and new locally grown perennials and native plants.

Joe didn’t want traditional focal points such as garden sheds and gazebos. Instead, he accents the gardens with the surprising and unusual. An old wooden wheelbarrow is filled with riotous red begonias. Joe stores the tubers (he has about 80) in a cool, dry cellar over winter and pots them back up in early spring to get them started before planting them back in the wagon. Joe and Ria enjoy potting in containers: a painted wooden shoe gets a couple of impatiens, a galvanized watering can overflows with lobelia, and iron cooking pots explode with frilly petunias — all strategically tucked into out-of-the-way nooks and crannies throughout the garden.

“Joe has become a bit of a garden guru in the area,” Ria says. “Even at our mobile home in Florida where he’s made a lovely garden, our neighbours are always asking his advice.”

You can take the man out of the garden, but you can’t take the garden out of the man. And it’s obvious that’s just the way Joe likes it.