Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Rooftop beauty among Vancouver's concrete canyons

Another weekend presents a fresh opportunity to explore a truly unique urban garden. Among the highrises of Vancouver's Coal Harbour, it looks out on the ocean and local mountains. 

I rang up my friend Glen Patterson, a retired executive and current world traveler. After a short chat, we stepped onto his home's rooftop deck to view his special garden. Here is a partial view, looking northeast.

Glen's garden has a definite Japanese influence. Well, it is more than that, but to begin, it uses the Japanese landscape principle shakkei. Using the distant mountains and ocean, the garden 'captures them alive' instead of attempting to reproduce nature within its boundaries.


Water is a central feature. Feng shui is employed. Circulating water comes from a garden mountain near the eastern boundary, flowing down into a deep pond nearer the door. This translates into great fortune in terms of wealth coming toward its owner. I'm sure these koi are also prospering in their home!

They live here year round

Among all the wonderful, valuable plants in Glen's garden is this magnificent Japanese maple. It is about 150 years old, and was moved from his former home and lifted with a street crane to form a centrepiece in the new space.

Acer palmatum
When the home and choicest plants moved here, Glen's Japanese gardener was asked to continue, and he has done so with great aplomb to this day. He clips various conifers and deciduous trees in a cloud pruning style to accentuate their beauty. My favourite is the Quercus phillyraeoides, Japan's Ubame Oak. It is glimpsed just under the left side of the maple. There are as well other maples, pines, even a Nothofagus antartica, or southern beech.

Lightweight tufa is also used in quantity. This chalk-like, soft and porous rock allows holes to be bored right into it. These create homes for various plants such as a tiny conifer, a primula and a saxifrage. Plants are quite satisfied, happily rooting into their spaces. They add to the sense of wildness in an already fascinating garden landscape. Tufa rock also appeals as timelessly as only large and rough boulders can, adding the strength of beauty with age.

There are dozens upon dozens of small plants, too. Glen (and me) belong to our local alpine garden club. This affords many opportunities to learn skills and source plants that otherwise might be out of reach. Here is x Phylliopsis 'Sugar Plum'
This fine Ericaceous plant is much like heather, with larger flowers, and it is eminently suitable for maritime Pacific garden culture. The 'x' before its genus indicates it is an intergeneric hybrid ~ how delightfully exotic.

Another connoisseur plant is Arisaema sikokianum. While native far to the south of Vancouver in the warm temperate climate of Shikoku Japan, it manages perfectly in a part shady, protected planting site. 
It is a stunner in bloom!

Love those glances at city and sea, mountains and sky

At last, my tour and time left alone in the garden is, reluctantly, over. I leave with a renewed energy and appreciation for the forethought it took to envision, then create this outdoor, living space. There is so much here to see, and to take away. A good garden should leave a lasting impression. This one has done it, and I exit anticipating my return.


  1. Wow! stunning garden! really special ... so many details!
    The views seem to form part of the garden, as the "landscape stolen"? shakkei perhaps? anyway, it's a wonder! shows harmony and tranquility...
    Congratulations to Glen!

  2. This was really an interesting topic and I kinda agree with what you have mentioned here! rooftop garden