She gardens. He pots. Between them they have created an impressive seven-outdoor-room garden in midtown Creemore, Ontario. The combined artistry of Charlotte and Paul Vorstermans was an unexpected treat on a recent lazy summer afternoon visit to Creemore with friends from the area. We were lucky enough to be there on the one weekend of the year when the couple host an Open House on their property.
Charlotte, a master gardener, does the planting while Paul does the design and construction of the hardscape. His decorative walls and sculptures are artfully placed throughout the property. The two do everything themselves. No outside help is used in the construction or the maintenance of the garden. The Vorstermans’ garden has been profiled in numerous publications, has been included on TBG and other out-of-town garden tours and will be one of the gardens featured on the upcoming Creemore Horticultural Society Garden Tour on September 14.
The seven garden rooms, each built in sequence and separated by arbours and pathways are very different from each other. Some have informal names such as the Sunken Garden, the Japanese Garden and the Woodland Garden, for example, although the latter will soon be changed because the taking down of a huge tree has changed it to more of a sun-baked garden.
Charlotte, a member of Simcoe County Master Gardeners, spends most of her actual working time in the garden in the spring when she plants some 700 assorted annuals, all from seed, to complement the existing pallet of perennials which includes about 45 varieties of hostas. “I love hostas,” she says. “I love their shapes. I love their colours and variegations. I love that they serve a special purpose in shady spots and help give shape to the borders. In spring the bulbs come up between them and in summer they spread out to fill in those otherwise empty spots when the bulbs are finished. Stained Glass, Drinking Gourd and Plantain Lily (Plantaginea) are a few of Charlotte’s favourite varieties
Some of her other favourite plants are foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), lavatera “a beautiful plant that comes in different jewel-like colours to spread around the garden, gas plant (Dictamnus) and bears’ breeches (Acanthus). “You can’t kill bears’ breeches. You can plant them in pure sun or partial shade — a fabulous plant,” she says.
Once the initial planning and planting is done in spring, Charlotte says she just maintains for the rest of the summer “10 minutes here; 20 minutes there as needed.” She does not do much weeding since her plants are so close together they pretty well fill out the beds by midsummer “although a few weeds do pop up here and there when I’m not looking,” she says.
“There is always lots of deadheading to be done but other than the pots (assorted containers brimming with colour) we don’t water unless we have to. Looking after this garden is not onerous,” she says. “We have lots of time to relax and enjoy the garden. Every afternoon around 4 o’clock we both stop what we are doing and go out to the pergola for some wine and munchies, or maybe to read. And, in the evening we sit out on the upper deck to enjoy the view.”
Paul, a potter for more than 45 years who runs the Mad River Pottery, sees the garden and its plants from a different perspective than his wife. “I like building spaces,” he says. “I see the individual garden rooms as designs each with a unique feeling.” He especially loves Japanese gardens for design and the relationships between the elements. “For me, plants are a means to an end to decorate my spaces, structures and elements. I know Charlotte likes structures to grow clematis and other vines as well as for shade and I am happy to build them. We work together but sometimes we might have to have a ‘discussion’ if her plant is disrupting my design.”
No matter how they work it out, the result of this creative couple’s combined talents is a joy to behold.