On August 8, members of the Lake Cowichan Lake Bloomers headed out to Susanne Thom’s home in Youbou for an afternoon barbecue, potluck, and garden tour.
Thom is a Bloomers member and an avid gardener who has transformed her property from a rocky, dry section of land to a flourishing lakeside oasis.
Thom has owned the property since 1992, but her and her husband have only lived there for the past few years, and in that time they have managed to make substantial changes.
While the other members of the club enjoyed the outdoor fireplace, gardens, and view of Cowichan Lake, Thom took me on a tour of the property and explained the process of bringing it to where it is now and showed me the gardens.
“When we first bought the property there was building material everywhere and gravel everywhere,” said Thom. “And we were trying to landscape it so I had some people come in at first and I thought, oh I’ll get the landscapers to do it, but they wanted $100,000 so I thought, oh I don’t think so.”
She explained that all the perennials, shrubs, and landscaping features are still young and she is taking the endeavour on in baby steps.
The garden beds are spread out with sections of lawns in between. Many of the mature trees that existed when the couple moved onto the property are still there and have become, in some cases, central features.
A rock wall, built by Thom and her husband, retains the slope that runs down to the water’s edge. Here, Thom has planted grasses, succulents, and a few shrubs such as Lavatera and Cotton Easter.
“We have mostly native plants here,” said Thom. “Anything that doesn’t need watering very much because it gets really hot and dry.”
Behind this are perennial beds and lawns spaced intermittently, reaching back towards the main house, a badminton area, and beyond that more flower beds and finally a vegetable garden.
“In the back we get more sun,” she explained. “It’s two different climates between here [the waterfront] and the back. It can be windy and stormy here and quite warm and lovely in the back.”
“I’m a bit of a plantaholic,” she confessed. “I see a plant in the store and I think, I’ve got to have that, then I come home and, oh, where am I going to put that?”
She says that in this way, her gardens are not planned and are a bit on the experimental side (though you would never know that by looking at them).
One of these beds is created below a large cedar tree and Thom says that she deals with the issue of acidity by trying to pick plants that are natural to the area and that can tolerate higher acidity.
“I’ve had a lot of this and that; things that work and things that don’t, but these seem to have settled in,” said Thom. “I put a little bit of lime on the lawn in the spring otherwise it is too acid for the grass.”
Plants she has chosen for under this tree are things like Oregon Grape, grasses, and a few flowers.
Other tree features on the property are a black walnut and an ash tree. There is also an old holly tree that Thom says a group of doves come and clean the berries off every spring.
“They start at the top and they clean it right out,” she said.
Thom makes much of her own compost for her garden, and has a special area on the back of the property where she processes it.
Thom’s gardens are a lovely example of what can be done in a relatively short time with some dedication and hard work.