The other week I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow plant and beauty lover, Leslie Fulton. Turns out a comment of hers on a local plant nursery Facebook page struck me and I commented back, asking if she’d talk privately to me.
You see, I was co-writing a feature on deck/balcony/patio gardens and she had said hers was not only big but attractive to bees and butterflies. How could I not be curious and want to know more….
Her second floor deck is off her study and bedroom and is big enough for 42 pots and two comfy chairs and a fat ottoman. Oh, and did I mention the puppy?
Sam the puppy is named after Samuel Pepys (pronounced somewhat tragically, “PEEPS” — and yes, the man who wrote the famous 17th century diary), who is the object of much of Leslie’s writing affection (along with his wife, Elizabeth) — did I mention Leslie is a freelance writer, after a career as a journalist? This young pup is a source of much amusement and her constant, somewhat apprehensive questioning, “Sam? Where are you?”, so while we were enjoying the flowers and the view, he was creating photo ops.
Leslie lives in this heritage brick house in Ottawa with her husband and starts working (should I even say “work”?) on the porch planters early in May. Forty two pots, an ode to the answer to the meaning of life in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, cannot be planted in one day by any sane person. Some plants are brought out from their winter homes in south-facing windows (aka her son’s second floor bedroom), and others are purchased at local nurseries, garden centres and wherever else she can score a gem or a deal.
She doesn’t just choose annuals (like variegated nasturtium, osteospermum, dusty miller, lobelia, etc.), but also jumps in with two feet potting up wisteria, lavender and catmint. She’ll pop these into her own garden when the season is done.
The heavy pots are being transitioned to lighter ones, easier to move in and out without the help of the men in her life. The smaller cobalt blue ceramic and some terracotta ones were showing age and a certain amount of distinction so I asked, “are these antiques or at least vintage?”
The answer was sheepish. “No, they are HomeSense specials…,” she said with a smile. “They’ve just suffered from frost damage and neglect!”
Certain plants have meaningful associations for Leslie: the portulaca, her brother’s favourite; lantana, her dad’s; and the whole process of planting and creating beauty, her mother’s skill, who showed off her green thumb every day at their half acre Kingston property while Leslie was a kid.
The tree in the corner planter is a volunteer, that is, a seedling that Leslie allowed to grow and thrive — it appeared to me to be some type of willow, and it looked perfect holding that space next to the post-flowering yellow Baptisia to it’s left and beefy coleus near its feet.
It’s not only colour but edibles as well: basil, thyme, parsley, tomato, pepper and an orange tree are given pride of place among annuals you might find in a cottage potagerie — that is, marigolds, cosmos and zinnia.
….and then the stunners with no flowers but plenty of colour echoes: two varieties of coleus, a striped canna lily (possibly ‘Cleopatra’), ‘Baby Tears’ stonecrop, hens and chicks (Sempervivum) and paddle plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora).
Despite these succulents, most of Leslie’s planters require considerable amounts of water, hence her Lee Valley irrigation system. Piping spans the perimeter of the deck, with individual (or more, should need be) watering spigots plunged into the soil of each pot. The whole system is attached to a hose which runs from the ground up the side of the house to the corner of the deck, and is on an electronic timer. In June, plants received two minutes of watering twice daily, but should they need it, Leslie can re-program the system easily.
But mostly, this deck is a peaceful retreat from the workday. Not simply for Leslie and her husband, but also for Sam, who works very hard at being a puppy.