May 28, 2018
Outdoor Living: Perennially perfect
We take a peek into the glorious gardens grown by Vancouver’s greenest thumbs
By Nikki Renshaw
Whether you’re a master gardener or just enjoy filling planters with cheerful annuals, nothing will raise your spirits more than the soft summer scents of blossoming flowers. Here, six local personalities invite you into their own outdoor oases, so kick back, crack a cold one and enjoy the tour.
Living the dream
In 2015, lifestyle guru Monika Hibbs and her husband Troy decided it was time for their growing family (Liam, 5, Lillya, 2, and a baby due in June) to enjoy an idyllic childhood in the country.
“It was important to both of us that our children could grow up in the countryside, with large open spaces and clean, fresh air,” says Hibbs, who is a social media star and creative director of her self-titled website, MonikaHibbs.com.
The couple wanted to fulfil their dream of building their forever home and set about finding the right piece of land to do so. After a long search, they found a large private piece of land in Langley that had the perfect mix of privacy and space. They were actively involved at every stage of the new build, which took a year to complete. A big priority was making sure that there was plenty of indoor-outdoor space for entertaining, including a huge patio that runs along the back of the house, where they host summer dinner parties for friends and family.
“During the summer months we are outside all the time,” Hibbs says. “The garden is so private and quiet that it is the perfect backdrop for entertaining.”
Flowerbeds are filled with her signature white—hydrangeas, roses and peonies, which are her all-time favourite flower. “I love the contrast of white against all the greenery in the garden,” Hibbs says. All-season boxwoods and evergreen trees anchor her abundant flowerbeds, and add structure to the large open space.
Leo and Lillya have a large lawn to play on and Hibbs is documenting life in their country idyll on her website, which she launched in 2011. “This is such a special time of our lives that I don’t want to miss a moment,” she says. “I don’t take a second of it for granted.”
A slice of paradise
As soon as interior designer Ami McKay, owner of Vancouver-based design company Pure Design, and her husband Don Thomas walked into the Lion’s Bay house they knew they’d found their dream home. More precisely, they’d found their dream view: the vista from the large oceanfront deck overlooking Howe Sound.
“We open the deck as soon as the days start to lengthen and the buds on the trees start to burst and close it down once the nights are longer than the days, and the rains arrive,” she says. “Until then, we leave the doors to the deck open for the entire summer, rain or shine, night and day.”
For the past year and a half, McKay, Thomas, their three children, Braedy, Annabel and Simon, as well as McKay’s father Bill, who lives with them, have enjoyed magical moments breathing in the ocean air and watching eagles soar above.
Surrounded by trees and wildlife, the family is in the enviable position of enjoying a country life a heartbeat from the city. “I know we have something special here,” she says. “Every weekend feels like a mini vacation.”
Summer in the city
Vancouver personality and former CTV news anchor Tamara Taggart comes from a long line of passionate gardeners. “My great-grandmother taught my mom how to garden and now I’m passing on what I’ve learned to my kids,” she explains. “There is a fairy garden at the bottom of the garden that was created by my nine-year-old daughter Zoe, which is very special.”
When Taggart, her husband Dave Genn, guitarist with iconic Canadian band 54-40, and their newborn son Beckett moved into their Vancouver home a decade ago, the garden was devoid of plants and personality. Today it is an urban oasis of scented roses, overblown hydrangeas and unique specimen trees chosen to add visual interest to their small city garden.
“We literally started from scratch,” she explains. “I wanted an English cottage garden with white, pink and soft yellow flowers that would bloom throughout the summer months.”
For year-round greenery she planted boxwoods and laurels and laid a small lawn so her three children, Beckett, now 10, Zoe, 9, and Poppy, 7, would have somewhere to play. “Every year, we bring out the wading pool and sprinkler and I have great memories of them being tiny, running around in their bathing suits, having the time of their lives!”
Since all three of the children have late summer birthdays, their parties have always been held in the garden and are always themed. “One year, Poppy wanted to be a unicorn and spent the whole day in her mask,” she says. “I think she even wanted to sleep in it.”
Taggart intends to spend the entire summer outside with her family—a luxury she hasn’t had before. “Having this time together is a dream come true,” she says. “Just wait till you see the parties I dream up this year!”
La dolce vita
A decade ago, when Bobby Copiak’s cousin’s health started to fail, he decided to move out to Mission to be near her. “I was all the family she had and I wanted to look after her,” he says.
As general manager of Il Giardino, one of Vancouver’s most iconic restaurants, he was concerned about the hour-long commute. Then he took his friend, gardener Graeme Robinson, out to view his new home, set on five acres of unspoiled land. “Graeme was so excited by the vastness of the space and the endless possibilities the garden had to offer that any doubts I had vanished,” he says. “I couldn’t see the big picture, but he had a vision and over the past decade we have brought it to life.”
Together they mapped out a spectacular Tuscan-inspired garden on a grand scale. It includes a jaw-dropping allée of maple trees that turn the perfect shade of rust in the fall, a man-made lake with its own sandy beach and a tented guest house equipped with vintage Louis Vuitton trunks and monogrammed linen.
“Graeme unveils his design for the garden in small manageable sections so I don’t get mentally or financially overwhelmed,” he says.
Picture-perfect vistas dotted around the property allow for impromptu dinners or cocktails under canopies of scented trees that Copiak refers to as “Ahhhh moments.”
Behind the house stands a large private terrace anchored by a large antique stone fountain and surrounded by oversized terracotta pots of fragrant lemon and orange trees. A well-stocked herb garden, bordered with immaculately pruned boxwoods, sits alongside a huge greenhouse that doubles as a dining room during rainy months.
“This is my own private sanctuary and as I commute home from the restaurant I relish the hours I’ll be able to spend in my garden with family and friends,” Copiak says.
It’s a family affair
Actor and store owner Eva De Viveiros is in the rare position of raising her young family in the very home she grew up in. “I spent my 20s in an apartment downtown, but when my father passed and my mother moved into assisted living, I moved home to look after my brother who has special needs,” she explains.
The first thing De Viveiros did upon her return was breathe life back into the badly neglected fruit and vegetable garden her father had planted after he and her mother immigrated to Vancouver from their native Portugal. “He planted apple, fig, pear and plum trees, and grape vines, which are all still bearing fruit after all these years, and rows and rows of vegetables that we would eat fresh in the summer and can for the winter. We never bought produce during the summer months,” she says.
The home’s unusually large city garden has allowed her three daughters, Anika, 13, Amalia, 9, and Tallulah, 6, to have the same outdoor life that De Viveiros enjoyed as a child. “As soon as the weather is warm enough, the girls are outside all day, just like I was,” she says.
Dinner is held at a large wooden table on the patio every night during the summer months, covered in her signature style of antique linens, vintage china and silver cutlery, which she sells in her Main Street boutique, Barefoot Contessa.
Over the years, she has added her own stamp to the garden, including an impressive cuttings garden full of scented flowers that she picks to fill both her home and her store. “My father would be horrified,” she laughs. “The garden was purely to feed his family, not somewhere to smell the roses!”
Gardening on a grand scale
Twenty acres of feral llamas and abandoned grow-ops would be a horrifying prospect for anyone to take on—except Thomas Hobbs, the award-winning gardener and owner of Southlands Nursery in Vancouver. When this large South Langley property came up for sale, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I could see beyond the spitting lamas and pot crops,” he deadpans. “Then we had squatters and criminals who stole all our copper piping, but after that it was a breeze!”
Hobbs and his partner Brent Beattie left Vancouver 14 years ago when they realized they had outgrown their award-winning Point Grey garden. “I needed more space to be able to grow and experiment on a much larger scale,” Hobbs explains. “We fell in love with the property’s rolling hills and old-growth forest, which hadn’t been logged for hundreds of years.”
They have a panoramic view of Mount Baker and enough space for a large vegetable garden, a lily field and a lake he and Beattie installed in tribute to VanDusen Botanical Gardens, which is one of their favourite haunts.
Hobbs also grows iris, dahlias, pumpkins and lilies to sell in the nursery. “The climate here is a little more extreme than it is in Vancouver,” he says. “I try out varieties to see how hardy they are and if they survive out here they will survive in the city.”
He also hosts garden groups throughout the summer, so keen gardeners can enjoy the fruits of his labour and see first-hand why he is one of B.C.’s most respected gardeners.