I remember the first time I met Agnes Mendoza. It was back in 2004. I was driving west along McGill in East Vancouver when I spotted this garden at the corner of Slocan. I had noticed it once before but this time it had grown considerably.
I stopped and went and knocked on the door of the house and Agnes answered. She and her husband, Manuel, had been building the garden for some time.
I remember walking into their backyard and chatting with them about the garden as we stood under a giant white sail that was suspended like a parachute over the space to create shade.
Agnes and Manuel were gracious and charming from the start. They were both wonderfully friendly and welcoming and very open about what they were doing with the garden. I later discovered Manuel was a popular wedding dress designer and master tailor.
Four years later, in 2008, I went back to see how they were doing with the garden and found it had expanded immensely and now occupied the entire boulevard. When they bought the property behind them to build a lane house, they also continued the boulevard garden, creating one of the most exciting and longest and most colourful perennial-shrub borders . It was a riot of colour with a superb jumble of common as well as exotic plants.
Sadly, Manuel died four years ago. It was a huge shock to us all. I liked him very much and always appreciated his gentle humour.
I have not seen or chatted with Agnes since, but this week she called to invite me to visit and see her new Japanese garden – built in the backyard by Yas Kato, one of Vancouver’s most talented Japanese landscapers and garden designers.
Loraine and I popped round and it was a very happy get together over tea and biscuits as we took a closer look at her new, stylish Japanese-style courtyard with its graceful pond with basalt-rock pillar in the centre with water bubbling out the top.
Agnes always loved growing bamboo in pots. The pots of black-stemmed bamboo are still there, adding to the Japanese feel of the garden, only now she has decided to try growing scarlet runner beans into the bamboo culms.
The new garden also has a clean, spacious paved patio area with hydrangeas and pieris on one side and a golden shrubby honeysuckle close by. It, too, is a lovely enclosed, private space, perfect for sitting with a few friends. At night, the new garden is illuminated. Agnes says it looks just as lovely at night as it does during the daytime.
Over tea, we talked about a wide range of topics. How we had both retired. How she was into tap dancing. How we should both stop buying more plants, hard as it is to resist. How neither of us has the energy any more to work a solid eight hours straight in the garden the way we used to 10 or 20 years ago.
The boulevard garden is still a jumble of colour and foliage textures. I loved the mix of orange alstroemeria and yellow coreopsis.
The front garden is still a jungle of hostas and perennials, trees and shrubs. But the new backyard is a complete break with what has gone before; a new, serene, pared-down, minimalist space with a strong accent on simple elegance. I liked it a lot.