She pops open a panel on the inside of the van and shows us a fridge, then lifts a shelf above and shows us a sink with a spray hose. Stephanie Rose is showing us her ‘van life’ vehicle. This is how the award-winning author, permaculture designer, Master Gardener and founder of GardenTherapy.ca gets away, with her kiddo, from her garden and her studio. And it is fascinating. She bought it used, on a whim, a couple of years ago.
The van is just one surprise we learn about Stephanie during our visit to her Vancouver home; my mother Dorothy and I stopped in on our tour across Western Canada. Another surprise is when we have refreshments on her deck. She pours out some sapphire blue butterfly pea flower iced tea, almost too beautiful to drink. Then she transforms it with the addition of lemon juice, which turns it a gorgeous shade of electric purple. Who doesn’t want a bit of magic on a hot day?
I’ve looked up butterfly pea flower since then, wondering if it has another name that I’ve heard of. It turns out most people buy it dried for making tea or for colouring Thai foods. The beautiful shade indicates that it is full of anthocyanins, like blueberries. The Latin name is, controversially, Clitoria, referring to its rather carnal form.
Stephanie’s yard steps down from the front street into a shady sunken garden. Here, we were surrounded by Japanese maple, ferns and hydrangeas. A sprawling juniper next to Hakone grass on one side of the steps, a painted fern next to a Hart’s tongue fern on the other. Tucked around the corner, there is a modish burbling fountain whose sound competes with the hum of the surrounding city.
Travel the narrow path between the house and a hedge and you come to a back yard, which is tiny but which you cannot take in in one view. There is an espaliered apple tree growing four varieties of apple, supported by tall deck over the walkout basement. A corkscrew hazel contorts in front of an old window turned garden art and gives me a newfound love of this tree. A trellis with horizontal bars along the neighbour’s property has a variegated euonymus scrambling up, way up.
There are pots of flowers and sedums and Japanese maple. (Oh, to be able to grow a Japanese maple in a pot in most of Canada!) There is a classical iron fountain with a lion’s head spitting water into a fluted bowl against the shed wall at the back of the garden, and a mini pond in a half-barrel closer to the middle, one of the projects from her upcoming book. The pond is just big enough to hold a few exquisite water plants, but it is decorated with a branch of the corkscrew hazel that makes it look like it sprang to life unbidden; this kind of touch is typical of the reflection Stephanie puts into every aspect of her garden.
On the other side of the garden, toward the back, a series of long horizontal wooden planters, one above the other, contains much of the vegetable garden where she grows herbs and other edibles for use in the garden crafts, plant-based beauty and growing food stories on her website. Other herbs and veg are planted all around the garden, in amongst flowers and shrubs. She makes the most out of each inch of this limited space.
Now, the shed wall, the one with the fountain…. You walk into the tidy garden shed at the back of the yard and enter a clean and complete studio where Stephanie films many of her how-to videos and courses. She has situated some lights just so and can put a camera front and centre. The studio is full of supplies for her projects and a cushy and decorative easy chair for work off camera.
Her website, if you haven’t encountered it, is GardenTherapy.ca. It’s named for the therapy she has taken from the garden. Years ago, Stephanie was struck by a debilitating illness, when the most she could do was to sit outside for five minutes per week. Over time, she built up her strength to create her garden, bit by bit, and to write about it. She says that the garden saved her, and you can sense the mutual love between it and her.
The work-life she balanced before becoming ill was in marketing. Combining that with becoming a Master Gardener helped her achieve some serious adulation in the gardening world. Today she has 11 books published along with a host of online courses in gardening, permaculture, herbalism, and natural skincare projects. She has a new book coming out this spring called The Regenerative Garden: 80 Practical Projects for Creating a Self-sustaining Garden Ecosystem, filled with small-scale permaculture ideas for your garden. (You can pre-order it from Indigo or Amazon now by following the QR code link.)
Pre-order Stephanie’s next book: https://gardentherapy.ca/product/regenerative-garden/
Story by Shauna Dobbie
Photos by Shauna and Dorothy Dobbie