Pat Uptegrove, Victoria Cross, Prince Edward Island
Story and photos by Shauna Dobbie
Pat Uptegrove has lived all over the world, pursuing the corporate life. On vacation a few years ago, she almost bought a retirement home (for use eventually; she still hasn’t retired) in Lunenburg, but that fell through. So, she wandered over to PEI and when she saw this house she thought, “I’m in really, really big trouble.” She knew she was about to start a love affair with this old manor.
The house was decrepit, but it looked just like her grandmother’s place on Georgian Bay in Ontario. Pat is a project manager by profession, and she needs that experience in planning and problem solving to make this century home into a beauty again. But when she took possession, there were rattling old windows, no locks on the doors, and raccoons had taken up residence inside.
There were also four big maples between the house and the road. They were enormous and majestic, but near the end of their lives, so she’s had to remove three of them so far. She has planted many, many trees since arriving, though.
One of the first things she did was order 42 eastern hemlock trees and plant a hedge. Her neighbours thought she was crazy. The trees were only about a foot high, but now, after almost 10 years of growth, they make a lovely backdrop for that part of the garden. “It’s a windbreak. It’s a snow break. It’s privacy. Although there’s a barn on the other side, I don’t see it.”
She also planted several eastern redbuds, and now they’re producing seed pods. She’s collected the seeds and figures she can start them and pot them up and give them to neighbours. Eastern redbuds are a lovely Carolinian tree, with tiny rosy flowers that line the branches before they leaf out, that is underrepresented in gardens. If Pat has her way, they’ll become a lot more commonplace on PEI.
Now, Pat is a woman living on her own. It seems she must have regular help in this garden. Did she really plant 42 trees by herself? Plus spruce trees and a magnolia and, of course, the redbuds? She did. “You get the hang of it. Every year I plant about 25 more trees to border the property,” she says. “Your tools are your best friend. Invest in really good shovels.” She adds: “I use a dolly all the time. You’re picking things that are 80 pounds… you use physics.”
She has a garden cart, which she built out of scrap wood left over from renovation, that she’s placed near the front of her property. She found she was throwing out plants that had outgrown their spaces and thought, why throw out these perfectly good plants? Instead, she puts them on the garden cart for pickup by other gardeners. She charges a bit for soil and pots and has met so many neighbours this way.
She takes pleasure in showing people her gardens when they come by, and she has made many friends. One woman in the area, an English gardener, is moving soon and invited Pat to come and raid her beds. “So, I now have holly bushes and all kinds of treasures that I’ve potted and put in a section so that they’ll winter over. And in the spring, let’s see what has survived, and I’ll start planting.”
Bit by bit, she is adding borders and garden rooms. You can see how progress is made. To one side of the house, the ground is covered with black poly and a mound of crushed grey stone. This is a garden in process. Beyond it, through an arbour and past masses of contented Lady’s mantle, is a table, charmingly set for refreshments. An espaliered apple tree grows lushly on a trellis and the magnolia is looking mature for its age, giving this room some structure and height. Garden design is clearly another forte of Pat’s.
Just down from the house, on the way to what is currently a small fruit and vegetable garden (built from the floorboards in her attic), she has a couple of circular areas of meadow that sit starkly against the mown lawn. Half the property was like what’s inside of those circles when she moved in, full of raspberries and wild roses and grasses. This summer she found a couple of pumpkins growing out of one of these mini meadows. Where did they come from? She cannot say. Patricia appreciates the magic that comes from the untamed as well as the magic she creates by taming it.
She is a wonder. We can hardly wait to see what she does next.