Chen Choo is a retired nuclear engineer with an artist’s eye and a passion for collecting plants. He and his wife, Linda, have created a garden in southern Ontario filled with a fascinating mix of cold-hardy perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines, combined to showcase prized specimens and to give each plant the space and conditions it needs to strut its stuff. The Choos’ garden is never really finished, since assorted new plants keep following them home. We visited in midsummer, when the beds were bursting with lush color and texture, to ask Chen about the thought process behind his compelling plant combinations and great garden rooms.
Q: A walk through your garden is such an adventure—there’s something new to see around every corner. Can you explain your approach to breaking the space into smaller garden rooms?
A: I think of the garden as consisting of a number of “sanctuaries,” small, informal garden rooms with invisible and overlapping boundaries. Most include a sitting spot, and the boundary of a sanctuary is often defined by the viewing perspective from this seating area. The view from one room often overlaps with that of adjacent sanctuaries. Within these smaller spaces, I can experiment with planting compositions and also control growing conditions to meet the needs of specific plants.
For plant addicts like my wife and me, open space needs to be optimized to make room for more planting space. The main deck on the back of our house, the pergola by the pool, and the gazebo by the water garden provide space for relaxing and for viewing the garden. Other sanctuaries were developed gradually over the years as we built new paths and beds. Every open space needs a purpose, even if it’s only as a connecting element between beds. Otherwise it will be just unnecessary maintenance overhead.
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