“If you want immortality, plant a garden,” playwright Richard Binsley Sheridan advised. If this is true, then Brian ‘Barney’ Gordon will live forever.

From the moment you step onto the Vankleek Hill property that is both his home and business, you realize that while Gordon’s occupation is hair stylist, gardening is his passion and his preoccupation. He has created a series of garden spaces that appeal to all the senses – from the sound of babbling fountains, to the sight of explosive colour and texture, to the scent of flowers in bloom.

Gordon’s obsession with gardening began as a child.

“I used to plant my grandmother’s gladiola bulbs for her,” he recalls. “During my teen years, I’d sometimes work summers digging up flower beds and planting for neighbours for cash.”

When he first bought his property more than 30 years ago, “it was mostly Manitoba maples, dandelions and dog poop” Gordon laughs. His first task was to cut down the unwanted trees and shrubs and decide where to plant the trees he wanted – blue spruce, oaks, red maples and Japanese maples. Since then he has added beds, water features, dozens of containers and four sitting areas and the now mature trees shelter perennial shade gardens at their bases.

“I love to work with colours and blend a mixture of annuals and perennials to have something in bloom every month,” Gordon says of the design of his gardens.

The imposing front entranceway to the house, with its large rocks, fountain and flagstone walkways were designed by Scherer Gardening, but the rest of the inspiration for the garden has come from Gordon himself. He likes to entertain and the sitting areas provide a choice for large or small gatherings. The large main open deck has facilities for dining and barbecuing, while a smaller covered deck works for when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Other areas are found up the slope of the back lawn under the trees.

At the back of the garden is a collection of raised vegetable beds, planted with a wide variety of vegetables and herbs. In building the container beds, as well as the two decks which were joined last year, Gordon has worked extensively with contractor Curtis St-Pierre, who shares his enthusiam for gardening.

While Gordon sometimes hires a friend to help with the maintenance, most of the work he does himself.

“On Sundays and Mondays when I’m not working, I will sometimes put in an eight hour day out here,” he says. “And if I have a break in my work schedule, I’m out pulling weeds.”

Gordon’s latest addition to the garden is a greenhouse he and St-Pierre erected this year, which he hopes will extend his garden activities from April through to November. He freely admits that his cultivating passion goes over budget every year, but as he points out, “I’m not spending the money in casinos.”

In practice

  • Gordon advises novice gardeners to carefully analyze their yard and try to visualize what they want it to look like years later.
  • Don’t overplant. Remember that trees and plants grow. Give them room.
  • You can’t do everything at once – prioritize.
  • If you use tap water to water plants, let it sit in watering cans until it comes to the outdoor temperature.

Brian Gordon tends the containers of annuals on the main deck of his home. Photo: Greg Byers

A rich assortment of shade plants thrive under the mature trees. Photo: Greg Byers

A riotous combination of colour and texture define the gardens at Gordon’s house. Photo: Greg Byers