The Hydrangea Paniculata:

A Statement-making,

Low-maintenance Plant


The Pinky Winky cultivar offers deep-red stems and pinkish flowers: Questions & Answers

Q: I am looking for a showy plant that will make a statement in my garden, but not be too hard to maintain. Any recommendations?

Hydrangea paniculata cultivars are elegant plant picks for long-lasting summer-into-fall blooming – great choices for a variety of design solutions and easy to maintain. Arching branches produce conical clusters of open, lacecap-like flowers in shades of white, fading to dusty rose or pink by the fall. Generally, these are that are very cold hardy (to zone 4) and bloom on new growth, allowing for heavy or light pruning. This means that you can keep a specimen three to four feet to give structure to a bed, or allow it to reach six to eight feet for a hedge effect or to soften surrounding architecture. Hydrangea paniculata cultivars are sometimes trained into standards (tree form), excellent for creating a formal effect. Give these shrubs full sun to encourage profuse flowering and provide moist, well-drained soil for best results. Cultivar Limelight has fresh green flowers fading to ivory; Kyushu is ivory with handsome, waxy green leaves; and Tardiva offers the largest white flowers fading to dusty rose. It has the bonus of deep-red stems, a characteristic shared by Quick Fire, Pink Diamond, and Pinky Winky. If flowers are cut in summer – enjoy them in fresh or dried arrangements – plants may re-bloom in fall. Fall leaf colour and winter interest is negligible, but the summer show is worth it.

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine.

John Minty Shares How to Create an Outdoor Living Space


Prioritize: This home’s overhaul began in the backyard. It is unusual to be the first reno on the list, says garden designer John Minty. His main directive was to remove a too-large and disconnected deck and bring the house and garden together by providing an outdoor living space in the garden, not above/separate from it. The newly grounded garden and urban cottage esthetic inspired the relaxed-yet-refined style throughout the home.

Be Patient: Another reason to take on the garden first in a reno? It needs time to grow. Allow three to five years for real changes. In the meantime, place specimen grade/scale plants in key spots to anchor the design before smaller material fills in. I try to plant a few pieces in every garden that are mature specimens, acting as if the garden had been built around/with them in mind, says Minty.

Bring the Indoors Out: The layout of this backyard includes two main rooms or spaces with hallways or side passages. Exterior design/architecture uses the same tools as interior but with much looser rules/flexibility, says Minty. It’s not about mimicking, but creating a comfortable/functional living space, much like interior design.

Find Focus: Homeowner Susans favourite element in the garden is the centre tree, a Magnolia sieboldii that’s visible from the kitchen. John placed it there for its wow factor: It has an easy branching, umbrella-like habit, soft rounded mid-green foliage, funky fall seed pods and the most beautiful downward-facing white fragrant flowers that bloom for weeks at the beginning of summer.

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine.

In With the Old


The lush, gently antiquated persona of this Vancouver garden belies its youth: the space, which has undergone a dramatic rebuild and planting overhaul, started as a clean slate a mere four years ago. When Janet Bond and her husband Jim, a businessman, moved into their 1950s house in 2002, they embarked on an extensive interior renovation and an addition to the garage that left the yard in a state of upheaval. The previous owner had requested to take many of the more interesting plant specimens with her, leaving only large trees and a few perennials. So after the work was done, there wasn’t much garden left: the front was simply a series of retaining walls and grass with central staircase and path, and the backyard a sloping lawn with a dilapidated deck off the house.

Even so, it had good energy; it was like a sanctuary, says Janet, a homemaker and yoga instructor. A tall, mature laurel hedge around the property offered privacy, and the house high placement – 17 steps, broke into four flights with landings, lead up from the street level to the front door – afforded a sense of quiet removal from the city life.

Janet had a vision and enlisted landscape designer John Minty to bring it to life. I really wanted an enclosed European-courtyard feel overall, and not a lot of upkeep, she says. I’ve been a keen gardener in the past, but I have grown tired of the work and wanted something low maintenance. Her wish list included a terrace directly off the back of the house, a water feature, a cooking area and an outdoor fireplace.

There was synergy between the designer and homeowner right from the start. Says Minty, We were just in the initial discussion phase when she said to me: You know, theres this fabulous Italian restaurant in Victoria. I knew immediately she meant Il Terrazzo, which has a great courtyard with fireplaces and a real Tuscan ambience. The eatery inspired the entire look and feel of the design, and in a serendipitous turn, Minty was able to spend three weeks in Italy in the autumn of 2003, just before the project started.

Working closely with stonemasons Mark Chapman, Brad Hall and Julian Diver, Minty used a mix of materials to form the gardens hard structures, including its three terraces – one in the front yard and two in the back. The combination of square-cut bluestone, salvaged cobbles (laid with gaps that are filling in with blue star creeper and brass buttons) creates a sense of the garden evolving over time.

The Rumford-style fireplace, with its herringbone brick firebox, was built of parged concrete but left only partially clad in Brohm stone to give the effect of a rebuilt ruin. A burbling fountain, comprised of a cast sandstone urn overflowing into a square pool, is also backed by an unfinished stone-clad wall that gives a sense of old-world rusticity. Deliberately built to be very shallow with no fish or plant life and surrounded by a bench-height wall, the pool does double duty as a sitting area and a reflective element. In the front yard, the pathways were laid with the same mix of materials, but in a different ratio with more concrete pavers. The front yard already had a lot of concrete, like the staircases, says Minty, so we wanted to keep the look consistent.

When it came to the pants, there were a few existing elements in place: a single fruiting Bartlett pear tree and two old lilacs remained in the backyard, a flowering cherry and Japanese maple survived in the front, and the laurel hedge provided a leafy green backdrop on all sides. Mintys planting plan included 11 new trees in the backyard alone: six serviceberries, three magnolias and two Japanese maples add a range of colour, form and texture.

Painted a deep, saturated red, the house was a major consideration in the plan, says Minty. Against this novel backdrop, foliage instead of blooms became the main focus. Yellows especially pop beautifully against the house, says Minty. Janet agrees: There seems to be every imaginable shade and texture of leaf.

Abundant silvery, grey-green specimens such as hebe, hellebore, lavender and Russian olive further the Mediterranean-inspired ambience, and the lush plantings define a connected series of outdoor rooms in this pie-shaped, 120 foot-long lot (75 feet wide at the back and 45 feet wide at the front). There are so many separate spaces via the terraces, says Janet, so many nooks and crannies and places to go.

The garden is perhaps at its best in the fall, when the leaves turn and offer an abundance of golds, reds, oranges and corals amid the myriad greens, and the outdoor season is extended by the warm crackle of a blaze in the fireplace. The couple entertains friends and family, seated at the rustic, weathered dining table, with the autumn sun filtering through yellowing wisteria leaves. When their four grown children and two grandchildren arent visiting, Janet spends, a lot of time just sitting and enjoying the garden, even hosting an occasional yoga class here. It turned out better than i could have imagined.

Originally published in Gardening Life magazine.

Garden Gem


Verdant foliage, time-worn furnishings and old-fashioned pavers transform a small backyard garden into an idyllic city sanctuary.

This perfectly petite urban retreat – it measures 25 by 60 feet – was nothing but boggy lawn when John Ramsay bought his east Vancouver townhouse five years ago. With the help of landscape designer John Minty, Ramsay spent two years carefully transforming the north-facing yard into a remarkably private – and low maintenance – sanctuary for himself and his beloved retriever, Argos. Canadian gardening guru Thomas Hobbs recently spotlighted this gem of a garden in his lavishly photographed 2004 book, The Jewel Box Garden.

Ramsay says he aimed to break up the garden into distinct areas and use deliberate changes of level to keep the eye moving. A wooden deck extending off the dining room descends three steps into a sunny terrace ringed by boxwood and raised flower beds. Beyond, twin magnolias hug a narrow path that eventually steps up once again, teasing the eye to look further to a potato-vine-covered pergola; on the other side of that is a hidden herb and vegetable garden. To enhance his privacy, Ramsay planted the yards perimeter with a narrow green screen of Irish yew on one side and fast-growing black bamboo on the other.

Although most of the plants have only been in the ground for a few years, the garden looks well established, an effect Ramsay achieved by using using mature plants (like wisteria and climbing hydrangeas) and old bricks, pots, chairs and other found materials that he salvaged from demolition sales. The concrete pavers came with moss on them, and the acid rain had already done its job, laughs Ramsay. These reclaimed materials gave the garden an immediate sense of history. It looks like it has been here a long time.

Originally published in Style at Home, May 2005

Greentalk, Real Dirt for Real Gardeners: PEOPLE


Vancouver garden designer John Minty delights in turning something on its head – transforming found objects into unique garden ornaments. A candy-maker marble slab becomes a cool garden bench; a marble bowl is drilled to forma a fountain. Minty, who has a fine arts degree from UBC, scours thrift stores and building sites for items with potential. His two-year-old design business focuses on small urban gardens, where he mixes semi-formal architecture with rich plantings, topping things off with a transformed treasure. Recently, he found four English chimney pots, patina intact, which he says would be perfect as the legs of a giant outdoor table. Ideal for al fresco diners looking to make a sweeping statement.

Originally published in Gardening Life magazine.

John Minty Design © 2015  Privacy Policy