The word oasis might be one that is overused in describing a beautiful garden, but in the case of Don and Grace MacLeod’s garden, it happens to be true.
The couple’s garden is blooming in the unlikeliest of places: a rooftop patio in downtown Vernon. The street-level entrance offers no clue to the masses of petunias, edelweiss and evergreens thriving upstairs, but visitors who climb the four flights of stairs are rewarded for their effort.
MacLeod has lived in the building since March 2003, and it’s proved an ideal location for the legally blind fitness trainer and pipe band leader, who realized it was becoming unsafe for him to continue riding his bike into town from his previous residence.
“When I first saw it, I said ‘I don’t want to live in this ugly apartment,’” he said.
But it didn’t take MacLeod long to look beyond the debris on the roof — including old mattresses and dog feces — and see the potential of the enormous rooftop patio, not to mention the spacious interiors which include three bedrooms.
“There are 53 stairs and I took garbage down the stairs over and over,” he said. “When I started the garden, I had four or five flower pots and then I started dating Grace that summer, who was still living in the Philippines, and I sent her photos to show her the garden. She was into gardening, but with a lot of these North American plants, she had never seen them before.
“In 2004, I spent a whole summer at her home in Davao City and when Grace moved here I put out word to everyone that I needed old flower pots.”
He and Grace then went to the garden centre to pick up bags of soil, which were also hauled up the four flights of stairs.
“There were quite a few trips packing dirt up here.”
From their rooftop patio, the couple has a view of the hills beyond the downtown core and they have transformed what was once something of an eyesore. Pots overflow with colourful annuals, while MacLeod’s pride and joy — the evergreens — line one end of the deck. A small wooden bridge leads from one section to the patio, complete with a table and chairs, a pergola and brightly coloured solar-powered lanterns. And adding a touch of humour, gnomes and other creatures are scattered throughout, peeking above a petunia or nestled next to a pot of cosmos.
“Every year we’ve added to it, and there’s been lots of trial and error. And a lot of the ladies in my fitness classes are gardening experts so they have given us tips.
“I love everything up here. The petunias are fabulous, and the greenery is my special project — people are amazed I can grow cedars in pots, as well as junipers.”
Recently, the couple hosted their friends at what has become an annual tradition — a flower show to give everyone a chance to enjoy the colour and scents of summer.
“We have an open house and people come and go to enjoy refreshments and visit the garden.”
Visitors to the rooftop are greeted on the third-floor landing below by masses of lush, tropical houseplants which the couple keeps outside during the summer, but are shaded from the sun that turns the tar and gravel roof into an oven.
“In the winter, we bring them all in and our kitchen is very crowded with plants.”
The rooftop is exposed to the elements — the nurturing of the sun and rain, but also the winds that can do battle against the delicate blooms. Rose bushes planted a few years ago didn’t make the cut.
“It’s a constant, ongoing battle with the elements up here.”
But those elements haven’t prevented raspberries, tomatoes and strawberries from thriving in the hot sun.
And anyone walking downtown at certain times of the day can be treated to musical notes floating down from MacLeod’s rooftop, where he practises the bagpipes.
“Most people walking down the street don’t know I’m up here and they can’t figure out where the music is coming from.”
While Grace works at Superstore, MacLeod works as a strength training instructor/personal trainer and teaches the pipes to students at his home studio.
Three years ago, he formed the North Okanagan Pipes & Drums, whose members range in age from 15 to 81 and include Grace, who plays the tenor drum.
The band always welcomes new members. Practices are held Wednesdays at 6 p.m at NOCLS, 2400-46th Ave. For more information, call MacLeod at 250-260-1001, see www.pipesndrums.ca or just drop in to the weekly practice.