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Within two years the Popes’ garden became a masterpiece of colour

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Opinion: After 20 years the Popes returned to BC. When Nori died, Sandra continued to create a magical garden on Pender Island.

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Brian Minter Nori and Sandra Pope at Hadspen Garden in Somerset, England. Nori and Sandra Pope at Hadspen Garden in Somerset, England. Photo by Ron Rule Consultants /.jpg

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Ron Rule, one of BC’s brilliant landscape architects and owner of Ron Rule Consultants, contacted me recently. He wanted to remind me that there are many talented gardeners in our province. As is so often the case, many have achieved international fame, but are rarely celebrated or fully appreciated on site.

Rule insisted that Sandra and Nori Pope, two of the most talented and hardworking designers he has ever known, deserve much more credit. Although Nori has died, Sandra continues to live and work on Pender Island, and there they talked about her and Nori’s interesting past, particularly the years when they planted a highly acclaimed garden on an English estate.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Nori Pope owned a small kindergarten and design company in the Comox Valley. A self-taught gardener and garden designer, he was well connected with some of BC’s earliest and finest breeders, designers and horticultural specialists, including the late Ed Loubrunner, an alpine guru, the well-known Doris Page and many others.

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At one of the early Hornby Island fairs, Nori was presented with a basket of antique garden roses as a thank you for judging. He was so enthusiastic about these roses that, under the guidance of the internationally known Rosary Graham Stewart Thomas, with whom he corresponded, he began growing and propagating special varieties.

His kindergarten gained a huge following, particularly for his selection of roses with their own roots. As a result, many opportunities opened up in the gardening world and he was invited to visit some of Britain’s most respected gardening personalities and their gardens.

Sandra Pope checks the border plantings in Hadspen Garden. Sandra Pope checks the border plantings in Hadspen Garden. Photo by Ron Rule Consultants /.jpg

Because she was passionate about gardening and plants, Sandra, a nurse, decided to change paths and work in Nori’s kindergarten. It was a wonderful pairing and they soon got married.

With so many great garden connections in England, they decided to pay a visit. A garden, above all others, caught her imagination. Well known designer Penelope Hobhouse created a seven acre kitchen and perennial space for her husband’s family as part of their 700 acre Hadspen estate. When Hobhouse separated from her husband, as was customary, the eldest son became the heir of this property and over time it has been somewhat neglected. However, the popes fell in love with this garden, especially because of its magnificent curved brick wall.

It’s strange how life turns out sometimes. The Popes were kept to not only bring the garden back but also to surpass its former glory.

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“We wanted to spend a year on it,” recalled Sandra, “but it somehow turned into 20.”

This 7 acre piece of Hadspen was partially open to the public, and it was also a kindergarten where plants and vegetables could be bought. With limited resources, it was quite a challenge. Penelope Hobhouse put her in contact with an important supplier of plants to be sold in kindergarten. This made all the difference in terms of increased sales and awareness of unique plants.

The vegetable garden in Hadspen is surrounded by a wall. The vegetable garden in Hadspen is surrounded by a wall. Photo by Ron Rule Consultants /.jpg

The real story, however, was their brilliant restoration, especially of the walled garden. Pope said it was amazing how quickly you as two Canadians were taken to the Somerset area to restore a prestigious historic English garden. Despite the challenges, she told me how wonderful it was to wake up every day with the prospect of doing something exciting.

“It was a gift,” she said.

According to the rule, the garden became a masterpiece of color and harmony within two years. With the stunning backdrop of the curved wall and excellent use of color and flow, you have been rewarded everywhere you looked. They were passionate about designers, and if they couldn’t find the plant they needed to complete a color scheme, they would breed one that could. Rule believes they were two of the most hardworking people anyone can imagine.

Soon her breathtaking garden became known, and the who’s who of the gardening world discovered this gem, redesigned and reborn by two talented Canadians. Every year the garden improved like a great wine with age and became one of the must-see gardens in England.

Niall Hobhouse, owner of the property, sold the property a few years ago to a South African hotelier who was developing a boutique hotel on the property. Hadspen is no more. The garden area has been renamed “The Newt” and although everything has been changed extensively, the heart and soul of the work of the Popes has become a wonderful memory.

After 20 years, the popes returned to BC. When Nori died, Sandra continued to create a magical garden on Pender Island.

The imaginative use of perennials creates texture and harmony in Hadspen Garden. The imaginative use of perennials creates texture and harmony in Hadspen Garden. Photo by Ron Rule Consultants /.jpg

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Robert Dunfee