In the garden of Karl Wohlers, there is order and utility – the hedges are groomed perfectly flat and square, the grapes earn their keep by providing wine and juice, the rearing horses on the entrance pillars stand straight and proud, the lawn is kept impeccably groomed, the fruit trees are pruned head height to make picking easier and the vegetable garden abides no freeloaders, as everything must be eaten.
This 3.5 acre parcel of rural Pitt Meadows has become a small island of sanity in an increasingly complex world, one full of mind-boggling hypocrisy and little common sense.
For those of you that know Karl, I am sure that the words opinionated and obstinate come to mind. That said, these are traits that he carries proudly in his day to day life.
I have known Karl for about 15 years, mostly as a nursery customer and frequent commentator on my local garden column – and over that time he has repeatedly invited me to drop by and see his garden. Karl’s persistence and my subsequent lack of excuses brought us together about a week ago and what I found astonished me.
As I pulled up the driveway, I saw a very serene Karl reading a book on native mythology on his front patio in the shade of the grapes that adorn the entrance arbor. He greeted me warmly, shook my hand with a firm grip and said “I knew you would come today”, as if he didn’t quite believe it himself.
All of these expressions of goodwill took me by surprise, as the Karl I have come to know is usually quite brusque and to the point – which got me wondering about the calming effect of being in a garden where you truly feel at home and ease.
So after his partner Anna-Lise brought me a delicious glass of chilled grape juice, I sat down with Karl and tried to figure where all this good karma really emanated from.
Karl moved to Pitt Meadows 55 years ago and started with five acres. Everything here was built by hand, including the bridge over the ditch and Spanish style home with clay roofing tiles.
Truth be told, I had expected more colour in the garden, but there are still roses, poppies, heathers, azaleas and annuals to brighten the landscape. The fruit trees include peaches, apples, pears and plums, with grapes, blueberries and currants filling out the balance of edibles. The red and green grape vines produce five to six gallon pails of fruit, which Karl’s friend, Ted Brown, transforms into delicious white wine (my wife gave the bottle he sent me home with two thumbs up) and juice.
The vegetable garden out back is chock full of healthy kale, Swiss chard, spinach, pole beans, peas, carrots, potatoes (‘Yukon Gold’) and ‘Russian Red’ garlic – all of which has only been fertilized with composted lawn clippings and chicken manure which he digs in.
Karl does not use fertilizer or pesticides of any ilk in his garden. According to him, “you don’t have to be a gardener, you just have to be in harmony with nature and if you work with nature, you might be surprised by what she gives back – but you still have to get off your rear end.” That latter statement is typical Karl, but surrounded by his ideal garden you get a much more, mellow version, so long as you just don’t bring up local politics.