A Laneway Surprise: A Secret Rose Garden

Roses extend all along the fence. All driveways should be this lucky.

Some gardens simply stun you, particularly when they sneak up on you unawares. I stumbled upon this garden gem while walking my dog the other day. Bored with the same old route, I’d taken a back laneway to see where it would lead. I was admiring the numerous vegetable gardens tucked away along driveways, then turned a corner and this vision appeared: a tiny garden with roses spilling over each other in stunning profusion, and, as the George Jones song goes: It’s been a good year for the roses. The pleasure of a garden is doubled when you find beauty where you least expect it, as though someone had spirited away a front garden and tucked it away in the back.

There’s very little that’s utilitarian about this back yard parking pad.

Owners and gardeners, Jim and Joan were home when I passed by and welcomed me in. They’ve worked on this garden for sixteen years, and Jim has worked with plants since he was a kid, starting his first job at a Toronto garden centre. When they moved in, the garden was full of stacked railway ties, with nothing growing in them but weeds.

Hostas, hydrangeas, daisies in bud, nepeta and Duchess of Edinburgh clematis.

Rather than remove the ugly (and dated) railway ties, they left them, but planted ivy, which has grown to completely camouflage the ties, leaving a terraced treasure trove of roses, clematis vines, shrubs and perennials.

The stacked terraces and staircase surround a humble parking pad.
“Parisienne” clematis grows up the north side of the stairs. Jim and Joan are Paris-o-philes, so of course chose this beauty.


It helps that their car matches the colour of their blue glazed pots and their umbrella.

The names of many of the roses have been forgotten, but they identified one at the end as the antique hybrid perpetual Reine des Violettes and another as the Explorer rose, John Cabot. The only downside is dodging the wicked thorns on John Cabot as you go up a set of concrete stairs. Zepherine Drouhin, another old garden rose, makes up for John Cabot as it’s thornless. Both Zepherine and Reine des Violettes are wonderfully scented.

Antique rose, highly scented Reine Des Violettes. It really is an unusual violet-pink.

It didn’t hurt that I saw the garden at its absolute peak of perfection, in mid June. I didn’t have my camera that day, but Helen and I returned the next day to photograph.

Although a heavy rainfall had somewhat dampened the display, raindrops nestling on the rose petals never hurt. We like whiskers on kittens too.

You might say this garden’s gone viral: inspired neighbours have caught the garden bug and are planting their own garden spaces with roses galore. None have caught up with Jim and Joan’s as yet, but wait sixteen years, you never know.

A neighbour’s gardens grew this intense orange-red climbing rose which we loved. The Battersby sisters often regret that labels are not usually in evidence in private gardens.


  1. I too am a back lane wanderer. Funny, now I am planting out there for other back lane wanderers to enjoy. It must be the gardening spirit passing along in the lane. πŸ™‚

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