A Minnedosa, Manitoba gardener won the Fort Distributors Ltd. Shield for Best Country Non-Farm Home Grounds — District Four in the Manitoba Good Roads 2011 Home Grounds Competition. The award will be presented to Erna Stemmer at the association’s annual awards banquet in Brandon in April.
Erna’s garden is located just south of town in the RM of Odanah and has the unusual name of “Rookhurst Garden” because it is located on the site of the old Rookhurst School. Erna and Gerhard Stemmer moved to the site in 1973 and into the school that had already been remodelled into a residence by the former owners.
The Stemmers raised their family at the site of the old one-room school and Erna explains that there wasn’t time for many flower borders then, as her time was taken up looking after a huge vegetable garden to supply the family with food. It was 1999 before the Stemmers began to develop the beautiful home grounds that occupy the old schoolyard today. Sadly, Gerhard passed away in 2009 so Erna now maintains the garden on her own.
A large oval flower bed between the house and the driveway contains tall delphiniums towering above iris, campanula and achillea. Brilliant-red annual poppies self-seed here and there and add touches of colour. Clumps of silver-leafed snow-in-summer edge the bed. At the head of the driveway, backed by a white lattice fence, tall clumps of valeriana waft their fragrance across the garden. Lilies — ever present in Erna’s garden — grow in front of the valeriana.
The extensive garden sweeps southward from the house. A focal point is a large clover-leaf-shaped bed packed with innumerable clumps of lilies and some other perennials. A Canada flag flies majestically over the bed, which is edged with clumps of sedum. East of the bed, a hops-covered arbour, built by Gerhard, ushers visitors toward a long, curving perennial bed containing a variety of perennials including a unique coppery yarrow, pink-flowered lamb’s ears and dark-purple sages. Just south of this border, a large square bed is divided into quadrants by rows of flat stones; the same stones that have been used to edge the bed.
Erna has again used a perennial to edge an adjacent bed — in this case she has used a campanula, creeping bellflower. Delphiniums, sweet William, daylilies, columbines, sages and rose campion create a riot of colour. In the south end of the garden are several large lily-propagating beds which contain rows and rows of lilies. There are literally thousands of lilies, all labelled, some only seedlings and some having reached mature size. Erna sells lilies at several events in the area during the summer.
The well-maintained Rook-hurst Garden continues to be a labour of love for Erna, who says, “I actually enjoy weeding!” The recognition of the garden by the Good Roads Competition is a testament to Erna’s hard work and gift for flower border design. The award is well deserved.