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Outer-space biomes and wild esthetic keep English gardening on the cutting edge

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A highlight for us this year was our of father-son trip to England to tour around the country’s public gardens.

The term “English gardens” stirs images of rolling lawns, rose collections, walled spaces and neatly trimmed hedges. We love these images, and they are at the foundation of what is arguably the greatest gardening culture in the world.

Palm trees grow tall amongst a range of tropical vegetation in the Mediterranean biome at Eden Project.
Palm trees grow tall amongst a range of tropical vegetation in the Mediterranean biome at Eden Project.  (Dreamstime)

But British gardens are changing. In the last 20 years, garden culture in the U.K. has produced some radically different results that turn gardening conventions on their head.

Eden Project, in Cornwall in England’s southwest, is a completely different approach to a public garden. Built in a former quarry which served the likes of Royal Doulton for 160 years, the garden represents a £141 million ($238 million Canadian) investment — a testament to the British commitment to gardening. Opened in 2001, the centrepieces of Eden Project are two enormous “biomes,” one of which emulates a rainforest ecoregion and the other a Mediterranean ecoregion. The domes, which are powered by on-site geothermal power, contain thousands of plants native to their respective ecoregions.

Mark takes in the vista of Eden Project's biomes in Cornwall, England.
Mark takes in the vista of Eden Project’s biomes in Cornwall, England.  (www.MarkCullen.com)

Each region is explained beautifully with educational signage and helpful staff. On the exterior grounds surrounding the domes is a botanical garden featuring plants native to Cornwall and larger-than-life sculpture works promoting environmental awareness.

An abandoned clay pit makes a perfect setting for a garden; the walls of the old quarry provoke a “secret garden of the lost earth” feeling alluded to by the name Eden. Meandering pathways through organically shaped landscapes make getting lost feel like an adventure. With its incredible plant specimens, local and exotic, dotted among whimsical design elements, it is an excellent place of new discovery in a place of very old history.

To sum it up, Eden Project is a giant Science Centre dedicated to the role of plants in our world.

Oudolf Field, at Hauser & Wirth Durslade Farm, in Somerset, U.K., showcases grasses and perennials as high art.
Oudolf Field, at Hauser & Wirth Durslade Farm, in Somerset, U.K., showcases grasses and perennials as high art.  (www.MarkCullen.com)

Oudolf Field, at Hauser & Wirth Durslade Farm, near Somerset, also in the U.K.’s southwest, opened in 2014 and brings gardening to the 21st century while respecting the past. Piet Oudolf, who is actually from the Netherlands, is a landscape designer best known for his work on newer projects such as New York City’s High Line and Chicago’s Millennium Park.

In all his work, Oudolf pioneers the New Perennial Movement that advocates using a range of herbaceous perennials and grasses grown as if in the wild. The recent documentary Five Seasons: the Gardens of Piet Oudolf follows him through the design process at Hauser & Wirth’s farm-gallery. Oudolf’s strength is appreciating plants at every stage of the life cycle, including their fall and decay (hence the fifth season). This made our late October visit the perfect time of year to appreciate his work. The ornamental grasses were deliberately left standing and impressed us with their structure, the leafy shrubs showed off their fall colours and flowers, many foraged by birds and other wildlife.

Dutch landscape artist Piet Oudolf also designed NYC's High Line and Chicago's Millennium Park.
Dutch landscape artist Piet Oudolf also designed NYC’s High Line and Chicago’s Millennium Park.  (IFC Center)

An Oudolf garden never really peaks, rather, it evolves through each season. As a result, any time of year is a great time to experience a visit.

The greater farm-gallery of Hauser & Wirth Durslade is also worth exploring while you’re there. It is one of an international chain of galleries by the Zurich-based dealers, and their use of 1760s-era farm-buildings-turned-galleries make for a fairly casual setting to experience high art. Since its restoration, it has returned to its roots as a working, free-range farm which supplies the on-site Roth Bar & Grill. Various out buildings house artists in residence and workshops.

These two gardens, neither in the traditional English garden vein — one with outer-space like biomes and the other Swiss-owned with a Dutch designer — stopped us in our tracks and inspired us in whole new ways. Living proof that the best in the gardening world still happens in Britain.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4

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Victoria real estate agent disciplined for false advertising, encouraging cash deal to avoid taxes

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A Victoria real estate agent is facing $9,000 in fines and a 60-day licence suspension after breaking several professional rules during the sale of her father’s half-million-dollar property, according to a decision by the Real Estate Council of B.C. 

Whitney Garside’s missteps — outlined this week in a disciplinary decision posted on the council’s website — included falsely advertising the property as being almost twice its actual size and advising the buyer they could avoid the property transfer tax if they paid cash directly to the seller.

The property on Burnett Road in Victoria was being sold in 2016 by the real estate agent’s father. That relationship was disclosed and isn’t among the reasons she has been disciplined.

According to the disciplinary consent order, Garside told the buyer — whose name is redacted — that by paying $42,000 cash on the side, the value of the property could be reduced to avoid paying the property transfer tax.

That cash arrangement was not shared with Garside’s brokerage, Re/Max Camosun, a failure that contravened the Real Estate Services Act.

The council also ruled that she “failed to act honestly and with reasonable care and skill” when she advised the buyer the property transfer tax could be avoided by paying cash directly to the seller. 

The council’s discipline committee also found that Garside committed professional misconduct when she failed to recommend the seller and buyer seek independent legal advice, specifically regarding the property transfer tax and the cash agreement.

Another issue the council considered professional misconduct involved the size of the property in question.

The council ruled that Garside published false and misleading advertising and failed to act with reasonable care and skill when the property was advertised as 8,712 square feet, when in fact a portion of the lot belonged to the Ministry of Transportation, and the actual size was just 4,711 square feet.

The discipline committee ordered Garside’s licence be suspended for 60 days, which will be completed Jan. 3, 2021.

She has also been ordered to complete real estate ethics and remedial classes at her own expense.

Garside was also fined $7,500 as a disciplinary penalty and $1,500 in enforcement expenses.

She agreed to waive her right to appeal the council’s discipline committee’s decision in September.

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Frisco apartment community sells to Canadian investor

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A Canada-based investor has purchased a Frisco apartment community as part of a larger Texas deal.

The 330-unit Satori Frisco apartments opened last year on Research Road in Frisco.

BSR Real Estate Investment Trust bought the four-story rental community that was built by Atlanta-based Davis Development.

Satori Frisco was more than 90% leased at the time of sale. The property includes a two-story fitness center, a car care center, a dog park and a resort-style swimming pool.

The Frisco property sold along with Houston’s Vale luxury apartments in a deal valued at $129 million.

“BSR recently exited the smaller Beaumont and Longview, Texas, markets and also sold noncore properties in other markets,” John Bailey, BSR’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are now using our strong liquidity position to invest in Vale and Satori Frisco, modern communities in core growth markets with the amenities our residents desire.”

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House prices on Prince Edward Island continue steady climb

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Residential real estate prices on Prince Edward Island continue to climb at a rate higher than the national average, according to the latest report from a national organization. 

The Canadian Real Estate Association released monthly figures for November 2020 on Tuesday.

They show that the average price for a resale home on P.E.I. is about 21 per cent higher than it was a year earlier. 

Only Quebec had a bigger year-over-year increase, at about 23 per cent. Overall across Canada, prices were up 13.8 per cent year over year in the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the fifth straight month, year-over-year sales activity was up in almost all Canadian housing markets compared to the same month in 2019,” the report noted.

“Meanwhile, an ongoing shortage of supply of homes available for purchase across most of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces means sellers there hold the upper hand in sales negotiations.”

That lack of houses coming onto the market compared to the demand means that in those provinces, there is “increased competition among buyers for listings and … fertile ground for price gains.”

There have been anecdotal reports for months that Prince Edward Island’s low rate of COVID-19 infection and looser rules around social activities have been encouraging people to buy homes on the Island. 

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