Garden Tour: Owen and Cait’s designer test garden
Andrea Bellamy |

The Basics

Names of gardeners: Owen and Cait Black (aka Aloe Designs Test Garden)
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Size: Roughly 15’W x 30’L
Orientation: South
Zone: 8b
Years gardened:
Renovated from June 2006 ongoing.

Heavy Petal says: Ever wonder what garden designers do in their own gardens? Do they maintain an exquisitely dramatic display garden meant to showcase their talents, or are they their own worst clients? Today we’ll peek into the backyard of garden designers Cait and Owen Black, the husband-and-wife team behind Vancouver-based garden design group Aloe Designs. Since I’m lucky enough to count Cait and Owen as friends, I can tell you that this is a couple that really loves what they do. Their enthusiasm for gardens, fresh food, and finding creative, beautiful and sustainable design solutions is truly infectious. Enjoy!

The Details

Style: West Coast Contemporary
Inspiration: Cait’s Mom’s veg patch, Terra Nova school kids’ gardens, Michael Ableman‘s talks, Jamie Durie‘s aesthetic, and all that is Jamie Oliver!
Favourite element(s): Our custom made dining set/harvest table, outdoor lighting, clothesline, water barrels (x2), back alley raised veggie beds, potting shed, bbq fire pit.
Favourite plant(s): Phormium ‘Sundowner,’ pineapple sage, potato vine, wasabi, sweet peas, agaves, jasmine vine, the ones without names that we got at a University of BC plant auction, arugula, Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ and of course all our veg and fruit – without you there would be no garden to call home!
Biggest challenge: Wet soppy area in back north corner; hideous sinking fence that surrounds us; all the wandering alley cats that are looking for a litter box.
Biggest save: All of the used materials and plants that are leftover discards from clients’ jobs.
Biggest splurge: Installing a 10’x10′ patio of pavers and very expensive Mexican river rock.
Advice for others: Dig, Plant, Grow. It’s as simple as that. Garden because you want to, because you need to, because it is good to you. Have confidence that things will grow. Plants have an amazing way of working themselves out. Begin with a veggie patch and the rest will become contagious. If you only have a small patio, start with herbs in pots; it’s a sure way to success. Think big, bold, and soothing when laying out the plans. Start with a plan, hire a designer and make it happen. The sun will follow.

Before: Providing just a hint of the tightly-organized garden that is to come, Owen builds the raised beds that will define the patio area and produce a bounty of food.

After: The resulting garden manages to be geometric yet informal, restrained yet risk-taking: what Cait calls thinking “big, bold and soothing.”

This is a hard-working plot of land; it serves as a comfortable hangout for friends and family, produces a mighty amount of food, and is a testing ground for trialling plants and design concepts before they are implemented in clients’ gardens.

Check out their custom-made, sunken barbecue fire pit: a creative approach to the space crunch and a novel way to disguise those (let’s face it) unsightly barbecues.

Growing fresh fruits and vegetables is the garden’s raison d’etre. And it does it beautifully!

Thanks Cait and Owen for sharing your garden with us. You’ve inspired me to start planning my veggie garden for next spring.

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