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by Laura Anderson
North Shore News

After 18 years, says Doreen Wakefield, “I’ve almost arrived at my dream garden.”

North Vancouver's Doreen Wakefield can often be found in her home garden, which she's long cultivated with the help of husband Wally. NEWS photo, Mike Wakefield

North Vancouver’s Doreen Wakefield in her home garden, which she’s cultivated with the help of husband Wally. NEWS photo, Mike Wakefield

The transformation of a backyard patch of grass and swing sets dominated by an enormous cedar began when Doreen retired. The cedar had always been there. Wally just designed and built the house around it. “He still cuts away the deck to make room as the tree grows,” says Doreen. The cedar and surrounding conifers determined the garden would be shady, mainly hostas and ferns, with plants in pots here and there for colour.

This tranquil green oasis hidden away on a quiet Lynn Valley neighbourhood evolved over time through the creative partnership of Doreen and her husband, Wally. It works like this. Doreen will imagine a feature, a simple bench, for example. Wally will design and build a comfortable sitting area, adding an arbour where more plants can grow.

“We do everything together,” says Doreen, “but I don’t want to sound too rosy. It’s been war and peace.

“There were only three houses on our street when we moved here in 1963.” remembers Doreen. “It was all bush, unpaved roads and no such thing as a driveway. There were deer on the street. It was lovely. Ours was the only one story house so we planted the trees for privacy. That’s where we disagree. I’d like more sun but Wally loves trees. He came from cement city. It was all pavement at his house.”

Wally and Doreen were in their teens when they met at a youth club in their hometown of Fleetwood, a fishing port near Blackpool. Doreen remembers British housing back then. A paved backyard was typical. “We didn’t have a refrigerator. We stored food on a concrete slab in the pantry. We did have an outhouse.”

Doreen got her first job with the delivery of a telegram. “The telegram scared everyone but it was only a message to call the post office.” She made the call from a phone booth, “the first time in my life I’d been on the phone.” For the rest of her career, Doreen worked on telephones, beginning with the Fleetwood post office switchboard, receiving incoming calls through bakelite ear pieces known as “horns” and putting them through on “a cord board”.

Doreen and Wally married in 1955 and moved to Canada in 1957. “If we didn’t like it, we would work our way back home. We chose Vancouver because it was the furthest point in the country and we loved it right away.”

Wally worked for a painting company until he started his own company and Doreen was hired at B.C. Telephone Company. “I only lasted a month. People wanted to be connected to places like Saskatchewan and I had no idea where they were.”

Doreen worked at the hardware wholesaler Fred C. Meyer until 1963 when the children started arriving and the family moved to Lynn Valley. Son Mike, their first child, is a photographer with the North Shore News and took these photographs of his mother.

When the children were grown, Doreen went back to the telephones as receptionist for a company at 1139 Lonsdale, site of the North Shore News’s old offices.

During Doreen’s career with the telephone, technology advanced. Cord boards and horns were in the past, cell phones were in the future and Doreen retired during the era of the pager. During her last 3 years there, the company was owned by BC Tel, allowing Doreen’s working life in Canada to come full circle, beginning and ending with the phone company.

In the early days of her retirement, Doreen helped care for her grandchildren and joined the Lynn Valley Garden Club, another ally in the development of the Wakefield garden. These days, with the garden close to completion, Doreen looks forward to more hiking and lawn bowling and, of course, time to enjoy the beauty and peace of her garden.

Is Doreen’s dream garden just that, a dream? Right now, Wally is busy repairing a trellis in the garden. What’s next? Every garden has room for another plant or a bit of building. It’s a simple matter of balance and flexibility, which Doreen and Wally have achieved during their 58 years of marriage.