IN LATE WINTER, the Winnipeg-area acreage of Alice and
Walter Kulyk looks attractive and peaceful. In summer, the home overlooking the
Red River is partly hidden by the fecund bounty of its gardens. What a glimpse
won't convey is the creative energy that has propelled this vibrant, 50ish
couple to turn their property of a little more than half an acre into a living
work of art, an expression of their shared passions for art and nature.
Ironically, the relaxed look of the place is the product of
never-ending work. It's been a labour of love; fortunately for the Kulyks, they
"We're do-ers," says Alice. It's a Saturday morning and
she's sitting at the kitchen table while Walter chops vegetables at the
counter. "We like to be busy, so we just do it."
The evidence of that is everywhere in the house and in the
gardens, which begin at the road high above the Red River, and tumble down to
the riverbank below. The yard is dominated by beds of perennials, and filled
with quirky sculptures and gargoyles.
The garden is a local sensation, attracting many visitors
who want to see what Alice has been able to grow and design. Their place was
among 20 properties featured in a television series called Winnipeg in Bloom.
It wasn't a natural wonderland when they bought the acreage
18 years ago, and Alice's thumb hasn't always been so green. When they moved
in, the pie-shaped property - narrow at the road and spreading wider down to
the riverbank - featured only one flower bed, filled with rose bushes.
"They were beautiful roses, and I killed them all," Alice
says with a laugh. For a few years, they did little with the garden because
they were busy raising three boys, now adults.
As their sons grew older, Alice and Walter began
transforming the yard. "Every year, we'd do a flower bed, and that's kept us
going and growing every year since then," says Alice.
"I'm responsible for cutting the grass, but now we hardly
have any grass left," Walter adds wryly. "So my job is easier." He's still busy
carrying out Alice's garden schemes. She has the vision, and he has the strong
They enjoy working with the soil, and often pursue a project
until it's finished. "When some people build a flower bed, they'll pick away at
it for two weeks," says Walter. "We'll do it in a day."
Not all their projects have been as successful as the flower
beds. The property is above a bend in the river, and the wash from pleasure
craft batters the shoreline. Over time, this was causing the higher land on the
Kulyk acreage to slump towards the river, as silt seams allow the soil to
They'd been there three years when Walter, who works in
advertising in Winnipeg, decided to halt the erosion. He hired a crew to
"riprap" the shoreline, reinforcing it with rubble to stop the loss of land to
the river. This has protected the shoreline, but other problems emerged as
water surged from the opposite direction, in torrential downpours that eroded
Walter had moulded the eroded land and planted willows and
dogwoods to help retain the soil, but one spring's deluge of rain and snowmelt
tore up the soil and necessitated another round of remedial landscaping. Eight
years ago, another crew reshaped the slope into a beautiful series of terraces,
with stairs leading to the river's edge. The Kulyks invested $2,000 in shrubs
A couple of years later, the area was hit by massive June
rains. The soil became super-saturated, and now those lovely terraces, gardens
and shrubs have slumped much closer to the river.
Walter has learned the contractors should have installed
weeping tiles to carry off excess water. Rather than recreating the terracing,
though, he has decided to let the land find its natural shape.
"It was a shame, because it was so beautiful," he says. "But
we decided we couldn't spend any more money on it, so we just let it go, and
now we enjoy it as it is."
Many of the wood, metal and clay sculptures scattered
throughout the acreage were made by Alice and Walter. They often visit a scrap
metal field near Ethelbert in search of rusting pieces of anachronistic farm
equipment, which Alice refers to as "treasures."
These treasures have found new purposes in the garden. There
is a tiered bird feeder made from seeder discs, and an old basketball hoop,
converted into a towering metal sculpture with three large hoops. Walter calls
that one "My Three Sons." The welding was done by their son Chris, an
electrician who often supplies his parents with tools for their projects.
A highlight of the back garden is a small pond with
waterfalls. It's a gathering place for the numerous clay and concrete frog
figures collected by the couple.
Alice's creativity is evident through-out their
1,300-square-foot house. An art teacher in the Winnipeg school system, she
specializes in clay sculpture. She started making "happy dragons" years ago,
when their youngsters were reading stories about mean, scary dragons. "I wanted
mine to be friendly," she says.
She also sculpts creatures that appear to be lying under
quilts in Victorian-style beds. She creates the beds by dipping lace and cloth
into liquid clay, then using crumpled newspaper to suggest shapes under the
quilt. In a kiln, the lace, cloth and newspaper burn away, leaving the hard
clay looking soft and fluffy.
The Kulyks also collect work by other artists, so every room
in the house resembles a gallery. The eclectic mix includes contemporary artworks,
antiques, and items they've made themselves or purchased in Mexico. The living
room is especially inviting, bathed in natural light during the day from
windows overlooking the river.
After moving into the house, the couple knocked down some
walls and doors to open up the main living spaces. Now, the kitchen flows
through into the dining room and living room. Leading off the living room is
the 1,000-square-foot deck they added to celebrate their 25th wedding
anniversary. The deck is partially screened to keep out the area's voracious
From the deck, one can look down upon their gardens, and
over the bend in the river which flows from Winnipeg to Lockport, and across to
the lower bank on the other side. "This is the vista everyone wants," says
A door from the master bedroom opens to the outdoor hot tub,
a popular attraction for their sons as well as relatives and friends who offer
to housesit when the Kulyks are away.
The main floor has three bedrooms. The basement development
includes a den and an office. A built-in cigar humidor under the stairs holds
the stock remaining from their former home business.
While some acreages support monster homes, the Kulyks love
their mid-sized bungalow and attached double garage. "It's the right size for
us," says Alice.
Living outside the city has presented some challenges. They
dislike the taste of their well water, which they treat and put to uses other
than consumption. They've also had to learn how to keep a septic field
Then there's the commute. Although they are only a few
kilometres from Winnipeg, and 20 minutes from downtown, driving along Henderson
Highway after a freezing rain is sometimes a scary proposition, Alice admits.
Yet the couple can't imagine living in the city again. This
home and property give them the room and scope to live out their artistic
"I love getting up in the morning, pouring a coffee, and
just walking around the garden and seeing what's growing and what's coming up,"