We said goodbye to the centre of Pakenham, where the gardens were charming with old homes to match, and made our way south. After a stretch of highway, we took a turn onto a road that began to narrow and crossed our fingers as we passed farmers’ fields and country vistas that another car wouldn’t come barrelling in our direction. When we arrived at the farmstead of Fern and Peter Martin, we realized the exiting and entering of garden tourists was being carefully orchestrated by volunteers on walkie talkies: they had thought of everything!
Despite our heart-stopping crossing over an old wooden railway bridge as we approached the farmhouse, our visit was like a taste of country living. Open views, a large porch with comfortable chairs for lounging, numerous barns and outbuildings with exuberant plantings and generous, well organized vegetable and herb gardens.
I immediately noticed the scale and work that this property demanded, but also the love and care that was given it. Notice the well-sheared cedar entrance hedge that welcomes the visitor into the garden next to the house.
The gardener here pays attention to the little things as well as the ‘big picture’. These lovely spires of soft yellow flowers with pink centres are possibly the perennial Verbascum chaixii ‘Gainsborough’, a smaller, ornamental hybridized variety of the common mullein.
The large vegetable garden demonstrates the rural mantra (one that is, thankfully, becoming an urban one too): re-purpose. Old and sturdy wire fencing has been used to support the peas while grass clippings and straw are recycled to mulch the ground around the lettuces and beans.
Looking past the bed with asparagus and raspberries, as well as graceful fruit trees, you are summoned by a long bed of lupins along the fence-line, just past their prime.
And of course, a country property needs a stream.
After experiencing the peace and tranquility of this picturesque property, we hit the road again and made our way to Almonte. The garden of sisters Gudrun Boyce and Carol Neumann will stick in my memory for three reasons:
Pristinely maintained flower beds, orderly and weed-free pathways, and seating areas that beckon —
— a wonderful series of wired tunnels that allow the cats to enjoy the outdoors but keeps them (and the birds) safe —
— and the work in progress: an expansive rockery down the hill from the house with views across the Mississippi River. Pocket plants, peonies, sedum, dianthus, daylily, flowering shrubs and happily flowering catmint — a display that is in its infancy now but in a few years will be overflowing with colour.
Our last stop was the garden of Gillian and Roger Danby, a late and frenzied drive back up to Arnprior after we were told it was nothing short of spectacular. And we were certainly glad we came. The entrance to the garden offered up these miniature displays in hypertufa troughs, made by Gillian herself.
It is immediately evident that this is a thoughtfully and artistically designed garden by someone who knows and loves plants.
Plants have been chosen and grown according to their requirements, and are given the space and the neighbours to best accommodate their needs and features.
An arbour is placed in the centre of an island bed, acting as a frame rather than an entrance. It embraces an ornamental grass and a languid sculpture of a nude woman. A large-flowered clematis (probably Clematis jackmanii) hugs one side of the structure.
At the rear of the property is what I considered the piece-de-resistance of this garden. All white, silver and green; an understated and elegant display, loosely arranged and bounded with peastone rather than grass, accentuating the lightness of the plants. And in the centre, a raised urn planted with a mix of succulents and annuals.
Everywhere you turned there was a beautifully arranged display with impeccably grown plants, like these herbs —
— and these tomatoes —
— and these lettuces in the tub and lucky squash (growing on the compost heap!) —
And if the river view isn’t enough to make you want to bring your suitcase and move in, this is — the view you leave with at the end of your visit:
Thank you Ottawa Botanical Garden Society for organizing this tour of these varied, enjoyable and inspirational gardens. And thank you gardeners who opened your spaces for this worthwhile cause. It was a great show.