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Garden tour extraordinaire: Part II

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.

Garden tour extraordinaire

If you didn’t go on the Over the Hedge garden tour organized by the Ottawa Botanical Garden Society this past weekend, their only fund-raiser this year, then you really missed out!   This tour was organized by the volunteers on the Board, specifically the dynamo Vice-Chair Monique Oaks.  A vast contingent of volunteers was helping out over the two days, greeting visitors to each garden, selling aprons and t-shirts, offering flavoured ice water and generally providing smiling and enthusiastic faces all along the way.

There were twelve gardens on the tour and I’m embarrassed to say we only made it to half of them.  This was because I insisted on having a leisurely Sunday brunch at mid-day (the outing was my birthday present from my good friend who just happens to be a professional gardener as well, Patti Allen) and we did so at the amazing Heirloom Cafe Bistro in Almonte.  If we had gone out on Saturday as well, it would have been a breeze to see them all (but I was busy having a pedicure and then dinner with other girlfriends!)

The first garden we visited was a small, corner property in Pakenham belonging to Judy and John McGrath.  Judy is a gardener and photographer and the garden is personal, quirky and feels very private.  With beguiling entrances and seating areas, curving beds and miniature water features, this garden reflects a relaxed and friendly sensibility.

Next we moved across the street to the property where Paddye Mann lives and works, joined by her daughter in the neighbouring home, the homes and studio linked by an Asian inspired garden.

What I liked about this garden was the way in which the paths and plantings complemented the existing topography.

River-washed stone, timbers and naturalized plantings all echo the relaxed character of this garden, where a dry stream bed meanders alongside ancient granite bedrock.

An Asian-inspired cedar boardwalk is elevated above the garden, allowing the visitor an easy stroll and accommodating the pre-existing evergreens.

Daylilies, hostas, perennial geraniums, dogwood, coral bells — all these plants have been placed under the canopy of white pines and here, a metal sculpture that mimics the effect of wind rustling grasses gives the finishing touch. 

The working studio affords a view into the peaceful garden — a beautiful still-life from outside as well as inside.

The last Pakenham property belongs to the Bean family and has a lovely view of the Mississippi River.  The garden surrounds the expansive grounds of the stone heritage home called `Glenbeancragge`, referencing the limestone outcroppings that embrace the property and provide a natural home for a vast planting of specimen hostas, or —

— creeping sedums.

Stay tuned:  more to come…


This is the serene view of Matsushima Bay,
which is off the eastern coast of Japan just a few miles north of Sendai
(a city many of us had never heard of before March 11th). 
Matsushima Bay, Japan
If you were to visit, you might have stopped here to have tea:
Kanrantei tea house overlooking Matsushima Bay, Japan

 Then you might have taken this short walk along a towering cedar lined road towards Zuiganji Temple, whose origins date back to the 9th century …

The temple hall would have been closed for renovations, but you could have visited its Zen kitchen, where all the meals were prepared, and lingered to appreciate its beautiful architecture.

 You could have wandered off along another pathway to experience the caves in the hillside where the monks would go to pray…

If you were going to visit Japan and wanted to know where the most beautiful and interesting sites were, you may have visited the website here, which is where I found these tantalizing pictures.

Instead, too many images of destruction have been seared into our minds since the earthquake and tsunami struck.

Remember the beauty of Japan and its people and give whatever you can.

 For the Canadian Red Cross, click here.

For Care Canada, click here.

You can also donate to WorldVets here.  They are on the ground in Japan helping to save lost, abandoned and relinquished pets.