Gardens - Featured Gardens

A plant collector's paradise in Northern Ontario

Kathy Wood
Photography by
Tracy Cox

Doing what comes naturally, a northern Ontario gardener turns her farm into the quintessential plant collector’s paradise

plant-collector-inset.jpgWater tumbling over the stones brings a soothing sound to the already peaceful setting. Plants such as water lilies, water hyacinth and lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus) grace the ponds’ surfaces. One of Marnie’s nicest compliments came from a visitor who commented on how lucky she was to have a natural watercourse; it was then she knew her hard work was worth the effort.

When you look around these stunning grounds, it’s hard to believe that Marnie, since divorced, maintains this landscape all on her own. This quiet woman is so passionate about her horticultural pursuits, she says, grinning, “I can hardly wait to get out in the garden in the morning—you’ll find me there sun-up to sundown, seven days a week, in rain, shine and even bugs. I never find gardening a chore.” Yet she still manages to squeeze in time to tend her horses and pot-bellied pig, create garden art, fashion cedar twig furniture and make baskets.

Marnie does admit to using a few time-saving tricks. Large, empty nursery tubs that once held shrubs cleverly concealed in strategic spots in the garden are ready receptacles as she tours the beds pulling weeds. Previously, she didn’t mulch because of her soil’s poor drainage, but with an increased number of beds, weeds became a problem. So this past year, Marnie remedied that with layers of three-year-old composted pine bark, which contrasts nicely with the wood chip paths. Luckily, heavy clay soil also means she doesn’t need to do much watering. This lady gardener even likes cutting her lawn with the aid of her trusty “Johnny Boy,” a 1953 John Deere lawn tractor. Marnie doesn’t believe in fall cleanup—she leaves everything standing until spring, then tackles the cutting back of
her perennials.

plant-collector-inset6.jpgMarnie confesses her pursuit is bordering on obsession. She gardens year-round in a sunroom that serves as her winter greenhouse. In March, it’s full of trays jammed with tiny seedlings she starts as early as January, growing many unique, unusual plant varieties—such as Alfredia cernua, naked-stalked globe daisy (Globularia nudicaulis) and Trollius ircuticus—not available in garden centres or nurseries. During the winter months, Marnie also spends her time poring over specialty seed catalogues and searching the Internet for rare seed sources. And like many a passionate gardener, Marnie wants to share her bounty with others. So in early August, she pots up surplus plants and holds a perennial sale. In her swimming pond (which is not visible from the garden), she propagates water garden plants to sell as well.

As twilight descends after a pleasant day spent working in the garden, Marnie and another of her four-legged companions, her dog, April, settle down by the crackling bonfire, enjoying the peace her self-created rural sanctuary offers.

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