Garden at a glance
Gardener: Tara MacKenzie
Location: North Augusta, Ontario
Occupation: semi-retired nurse
Pets: Megan and Bear, the dogs
Years in house: 22
Years gardening: 22
Size: 38 acres, 4 cultivated
Orientation: east, west and south
Conditions: sandy soil, full sun to full shade
Growing season: late April to October
Garden focus: large country garden with mass perennial plantings; three-level garden pond
Sometimes very special gardens just evolve—without design or direction. They develop serendipitously, capturing the personality and spirit of their owners and speaking in ways that a professionally planned garden never can. And so it is with Tara MacKenzie’s Zone 4 oasis located in North Augusta, just outside Brockville in eastern Ontario.
A self-described gypsy at heart, Tara was a globetrotting nurse working in Saudi Arabia back in 1985. Home for a visit, and enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with friends, she learned her hosts were selling their 38-acre plot. Twenty-four hours later Tara signed an offer to purchase that would change her life. “When I took possession of this property in May 1986, it actually took possession of me,” she recalls. “The land had been neglected, but there was huge potential, and I made a commitment to try to bring out the beauty that was hidden here.” And bring out that beauty she did—all on her own.
On entering the property, the long driveway, lined with majestic Eastern white pines, leads you to a gingerbread-trimmed stone farmhouse. The home is fetching, but it’s the large country garden that completely engages you.
At first, you’re drawn to the sunny, eastern side of the house where a rock garden runs along its length. It’s a delight, overflowing with thousands of hens and chicks (Sempervivens spp.), clumps of blue fescue (Festuca glauca) and drifts of creeping phlox (Phlox subulata). But it wasn’t always this enchanting.
When Tara moved in, the property’s defining feature was a six-metre-high cedar hedge that fully surrounded the house. “The view from every window was a wall of green,” says Tara. It took her three years to dig out that hedge—every root by hand. But creating the rockery to replace the hedge on the east side turned out to be the catalyst that triggered Tara’s passion for gardening.
top photo: The stone path leading to the perennial beds is flanked by part of Tara’s vast hosta collection.