Debbie Turk and Darlene O'Connor, gardeners at Ste. Anne's Country Inn and Spa, the luxury retreat in Grafton, Ontario, are no different. With the demands of five acres to tend to, their goal is to create beautiful gardens that are as laid-back as they are lavish; the two just don't have the time for high-maintenance plant divas. That ease-inspired design philosophy is most evident in the border they created leading from the inn to the outdoor pool, where a naked, boring walkway was turned into a lush, colourful path with surprisingly little elbow grease.
Despite the border's vibrant personality, the gardeners didn't plan any specific colour combinations. "We wanted something informal, yet colourful," explains Debbie, "not too low, and not too stiff or still. Most of all, though, it had to be low-care." To accomplish the task, the pair began by planting perennials, such as peonies, irises, lilies and a variety of shrubs. They then peppered these mainstays with coreopsis and echinacea to give an unstructured, natural effect. Plants were summarily dismissed if they were temperamental, needed excessive irrigation or required fertilizing.
The one concession Debbie and Darlene did make was in using triple mix (a commercial mixture of equal parts topsoil, peat and compost) when the garden was first planted‚ but the soil hasn't been amended since. A light weeding and edging in spring and late summer, plus yanking out aggressive specimens, is the only maintenance required. And winter care? There is none‚ not even an ounce of mulch. "We're not what you would call big mulchers," says Darlene with a laugh. As for pests and disease, there haven't been any serious problems because almost all the plants are hearty native specimens, less susceptible to damage. "Unless you count Massey, the inn's dog," jokes Debbie. "He's the biggest 'pest' we have."
Image at top: The border incorporates a stone fountain surrounded by roses. The unstructured, medium height of the poppies, coreopsis, spirea and salvia give the sense you're on a wilderness nature walk. Inset photo: The fountain before the garden makeover.