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Garden Tour of the Bruce Peninsula

Deer Run Farm

Dianne and Gary Westlake

Recently we returned from a four-day bus trip to the Bruce Peninsula. Along with forty-eight other gardening enthusiasts, we visited a total of thirteen gardens – not and easy feat in light of the distance we traveled and our tendency to get lost from time to time. There are no super highways in this area and some of the road designations are confusing or in some cases non-existent. No matter – what an adventure!

We developed an appreciation for these gardeners who contend with a range of conditions and challenges depending upon the location. Marauding deer treat the gardens as a buffet and bears damage sheds trying to gain entry. Gardening in rock cannot be easy. To plant a tree, a hole is dug in the rocky soil, which is sieved to separate the soil from the rocks. The soil is amended with horse manure before planting. Watering is done only for new plantings, otherwise they rely on rain. The good news is drainage is very good and there are plenty of stones and pebbles to use for paths, mulch and points of interest in the garden.

Almost completed surrounded by water, the climate is slightly warmer than in Peterborough although the area is located farther north. Snow cover in winter is consistent and a covering of up to a metre helps to keep plants protected. We saw varieties of plants thriving that we might have difficulty wintering over here.

We saw an eclectic mix of styles. From neat and tidy to wild and wooly; totally devoid of garden art to a whimsical clutter of odd pieces of bric-a-brac, rural properties to town lots, woodland to open fields, arboretums, herbs, roses, perennials, xeriscape, water and bogs. Each garden was different and there was something to appeal to everyone.

To find many of the gardens, we used a brochure called ‘Discover Rural Gardens of Grey Bruce Counties’ that lists thirty-two gardens located throughout the area. These are open to the public usually with a small entry fee and many of them sell plants or other items for the garden on site. You need to carry with you a decent map showing the small roads because the one in the brochure is a bit sketchy, and changes to road numbers seems to be a sport all over Ontario.

We also used a book called Great Gardens to Visit by Patricia Singer to find others. We chose private gardens that are not well known and were some of the best surprises. Open by appointment only, we were invited to share the labours of the owner’s love and left each one with a respect for the beauty and care that was evident in each location. Not all gardens are completely accessible so you might want to check with the owners if you need to.

Among the gardens we visited was Larkwhistle, the well-known garden of Patrick Lima and John Scanlon. This one-acre garden is packed with tasteful combinations of perennials and edibles.

Keppel Croft Farm and Gardens featured a variety of art installations spread over four acres of woodland, rock and perennial gardens. There was an enormous sundial and Keppel Henge that marks the passage of the sun throughout the year.

At Earthbound Perennials, besides visiting the lovely display gardens, we learned about their method for conserving moisture in the soil using a variety of mulches including shredded newspaper and fine paper. In the greenhouse area, an espaliered apple tree was loaded with ripening fruit.

One surprise was a stone house in Sydenham County that was surrounded by a rock garden, mature plantings, a perfectly maintained vegetable garden and a walk to the pond that would be a perfect location for an afternoon rest. The owner even took us on a tour of the restored house.

We visited a farm where the owners showed foresight and long term by planting trees for the last thirty years. There were many unusual trees, stone walls, a log cabin that had been moved to its present site, large-scale plantings, and wonderful large rocks.

Our last stop for lunch at Mrs Mitchells in Violet Hill near Shelburne, was the finale of a wonderful trip. Lunch was excellent, the gift shop intriguing and the garden was a showstopper, complete with swans.

Purchasing all the way – it is a good thing there is lots of cargo space on a coach. At one point it was feared that we would have to stop at a building supply store to get the materials to build shelves to fit everything in. But with a little planning and careful packing, we managed to find a place for everything.

While we recognize that our appreciation of the garden is personal thing, it became obvious as we traveled home. When we asked the travelers which was their favourite garden there range of choices and the reasons were often surprising. Sometimes it was plant material or design but often it was the way a garden made one feel.

So when you see one of these promotional pamphlets on gardens to visit, take a chance and wander through Ontario looking at gardens or just join a garden society or group and sign up for one of their bus tours.