Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Marnie's Garden: Part 1



What is a garden? A friend who has been trying to come to grips with a large property has been mulling over this very question and suggested that the definition of the word "garden" might be an excellent subject for one of my blog posts.

The garden I am about to show you is in the wild, forested countryside. What differentiates this land from the larger landscape that surrounds it? What makes it a garden?

Bee Balm, Monarda and Evening Primrose in front of Marnie's house.

The country road that leads you to Marnie Wright's property is dotted with homes, but her remote little house is what some might describe as being "in the middle of nowhere." I had to wonder what drew Marnie to this particular piece of land.

"Why this property? Thirty-five years ago I was not a gardener beyond growing vegetables and there was adequate room for that on this piece of property", she tells me, "I was more taken with the 93 acres as a whole-with its' streams and its' beaver ponds, high rocky ridges and deep gorges. It was beautiful and I saw the potential for cross country skiing and hiking. It also had a small outbuilding suitable as a stable for the horses I wanted and a low area at the back of the field that had potential for a pond."

Bee Balm,Monarda which is a magnet for hummingbirds.


Begonias and pansies spill from a window box.

Marnie Wright

What makes this piece of the Muskoka countryside a garden? The gardener herself! A garden is a landscape with a human hand at work. It's the human element that makes the distinction. A gardener is many things; a governing force, a creative visionary and even an editor. 

Describing the garden as a whole Marnie says:

"All told I guess the garden covers about 2 acres (I include the big swimming pond in this). It slowly developed over the years one bed at a time. My vegetable garden was soon overtaken with perennials, so I would dig another garden elsewhere. This went on for years, the perennials taking precedence over the vegetables."

Managing a sizeable garden like this singlehandedly is no small feat. I had to wonder how Marnie balanced the need to maintain some sort of order, while giving the garden the freedom to be, in essence, itself.

"I deal with the control issue by not stressing about tidiness too much," says Marnie, "I do my best to keep the weeds somewhat under control. The front of the beds and the paths get the most attention as they are viewed with closer inspection. I like to put plants close together, and enjoy it when they lean over and mingle with their neighbours. I am easy with self-seeders as often the best color combinations come about by accident. The garden is surrounded by a weedy field and it will never be pristine, so I don't worry too much- I just enjoy the riot of color."


The pathway to the garage.

The side door to Marnie's house.

The garden along the driveway.

 What challenges did the soil on the property present Marnie?

"The soil is clay and poorly drained with rushes, twitch grass, sphagnum moss, and tag alder as native plant material", she says, "Over the years I have added loads of compost and manure from my two horses, as well as imported topsoil for certain flowerbeds to raise them up and improve drainage."




In the centre of Marnie's garden there is a delightful water feature which is made up of three ponds connected by streams and waterfalls. Amazingly, this extensive series of streams and ponds is the result of the single handed efforts of the gardener herself.

"I'm proud of the ponds. It was an immense amount of work for one person, especially the gathering of the rocks from around the property. I've had people say that I'm so lucky to have a natural watercourse through the garden, so I guess I did a good job," Marnie says.



Dahlia

Most of the perennials you see in these pictures were grown from seed. Marnie loves making container plantings, so she also grows her own annuals and keeps plants like dahlias and begonias from year to year.

"For many years I grew my perennials from seed allowing me to grow plants rarely offered by nurseries," she tells me,"My enthusiasm for certain plants soon lead to becoming a collector- I had to have them all! Hostas, daylilies, epimediums, amsonias, heucheras, sedums, and gentians have all had their day as my latest obsession."


The personality of the gardener is evident in the choices she has made. Marnie tells me:

"Early on in the garden's development I chose to focus on summer and fall plants as opposed to spring bloomers simply because it is not enjoyable to be swarmed by blackflies while out in the garden (I wear a bug jacket). But that being said, the garden sure has a lot of spring plants. Being a collector, I just cannot say no to a plant if I like it, regardless of when it flowers. And if I like it a lot...well, passion takes over. I am collecting again: primulas, epimediums, daffodils, peonies, pulsatilla, anemones, hepaticas."



Daylily 'Jolyene Nicole' has pink petals with rose veining, a gold eye and a lime-green throat. This daylily blooms mid-summer and has evergreen foliage (depending on your gardening zone). Height:35-50 cm (14-20 inches), Spread:45-60cm (18-24 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Daylily 'Space Wars' and Marnie's collection of spent daylily flowers.

Daylily 'Space Wars' has pink flowers with a red eye and a yellow throat. It starts blooming mid-summer and repeat blooms. Full sun. Height:65-70 cm (25-27 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (24-35 inches). USDA zones:2-9.


Container plantings are scattered throughout the garden.

"I have a lot of containers because, I like designing them and enjoy the summer-long color . They can be moved about where help is needed. The containers add an architectural element to the garden-especially the large ones," says Marnie.

"The garden is full of color, which I love, and large enough that I can have large clumps repeated here and there. I grow a lot of annuals and tropicals throughout the garden."


Many would find caring for such a large garden to be a daunting task, but not Marnie.

"My garden is a huge amount of work for one person, but most of the time it doesn't feel like a burden. I am much happier outside. I enjoy having new projects to work on: straw bale gardening, my greenhouses, garden art (this year it's cobblestones in concrete)."


Daylily 'Midsummer Nightingale' has burgundy flowers with a yellow throat. Full sun. Height:75-80 cm (30-32 inches), Spread: 50-60 cm (20-36 inches) USDA zones: 3-9.


Wandering around Marnie's garden is pure delight. The garden is chock full of nooks and crannies that can't be seen at one glance. Along the way there are lots of treasures awaiting discovery.



One of the really nice things about Marnie's garden is the way it fits seamlessly into the landscape. The shift from tended garden to untended countryside is softly blurred allowing the garden to sit comfortably in its surroundings.

Defining a garden as a landscape with a human hand at work means that the role a gardener plays comes with great responsibility. We may think we own a piece of property, but in reality, we are just temporary caretakers. How we care for the land, what chemicals we use or don't use along the way can have a long lasting effect on the health of the plants and animals that reside there. What native plants we allow to remain and what exotic plants we add can likewise have a huge impact.

Given its impact on the environment, gardening is so much more than just a hobby.

Up shortly there will be a second post on Marnie's garden with more plant notes.


24 comments:

  1. Should Marnie one day happen to notice a middle aged woman from Arkansas has taken up residence in her gardens, please assure her I am perfectly harmless.....what a Paradise!

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    1. Marnie is a pretty generous person. I am sure she'd welcome a visitor from Arkansas.

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  2. Gorgeous!!! I would like to live there too! ;)

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    1. We certainly had a wonderful afternoon in her garden.

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  3. What a lovely garden....coming from a very dry area of Australia I really appreciate the wonderful colours and spread of flowers and shrubs in this garden.

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    1. Abundant colour was definitely one of the garden's standout features.

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  4. With a large property, especially if it's oddly shaped, boundaries are hard to decide upon. I started by saying I would just garden to 'this' tree. Then, to the next tree, and on it went until I have several acres devoted to gardens, and never a master plan. My beds are similar to hers - raised, and bordered by rocks from the clay soil. The surrounding open fields blow in weed seeds. I found it interesting that Marnie gardens for summer and fall, as I do. It takes me almost all of spring to do the yearly clean up, spread new compost, mulch, pull weeds, and generally get the garden in shape. I try to be finished by the time the lilacs bloom, but it doesn't always happen. Country gardens should be informal and a little wild, like hers. I really enjoy your photography!

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    1. Your garden sounds absolutely wonderful Annie! I wish I could visit you and see it.

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    2. Yikes! I didn't mean to mislead you. I intended to say "...several AREAS..." in front, back and side gardens, not several acres. I may have an acre or so, total, but I definitely do not garden in several acres. That made me laugh when I re-read it. No wonder my back aches! :) Some days, it FEELS like several acres.

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    3. Size is not particularly important to me. Your garden sounds terrific.

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  5. This garden certainly reflects the surroundings! I love when a gardener creates a garden that shares the countryside like this. And that pond is stunning - so natural looking. Thanks for showing us this beautiful spot.

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  6. Your blog has quickly become one of my favorite blogs this spring because of garden tours like these and specific information that seems to coincide with my thoughts about my own garden! The best one was one morning I was talking to my husband about adding different types of clematis to the front of our house...and your clematis posts came up in my blog feed not fifteen minutes later! It was great!

    This garden in particular is lovely! I love unruly, slightly unkempt cottage style gardens with layers of plants and this one fits the bill - can't wait to see the next post! Thank you for all your hard work!

    Elizabeth at Felicity House Detroit (www.felicityhousedetroit.com)

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    1. I am so glad that you are finding my posts timely Elizabeth. Marnie's garden is certainly a joy.

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  7. I love your blog! It's like a special treasure that I allow myself. I really enjoyed Marnie's garden and look forward to the second installment. I love to wander through these gardens! Thank you for sharing with all of us.

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    1. Thanks so much Melissa. It's comments like yours that keeps me blogging.

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  8. Oh, this has to be the best garden you've written about. It's wonderful, I loved the pond, planters, planting and unusual items hidden away here and there. How marvelous to have so much land!Looking forward to part two.xxx

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    1. I have to agree with you Snowbird. This is one of the finest gardens I have showcased.

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  9. Jennifer, what a wonderful reminder of a tremendous visit to a spectacular garden - Marnie should be so pleased, you captured it perfectly. Knowing that she practically needs a Hazmat suit to avoid being devoured by black flies in the spring, I'm always amazed at what she's done and the beauty of the site.

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    1. Thanks Barbara! I am happy to think I managed to capture the spirit of Marnie' amazing garden.

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  10. I love Marnie's garden! I love exuberant colorful cottage-type gardens like hers (and yours). You did a beautiful job capturing its character.

    I love the water feature and evergreens too.

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  11. I love your garden - great photos and lovely garden!

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  12. I love your garden - great photos and lovely garden!

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  13. This garden is breath taking. I would love to have a garden with such flow and grace to the planting.

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