Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Willow Garden in the Rolling Hills of Caledon, Ontario

Garden Design by David Warburton Landscaping
Potting shed, Willow Gates and Fencing by Barbara Guy Long

Afternoon showers have finally abated, but as the air cools with the approach of evening, a fine mist has descended to soften and blur the line of trees that run along the horizon. The willow wattle fence that delineates Robin Ogilvie's garden is dark and wet making the soft grey lichen which colonize its surface stand out in contrast. 

Inside the willow fence, the peonies bend to the ground in submission to the weather, but the other flowers and foliage glisten with raindrops.

The golden color of the Creeping Jenny which carpets most of the flowerbeds easily makes up for any lack of sunshine.

Generally a garden is located somewhere on the perimeter of a house. We have become accustomed to think of this outdoor space as an extension of our homes; as having potential "rooms"complete with outdoor furniture. 

Robin Ogilvie's garden is distinctive. You don't roll out the back door and find yourself in her garden. While the garden is clearly visible from the house, it is at some distance. It stands on its own; distinct in the landscape. Visiting the garden requires a conscious decision and a short walk.

This garden is its own destination; a place to visit to cut some asparagus, pick some raspberries or cut some flowers for the house. 

Best of all, it is a place of beauty and Robin's own private refuge.

Inspired by one of artist Barbara Guy Long's woven willow fences in another Caledon area garden that designer David Warburton had created, Robin Ogilvie hired the pair to create something for her own home. 

I asked multi-media artist Barbara Guy Long to tell me how she became interested in working with willow.

"While living and working as an artist in Muskoka, I noticed all this wonderful twig furniture in old cottages. I wanted to learn how to build these things I loved, so I took a course in willow chair making with Maggie Longworth", says Barbara.

"It wasn't the chair that inspired me as much as the medium. I liked the way willow felt in my hands, the smell and the flexibility of it."

When Barbara met designer David Warburton, who was incorporating a willow wattle into a design for a rose garden he was creating for her cousin Sarah Haney, Barbara convinced David and his assistant Don Cochrane to take her on as an apprentice.

"Over a period of three years I learned how to build the structures that hold willow and how to wattle. I ended up finishing the work on those garden structures."

Peonies and irises in the centre flowerbed.

David Warbuton's inspiration for the garden's design came from an old picture of an English garden with a very primitive woven willow wattle.

"The garden structure is made out of cedar posts and willow which is wattled or woven. The willow is Salix purpurea," says Barbara.

Robin and David worked on the design for the plants and I started building the structure," continues Barbara,"I work intuitively so the woven structures, and the potting shed evolved out of the shapes I could find in the forest. I put a birch bark ceiling in the shed and used Alder to create the designs at the back of the shed. Because I didn't have a crew, it took me about a month to build it."

One of the distinctive planting features in David Warburton's planting scheme is the use of Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'

It is a brilliant example of how a problem can become an asset. Creeping Jenny is a fairly aggressive plant, but when you give it the freedom to do its thing, the result can be quite amazing. 

Even if there was not a thing in bloom, this garden positively glows with color.

Golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' is a bit more behaved than the common green Lysimachia nummularia, but it is still a vigorous groundcover. The stems will root into the ground wherever they happen to touch down. Be warned: once you have this plant it would be tricky to get rid of it. Sun, part shade to full shade. It prefers average or clay soil and conditions on the moist side. Height: 5-10 cm (2-4 inches) USDA Zones: 2-9.

Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata is a plant you don't see often enough. It is both a herb and a flowering perennial. It's ferny foliage has a strong taste and a mild liquorice scent. It's flowers resemble that of Queen Anne's Lace, and when spent, the flowers are replaced with interesting seed pods. You can rejuvenate the foliage by cutting the plant back hard after it flowers. Sun or part shade. Sweet Cicely prefers sandy or clay soil that is moist (In my own garden, the soil is dryer than the plant might like and it is smaller for it). Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

A medley of good foliage plants: Ligularia (seen in detail on the right), hosta and standing tall in the corner is Solomon Seal, Polygonatum.

One of the reason's you might want to grow Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla Mollis is its round, soft textured foliage. Raindrops cling to its leaves and shine like diamonds. The plant itself has a nice low mounded shape. Sprays of chartreuse flowers appear in early summer and make a nice filler for floral arrangements (This plant is a good self-seeder, so remove the spent flowers if you don't like unwanted seedlings ). You will sometimes see Lady's Mantle on lists of plants suggested for shade, but I find it much prefers part shade rather than full shade. 
Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla Mollis will grow in a variety of soil types and likes conditions on the moist side. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

Unknown variety of Bearded Iris

Unknown variety of Bearded Iris

As well as flowers, there are herbs, rhubarb and raspberries on the garden's perimeter. 

In the corner (seen on the left), there is a froth of asparagus foliage. 

Sundrops or Evening Primrose, Oenothera tetragonaNot everyone is a fan of this plant because it spreads (I find it easiest to remove unwanted plants at the time of flowering. Grab hold of the flower stem and yank!) It does well in sun or part shade. It has happy yellow flowers in summer and nice burgundy colored foliage in fall . Height: 30-50 cm, Spread: 30-40 cm. USDA Zones: 3-9

Lamb's Ears, Stachys byzantina has velvety-soft silver leaves. Though this is a plant grown for its foliage, it does have upright spikes of magenta-pink flowers in early summer. Full sun or light shade. Average soil is fine for this plant. It prefers conditions on the dry side and is drought tolerant once established. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Salvia with Lamb's Ears and Creeping Jenny in behind it.

I think you will agree that the collaborative forces of Robin, David and Barbara have come together to create a distinctive garden that sits beautifully in among the hills of Caledon, Ontario.

More Information and Links:

Barbara Guy Long is a willow artist, designing and working with renowned  landscape architects and garden designers to create willow wattle weaving installations in gardens throughout Canada and the United Kingdom. Guy Long's unique creation, "The Living Room," on the grounds of the Ignatius Farms in Guelph Ontario is a living willow installation designed and developed in collaboration with members if Spark of Brilliance, a community based initiative for fostering healing and recovery from mental illness. Recently Barbara has worked on instillations at the Forks of the Credit Hospital in Orangeville and at the Bellhaven Hospital Garden in Scotland.

David Warburton Landscaping is a full service landscape design, installation and maintenance company located in beautiful Hockley Valley, Ontario. Among the many publications featuring David's design work are Gardening Life, Style at Home and Canadian Gardening.


  1. I like the structure of willows, it looks so natural. Great photos with lots of beautiful flowers!

  2. Beautiful pics, Jennifer. It's fun to see the same bloomers over there as here in Finland right now. Happy new week!

  3. This is such an unusual garden, I've never seen anything quite like it! It is odd to see it alone like that but how lovely it is! I do love all the willow work, it makes me want to take a willow design course too! Gorgeous planting

  4. Jennifer, I have the first coat of turquoise paint on and I am in love with it! Thank you for the fantastic suggestion! I'll post a pic soon.

    These gardens are amazing. I must pass near here on my way to my brother's in fergus.

  5. I seriously have no words at the moment...I am just speechless from the beauty of this garden Jennifer! What a treat to have viewed this incredible space!!! Nicole xoxo

  6. Wow, what an incredible space! All thehe open green surrounding it makes me swoon.

  7. The willow fence is truly a work of art! The garden is beautiful, and I like this idea of an enclosed space--it really looks like such a peaceful refuge for Robin. Thanks for your comments on my last post; I think coping with aging parents is one of the hardest things to deal with and yet we all experience it at some point. Hope your trip to Nova Scotia goes well.

  8. Comment from Barbara Guy Long via email:
    Jennifer, your shots are beautiful. You have managed to capture the soul of the garden. The first structure was woven 11 years ago and this newer structure was woven 5 years ago with the help of a wonderful crew. If anyone has questions, they can reach me at

  9. Such a beautiful retreat and such a beautiful garden, everything looks so lush and green. The willow structures are truly amazing!

  10. Stunning, even in the rain!!

  11. Jennifer, thanks for sharing this pretty garden with us! I see a lot of Creeping Jenny, I use it as well, in different spots and under the roses too. I love that it does not permit weeds to grow.
    Lovely irises and peony , but it's sad peony are down after the rain.

  12. Great post Jen. I really think that gal is talented and her work really makes that garden special and unique. I love that house too from what I could see. Beautiful property.

  13. This is really interesting! I wonder why she set the garden so far from that magnificent house. But how wonderful to be so enclosed and removed from the world. I seek that in my own garden despite my absolute lack of privacy. The creeping jenny does glow. It's such a thug here. :o) You should write a book called the Secret Gardens of Ontario. It could feature all your incredible photography of these wonderful places. :o)

  14. I love the willow fence and this garden is a special place on a pretty magnificent property. I really enjoyed the creativity of this garden. It's not something you see everyday.

  15. What a special design for the garden walls, it looks like a peaceful retreat. It's too bad the red bearded iris is unknown, I'd love to add that colour to my collection.

  16. I was thinking as I read this is a work of art and yes indeed with a wonderful willow artist....

  17. Usually I'm not a fan of willow fences but I really like theirs -- it has a very nice rural sort of elegance. I love the combination of iris and peonies. The garden has a very English air about it!

  18. Willow structures for the garden - I've never seen anything like this! Amazingly simple and beautiful! Very brave! Jennifer, thank you for your post, I am very, very impressed, I just love this!


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