Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Visit to Grange Hollow Nursery

The original brick and log farmhouse at Grange Hollow dates from 1875.

While the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside are picturesque, it is not in the most hospitable of places for farming. Winters in Grey County, Ontario can be as long and as they are cold. 

And as well as an unforgiving climate, the farm's extensive series of low stone fences bear witness to the less than ideal nature of the land itself. Under a scant covering of soil, there is gravel and limestone with pockets of clay. 

Looking toward the house from the shade garden in the shadow of one of the barns.

A whimsical arbour in the vegetable garden.

Cleome in the Butterfly Garden

Looking toward the farm's barns.

Colorful pots filled with annuals on the front porch of the house.

"This would not have been a prosperous farm," says owner Katherine Taylor. By the time the Taylors bought the farm in 1972, there was little of the two-acre property under cultivation. There were no gardens and not even a lawn. The only sign that this was once a farm was an ageing orchard, a little bit of rhubarb, some currants and a single lilac bush.

But in this most unlikely of places, the Taylors saw potential. "We began by planting 10,000 white pine to the north and erecting rail fencing to keep our livestock from peering in the windows," says Katherine with a smile.

Mountain Fleeceflower, Persicaria (red flower), Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba (yellow flowers in the centre) and Giant Fleece Flower, Persicaria polymorpha (top right).

Mountain Fleeceflower, Persicaria and Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba 

"Using a pick-axe, shovel, mulch and a lot of sweat, we started building gardens. The first project, the vegetable garden, was the most important," Katherine says. Providing fresh and healthy home-grown vegetables for the family was a priority. 

After a number of years of hard work, the farm began to take shape. As Katherine's experience with growing plants in a difficult climate and soil increased, the number of perennial gardens on the farm expanded. Starting a few plants from seed quickly grew into starting a few thousand plants for sale at local farmer's markets. 

Asparagus on the right and kale on the left with Verbena bonariensis in the foreground.

Kale growing in the vegetable garden.

The nursery that eventually evolved is a family business. 

Daughter Sarah, who grew up playing in the dirt, is now herself an enthusiastic gardener. Brian, her partner, is the newest member of the team and helps Sarah with the farmer's markets every weekend.

Visitors to the Grange Hollow Nursery are welcome to stroll around the property and find ideas in the many display gardens. My husband and I visited on a warm, overcast day in late August. 

One of my favourite parts of the garden was the small terrace known as the "Checkerboard Garden". In it, I saw a great idea I'd like to replicate in my own garden.

Birds, insects, butterflies and other creatures often come and go in a garden unobserved. This is a bit of a shame. One of the most rewarding things about gardening is reconnecting with nature. What better way to observe the creatures that share our outdoor spaces than to place a couple of chairs in front of a planting designed specifically to attract them? 

Imagine sitting here with a cold drink on a hot day and watching the bees, the birds and the butterflies. It would be your own personal wildlife theatre!

"My partner Brian is a photographer, and often sets up on the patio and waits for the butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and hummingbird moths to come to him," says Sarah, "There are also bird feeders which attract a huge number of songbirds. It is fun to watch from indoors, especially in winter, when we have more time."

"The songbirds, in turn, attract Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks, and the odd Northern Shrike. Also popular is the cement birdbath (with a heater in winter). Birds are hilarious when bathing. Other garden regulars include rabbits, red and black squirrels, chipmunks, racoons and the occasional skunk or deer. The wild turkeys have not been brave enough to come to the feeders (though they do at my house and consume birdseed at an alarming rate)."

"During the warmer months, we have feeders out for the ruby-throated hummingbirds and Orioles, and the birdhouses are occupied by chickadees, wrens, bluebirds and tree swallow. Really, we should count the number of bird species which have turned up in the yard! It is a busy place!"

1. Thyme 2. Sedum 'Dazzleberry' 3. Yellow Moonflower, Oenothera acaulis var aurea 4. Barberry 5. Sunflower 6. Heliopsis helianthoides  7. Hydrangea paniculata 'Pink Diamond'

"The patio does get very hot in summer as it is on the south side of the house, and so we have tried a few different ground covers over the years," continues Sarah, "Some of the original plants that have done very well include the thymes ('Minus', 'Orange', and 'Magic Carpet'), and the sedums (Sedum floriferum 'Weihenstephaner Gold' and Sedum album), as well as Campanula poscharskyana and Potentilla neumanniana 'Nana'. 

"The hydrangea is a paniculata cultivar called 'Pink Diamond'. Verbena bonariensis has seeded itself everywhere (it has been planted in the gardens numerous times but really loves the patio best). This plant is a pollinator magnet."

Verbena bonariensis

Here are a few ideas to help you create a wildlife theatre in your own garden:

• Plant for continuous bloom, so there is always a source of nectar in your garden.

• Provide a source of fresh water for insects and birds. At Grange Hollow, there is a birdbath with a heater in the winter months.

• Butterflies don't like to take fight the wind, so it is also a good idea to choose a sheltered site or create some shelter, as the Taylor's have done at Grange Hollow, by planting some small trees and shrubs.

• Butterflies prefer to feed in the sun, so locate your garden accordingly.

• Don't be too tidy. Allow plants, like sunflowers, to go to seed. The seeds will provide an important food source for birds in the fall and winter.

• You need not feel you have to provide an all-you-can-eat buffet, but be willing to share your garden knowing that some plants will be nibbled by creatures that visit. 

• Swear-off using all insecticides. They are lethal to butterflies, bees and other insects.

Plants that attract Hummingbirds:

• Columbine
• Bee Balm, Monarda
• Cardinal Flower, Lobelia
• Penstemon
• Hybiscus
• Coral Bells, Heuchera
• Foxglove

Plants that attract Hummingbird Moths:

• Lilac
• Bee Balm, Monarda
• Thistle, Stachys
• Phlox
• Nicotiana
• Butterfly bush, Buddleia
• Red Valerian

Plants that Attract Butterflies:

• Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium      • PeeGee Hydrangea
• Russian Sage, Perovskia          • Goldenrod
• Bee Balm, Monarda                 • Zinnia
• Aster                                         • Sunflower
• Coneflower, Echinacea             • Verbena bonariensis
• Ironweed, Vernonia
• Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa
• Sweet Rocket
• Sweet William
• Alyssum
• Yarrow
• Sweet Woodruff

Hydrangea paniculata 'Pink Diamond'

There is more to see of the Grange Hollow Nursery in part 2.

More Information and Links:

Grange Hollow Nursery is located in picturesque Grey Bruce County just south of Owen Sound. The nursery offers an extensive collection of hardy perennials, annual flowers, herbs, heirloom tomatoes and a wide range of vegetable transplants. For hours and directions to the nursery, please click the link.


  1. That hydrangea is absolutely magnificent! I've never seen one that beautiful. I love the pot with the succulents too (hen and chicks and sedums?). The shades of blue, pink and purple in those plants is beautiful and unexpected.

    1. The pot of succulents is very pretty, isn't it? I believe that these would be indoor succulents that are spending the summer outside.

  2. Excellent posting, Jennifer. So enjoyable to take a virtual tour of this beautiful farm when our fields are under snow and ice. We had a similar experience building our gardens on clay and rock, so I appreciate Grand Hollow very much.

    1. Glad you liked the post Pam! For me it is a bit of a winter break to work edit the pictures and see all that great late summer color.

  3. What a wonderful place, Jennifer, and so much work went into making it what it is.
    Really beautiful.
    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post Lisa. Yes, I think lots of back-breaking work went into creating the gardens and nursery. If you expect people to travel miles to your nursery, you need to give them a good reason to do so. I think the Taylor's have done just that.

  4. Oh how I loved their pot of succulents the way it's overflowing and even dangling over the edge. I too feel that one of the most rewarding things about gardening is reconnecting with nature. It would be barren without them.
    I love how they have been true to their land and home by using the barrels for planters and allowing their perennials to make it homey. The relaxed feel allows visitors to feel comfortable too.

    1. The whole atmosphere was very welcoming and I do agree Diane that the Taylors managed to make the gardens blend well into their surroundings.

  5. Beautiful! They started in 1972–you have to have patience and determination to be a gardener!

    1. So true! A garden is a labor of love that takes years and years to create. It's enjoyable and rewarding work which makes up for all the hard work.

  6. Hello Jennifer, and Happy New Year Wishes.
    This looks a wonderful place, so beautiful.
    Many thanks for sharing...

    All the best Jan


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