We bought this farm at Big Bay (North Keppel), in Grey County, Ontario in 1977. We thought we were the lucky owners of the most beautiful property imaginable, a place that had such potential and promise. This was before we tried to put a spade into the ground, over forty years ago.
Bill has refined a way to create gardens in this unpromising locality. He digs a hole for the plant, usually with a pickaxe and a shovel. The rocks, gravel and soil are screened over a wheel barrow. The soil is saved, amended and put back in the planting hole. The rest becomes mulch for the pebble beds. The perennials, shrubs and trees in individual holes gradually take on the look of a garden bed.
We use old-fashioned gardening techniques, many hand tools and very few power tools. We add compost and barn manure to flower and vegetable gardens. Chickens and guinea fowl harvest a lot of garden pests and we are now enduring sessions of hand picking lily beetles which arrived here several years ago.
It is our great good fortune to have the energetic support of the Green Thumbers. These volunteers come every Wednesday morning and work with us for two hours. After lunch we share produce once the harvest season arrives.
Our gardens are built on pre-historic beach levels, with a skim of topsoil over three metres or more of gravel, This helps explain the gardens we found initially - several elderly apple trees, one clump of rhubarb, a bank of old purple lilacs, two blue columbines and one red tulip.
We often have difficulties getting enough water for the gardens. From a pond in the centre of the farm, a solar pump sends water to a holding pond in the gardens. From there an electric pump is used to get water through pipes to a variety of gardens. You’ll notice our use of various mulches, all means to conserve moisture in the soil. The xeriscape area of the gardens is only watered by Mother Nature.
There is an unheated pit greenhouse in our propagation area where we store some plants over winter and where we give our seedlings a good start in the spring. Two fig trees growing in the pit greenhouse give us bountiful crops. Other tender plants overwinter in the heated greenhouse behind Bill’s workshop.
We have developed a Nature Trail from the gardens to Painter's Point with its wide views over the bay. Bill has installed a number of benches along the trail. He has also added lots of nature notes that make interesting reading along the Nature Trail.