On June 25 and 26, 12 extraordinary gardeners show off their spectacular country gardens to raise money for the Ottawa Botanical Garden Society, which is lobbying hard to bring a botanical garden to the nation’s capital. Here’s a sneak peek at one of the gardens on the “Over the Hedge” tour — a country garden in Almonte owned by Else Geuer. Skip to the end for ticket info and other details.
The story about Else Geuer’s incredible garden is written by her daughter, Wendy O’Keefe, an author and designer who lives in Almonte. The complete version of this article can be found in Homes and Gardens Magazine for Eastern Ontario.
It must have been difficult to keep a straight face. The gardener came to five-year-old Else’s father, saying, “I’m afraid I must quit my job. Your daughter is re-planting the weeds!” Else’s father asked whether his daughter might “work” alongside him. And so began Else’s early education in flower gardening. In time, she learned so much that she became that kind gardener’s little “apprentice.” Eight-seven years later, her love of gardening is as strong as ever.
After enduring the war years in Holland, Else joined her fiancé, Juan, at his family’s homestead in the mountains of Bolivia, where they married in 1946. In 1953, the couple decided to move to Canada. They settled in the lovely Ottawa Valley town of Almonte, in a house that bordered on Gemmill Park, where they raised seven children. As a new Canadian, Else familiarized herself with the native plants and animals of her adopted land.
From humble beginnings — some border plantings and rock gardens — Else’s garden has become a multi-level riot of gorgeousness. The house is built into the side of a hill, and the best way to arrive is from the street at the bottom. Here is the rose bed, accented by French lilacs, and hops growing over a quaint fence. Three large planters hold canna lilies surrounded by an array of smaller plants in supporting roles, offering horticultural drama. As you turn toward the house, you spot meandering paths leading up. But don’t hurry up, because the variety of plantings — spectacular ligularia, bluebells, vibrant Maltese cross — need to be discovered. A rock garden features plantings such as sedum, coral bells, and salvia; and pots of nasturtiums, tiny begonias, and coleus are everywhere.
Else’s “white” bed, as you round the corner to the top of the garden, holds hostas, white bleeding hearts, astrantia major, and corydalis.
Depending on the day, many hues of poppies, daisies and feverfew, peonies, heritage roses, scented geraniums and nicotenia, morning glories, purple spiderwort, wild mustard and thistle, centaura and phlox greet every shift of your eyes. And the list goes on: allium, sweet Williams, cosmos, fuchsia, helianthus, yellow loosestrife, forget-me-nots, zinnias, sunflowers, snapdragons and delicate astilbe live happily alongside shrubs such as mock orange, spirea and forsythia and clematis vines.
If you choose to arrive from the top, you will be greeted by a delightful display of old lilacs as you walk toward the wrap-around verandah, which holds hanging plants, large tropical plants and herbs in pots. As you turn the second corner, you see a small, perfect pond, fed by a trickling waterfall. Hmmm. Maybe that’s the best way to approach the garden! It is perfect either way.
Else knows her stuff. She knows which plants will thrive here, and which colours and shapes complement each other. She knows where to plant the friends who like shade (such as those under the ancient locust and oak) and who prefers the full sun. It is a different garden every day, and at every time of day.
GARDEN TOUR DETAILS:
WHAT: The Ottawa Botanical Garden Society’s summer “Over the Hedge” country garden tour includes 12 exquisite and fabulous gardens west of Ottawa.
WHERE: Around the Kanata, Dunrobin, Woodlawn, Arnprior, Burnstown, Pakenham, and Almonte areas.
WHEN: Sat. June 25 and Sun. June 26, 2011 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. each day (rain or shine).
GAME PLAN: Take a self-guided tour of the gardens getting there on your own. A second option (the “twist”) involves visiting the gardens as part of a fun “car rally” with no time or speed considerations, using your car or a friend’s car. If you do not have partners, the organizers will make sure you are part of a team. Instructions will be provided.
PRICE: $ 35 per person.
POINTS OF SALE: Through the website www.ottawagarden.ca or at the following local retailers:
- Mood Moss Florist,186 Beechwood Ave., www.moodmossflowers.com
- Tivoli Florist, 282 Richmond Rd., www.tivoliflorist.com
- Thyme and Again, 1255 Wellington St. W., www.thymeandagain.ca
- Bloomfields Flowers, 101 Fourth Ave., www.bloomfieldsflowers.com
- Scrim’s Florist, 262 Elgin St., www.scrimsflorist.com
- Tivoli Florist, 18 Clarence St., www.tivoliflorist.com