My name is Keith Irvine. I am 70 years old, and I am guessing that I started my first garden somewhere between the ages of 6 and 10. I grew up on a farm about three hours south of where we currently live. That first garden was about an 8-foot by 8-foot plot that I put a crude fence around within my parents’ chicken range to take advantage of well-amended soil. It would have contained some basic vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, radishes, and probably a few marigolds for color.
The photos I am sending you today are from the little oasis we have created on the 40-acre property we purchased as a clean slate piece of bush in 1977, one year after our marriage. It has gone through a lot of evolution from the simple vegetable garden I started in 1978 that was quite a distance from the building site because there just happened to be a little clearing there.
We are located about halfway between Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Zone 3. Many challenges are presented by that!
The earlier years saw the vegetable garden moved to the building site once we got enough land cleared. It went through constant expansion, and soon the growth shifted more and more into flowers and accompanying hardscapes such as pergolas, arbors, and a pagoda.
I have always favored annuals because I like to be able to totally work the ground and start with a clean slate each year. However, as I am aging, perennials are finding their way into the landscape as well.
This is a relatively large landscape with many rambling forms within it. We have a Japanese garden with a backdrop of an abandoned chicken coop from our earlier years, now adorned with sprawling Virginia creepers. There is a picket-fenced English garden with paths paved in large disks of salvaged tamarack from the property, a large goldfish pond with waterfall, several rock gardens, and various-shaped flower beds.
There is a 40-foot-long by 4-foot-high lattice wall with a planter all along the top and an annual bed at the base that was built as a backdrop for our eldest daughters’ wedding in 2004.
I would have to say that the successes I am most proud of are the pond, the Japanese garden, and our latest creation—a completely made-over vegetable garden. It is 32 feet by 40 feet, fully fenced for deer proofing. I strongly resisted a fence for many years simply because most fences I’ve seen are so unsightly! But the deer became such a problem that it was either scrap the vegetable garden or put up a fence. I am a staunch supporter of Bobbex for keeping deer out of the flower beds, but you can’t use that on your food crops. So in the winter of 2019-2020 I spent hundreds of hours on Pinterest gathering ideas for deer fences and waist-high raised beds that aesthetically I could put beside my house. I am very proud of the result.
We have a greenhouse that has grown along with the garden and is now 12 feet by 28 feet. It is always bursting at the seams by planting time. I start all my own seedlings.
I have a very large collection of coleus and succulents that I keep in the basement over winter along with boxes of canna, calla, elephant’s ear, begonia roots, etc., in the cold room.
I retired in the winter of 2014. At the same time, since my wife was still working and I was going to be making frequent road trips alone to visit my aging parents, I got my first-ever cell phone. When shopping for that phone my main concern was that it have a very high-quality camera. Samsung has been very good for me. I started entering an annual photo contest on the Dave’s Garden website and have scored several wins. Some of those photos are among those I am sending you.
I have a particular passion for container gardening with both annuals (particularly coleus) and succulents. I am constantly trying new combinations and thrive on the creativity aspect. In addition to pots of all sizes, I use many other items for containers, large and small. Some of the more unique ones are antiques from my parents’ farm.
I have a blacksmith’s forge that was my great grandfathers; I stuff it with a different assortment of succulents every year. I also have a cast-iron maple-syrup cauldron that was my grandmother’s. The succulent collage in the photos is a close-up of one of the plantings in the forge.
The largest container I plant is an ox cart that I re-created with wheels from my great grandfather’s cart.
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