If gardens are a form of autobiography, John and Ann Vanden Hoven write large and well.
For the past 48 years the Sarnia retirees have been transforming their 4.5 acres into a tranquil piece of nature that backs onto the Howard Watson Nature Trail.
“You wouldn’t know you’re in the city, would you?” asks John, standing in an orchard of apple and pear trees.
The clearing is strewn with wild strawberry and butterfly weed and screened all around by mature trees, including an acre of evergreens and oaks up to 13 feet in circumference.
The Vanden Hovens gave The Journal a sneak peak of their place in preparation for the Summer Solstice Garden Tour, of which theirs is one of eight stops.
The 1902 farmhouse and barn sit behind a white picket fence, remnants of what was once a 100-acre farm.
There’s a vegetable garden and eight different flowerbeds filled with annuals and perennials. One is devoted largely to rhododendrons and azaleas that grow in a foot of composted oak and pine needles to make the soil slightly acidic.
John has watched the demise of monarch butterflies with dismay. He remembers seeing hundreds in a single day, but last year counted just 37 all season.
To help, the Vanden Hovens encourage milkweed and other butterfly species in the wilder spots.
“The garden has grown as we went along,” said John, who came from a gardening family in his native Holland.
The garden tour is a fundraiser for Sarnia’s Communities in Bloom and the stops aren’t disclosed until you purchase a ticket.
But on one south-end street it’s no surprise Teresa Cotton’s place is also a destination. Her cottage-style garden spills from the backyard to the front and onto the boulevard.
A riot of wildflowers and native plants like wild geranium, trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit are mixed with hostas and other cultivars.
When grass wouldn’t grow beneath a shady maple tree she trucked in compost and wood chips and got planting.
“I love the wild stuff,” she said. “I’m happy with the way it came out.”
Her lovingly tended backyard contains native trees like redbud, tulip tree and dogwood, and is popular with nesting birds.
So, how much time does she spend in the garden?
“The question is, how much time do I spend in the house,” she said.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Summer Solstice Garden Tour. Eight gardens, including shaded, sunny, water features, naturalized and hobbyist
WHEN: Sunday, June 21, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
WHERE: Locations revealed with ticket purchase
HOW: Tickets, $12, available at DeGroot’s Nurseries Sipkens Nurseries LaPier’s Flowers & Gifts Jenny’s Floral Studio KAY’S Petals & Plants Praill’s Greenhouse Flowers by Bill Bush McKellar’s Flowers Ltd.
For more, call Beverley at 519-336-3232, ext. 102