David Kechnie has been tending flower gardens for more than 30 years. Since retiring 15 years ago as a teacher at Cecil Facer Youth Centre, the garden has become his “main occupation” during the spring and summer months.
When people ask what he does he replies, “I’m a gardener.” His wife, Margaret, a university professor, shares his interest.
True gardeners won’t wait until they retire to dig in. They make time, whether it is early morning, after work, or after dinner, he says.
An inviting sign at the front of the home reminds us “It all began in a garden.”
The Kechnies have a beautiful perennial garden that is located on a pie-shaped piece of property at the end of a cul-de-sac near the university, and bordered by wilderness. Nothing looks transplanted or heavily landscaped; the garden makes the most of its natural surroundings. A moss garden grows naturally under a grove of birch trees with a little help from a 50-percent solution of buttermilk twice a year.
Cattails, arrowhead, water lilies and duck weed have taken up residence in the pond. Tall yellow water irises look right at home at the water’s edge.
“The pond was a clay pocket that I dug out of the bedrock. There is no need for a liner as a clay berm on the grass side holds the water in. The pond is kept clean by the three dozen gold fish I buy each spring from Tropics North,” Kechnie says.
As well, there are two man-made pools that receive rainwater from the roof via three-inch pipes connected to the downspouts. A third pool is a large cast iron cauldron in which he grows fine rush, arrowhead, and other water plants in season.
The Kechnies specialize, however, in collecting daylilies of which they have more than 80 varieties and more than 30 varieties of hosta. They keep adding bulbs, peonies and oriental poppies to the spring garden.
The front yard is a seasonal garden of earthly delights. Grass has been replaced by six different varieties of thyme. Thyme works well because it is a low plant, needs little water, and looks and smells great. The mother-of-thyme variety sprouts a colourful drift of tiny purple flowers in the summer.
The front walkway leads to the south side of the house and a wall of clematis. It features clematis “summer snow”and other varieties, but Kechnie planted new clematis last fall.
“I am expectant about what the wall will look like in July,” he says.
One of the main features of the garden is a dry stone wall that Kechnie always wanted to build. Inspired by the dry stone walls of Scotland, he built a 55-foot wall to border the lot on the south and part of the east.
“The dry stone wall has no mortar; the stone has not been chipped or shaped by a hammer, says Kechnie. “The rock for the first 25 feet was taken in situ, dug up right under it. Neighbours bring me rock. A blasting and excavation in the neighbourhood provided some of the very large rock.”
The Kechnies have separate gardens that feature a few of their favourite things. Kechnie likes the woodland anemone.
“I like the proliferation, preservation and clean crisp white petals…lovingly dancing in a spring breeze. Marg has an exiting spring garden with many bulbs, peonies and oriental poppies that bloom in that order.”
She also features a white garden inspired by Vita Sackville-West of Sissinghurst Castle in England.
There is little weeding required in this private paradise except removing plants that have self-seeded where they are not wanted.
“We do a thorough cleanup in the fall, so in the spring we could figuratively sit on the deck and watch the garden return without lifting a finger,” says Kechnie. Often visitors will exclaim “it must be a lot of work.”
“If it were work, I wouldn’t do it,” Kechnie says, whose other passions include photography and genealogy.
The couple are members of the Sudbury Horticultural Society. Their garden has been open to the public several times as part of the summer garden tour, and it will be featured again in 2011 when the society celebrates its centennial.
“Sudbury has many beautiful gardens that unfortunately only get seen on one weekend a year…The greater glory of most gardens is behind our homes,” says Kechnie.
Special thanks to David Kechnie for supplying the photographs for this feature.