Last Sunday we drove out to Perth to check out three gardens: Rock Wall Gardens, Kiwi Gardens, and the Round Garden for the Blind. Each was special in its own way, and made for a very nice day trip.

Our first stop was Rock Wall Gardens just off Hwy. 7 outside of Perth. The owners, Judy and Phil Wall, have converted the ruins of an old dairy barn into a stunning garden centre. The combination of the old stone foundation, colourful drought-resistant plants, and stained glass windows in the old window wells makes this a very special place. They also have a pond surrounded by sun-loving plants, and a demonstration shade garden right beside it.

This garden centre is obviously a labour of love for the owners. Judy Wall used to work in high-tech, and left during the tech meltdown. Her dream was to open a garden centre, but their previous home in Dunrobin near the Ottawa River was not the right place to do that. So they sought out a better location, found the old dairy farm where they are now, and opened for business about 11 years ago. Phil Wall still works off the farm, but Judy is dedicated to the enterprise full-time. I asked how her career change has worked out, and her face just glowed when she said “it’s been so great” and the people she’s met “have been wonderful”.  

In addition to running the garden centre, Judy also leads workshops for stained glass window making, hypertufa container gardening, and leaf garden art. The workshop costs are very reasonable, and look like they would be great fun. I particularly want to sign up for a stained glass window workshop. Judy says that anyone can create windows as beautiful as the ones she has on display at the gardens – I hope that’s true, but I’ll have to take a workshop to find out!

Our next stop was Kiwi Gardens, just west of Perth. What an amazing place! Kiwi Gardens consists of 10 acres of mature perennial gardens, plus a nursery with 1000 varieties of perennials to choose from. The gardens are gorgeous, perfectly incorporated into the surrounding landscape of field, forest, and rock. But what makes the gardens spectacular is the display of artwork throughout the site. The Kiwi Sculpture Garden Project is an annual event that brings the work of Canadian contemporary sculptors to the garden. As you walk through the gardens, you may see a (sculptured) wolf peeking out of the grass, or a giant wood man amongst the trees, or a set of vivid blue reed-like “plants”. It reminded me of Barcelona, where art is everywhere – on the beach, in the parks, in the gardens. But there’s no mistaking that you’re still in the beautiful Ottawa Valley, with the large trees, wildlife (lots of squirrels and chipmunks), and rugged landscape.

When we finished up at Kiwi Gardens, we drove to nearby Balderson to check out the Balderson Village Cheese store. This 40,000 square foot business is on the site of the original Balderson Cheese Factory. There are several shops within the building: the main store sells ice cream, cheese, and gifts, and there are shops selling furniture, antiques, and home décor. We each enjoyed an ice cream cone – Gary’s was 3 scoops high!  

Our last stop was the Round Garden in Perth, which is a garden for the blind. It’s a small garden, but I think it’s worth a visit for several reasons:

1)      It’s designed to include fragrant plants, as well as plants with interesting shapes that a visitor can touch. I found it to be a very interactive garden, especially because all the plants are in containers that are a couple feet high.

2)      It’s a good example of how trees develop over 28 years. The garden was created in 1983, and included many small trees around the edge of the circle (as well as one tree in the middle). There’s a picture of original garden, and it looks quite bare. But now that it’s 2010, the trees have completely filled out, and are quite large. You can sit on a bench and be completely shaded by a tree and surrounded by fragrant plants – so peaceful! It would be very inspiring if you have a recently landscaped property and want to know how it will fill out over the years.

3)      It’s very accessible for people with limited mobility. While we were there, there were two people in wheelchairs. The garden is directly beside a parking lot with plenty of disabled spots. And there is a nice hard-packed, stone path that runs around the larger property, alongside a bird-filled field and a large vegetable garden. So if you were in a wheelchair or using a scooter, you could go for a longer walk outside of the Round Garden.

It would have been a great end to the day, except that it wasn’t. When we pulled into the Round Garden parking lot, Gary’s 1971 Olds Delta 88 convertible started to overheat. The temp light hadn’t come on, so Gary was puzzled as to what could be causing it. We attempted to limp it home with the assistance of some distilled water from Canadian Tire, but gave up in Carleton Place and called CAA for a tow.

Now, it’s always annoying to have these breakdowns happen, but they’re almost worth it for the experience of riding home with a tow truck driver. Tow truck drivers are always so full of great stories! One interesting thing he told us was that he picked up a man whose job is to create turtle habitats beside highways under construction. The man was creating several such sites along Hwy. 7 where the 4-lane expansion is happening. Our driver pointed out a couple locations on the way home. If you’re on Hwy. 7 (or any other recently expanded highway), look for spots with water, round rocks, piles of sand, and maybe some logs. They are probably specially-made turtle habitats! Just one of those things that you probably wouldn’t find out unless something unexpected happens in your day.

And in case you’re wondering, the convertible is fixed. It’s so great to live with a mechanic!