Mother Nature is rather inhospitable for northern gardeners: poor soil, short growing season, bitter winters and often difficult access to water.
Undaunted by these obstacles, Judy Beaumont has developed a system of trial and error over the past 23 years that defies Mother Nature and, instead, works with her.
A carpentry course taken in 1987 at the old trade school provided her with the skills to build her shop, attached guest room and greenhouse.
Starting everything from seed, Judy starts by sowing seeds in earth-filled Styrofoam containers. She places these on her mother’s old electric blanket to keep it all warm.
The seeds need heat, not light.
Her cats, Lucy and Feather, also like the heat.
A three-tiered, hand-built plant stand with attached fluorescent lighting is where the newly formed plants go next during the frigid March and April months.
A trip to the dumpster provided the 80 milk cartons needed to transplant 120 plants into the greenhouse.
She showed me the sprouted peas that are ready to be transplanted directly into the ground outside in raised beds. The seeds of carrots, radishes and spinach will go directly into the ground as well. The broccoli will grow in a hand-built cold frame.
In the greenhouse, a variety of annuals were growing all perky and eager for transplanting. Heliotrope, phlox, cosmos, dianthus, dusty millars, pansy, wave petunias and lobelias, to name a few, do well in her environment.
There is something intoxicating about the first smell of tomato leaves. I breathed in the aroma of romas, sweet million, a cherry variety and pilgrim. An assortment of basil, rosemary and thyme, zucchini and red bell peppers were all cheerfully growing as well.
The Lee Valley watering spikes work well in the greenhouse. The greenhouse soil is covered with a Lee Valley poly material that reflects light back up to the plants. They can use all the help they can get I thought to myself.
Over the decades, Judy has meticulously taken photos and kept journals of what works and does not work. Nicotianos, schizanthus, gypsophylia, brachycome (swan river daisy) and night scented stock are but a few that do well outside.
I got a sneak preview of what the outside will look like in a month or two in her photo album. I was dazzled by the riot of colours from hanging baskets and flowering borders around the house.
Outside the greenhouse, she led us to “inspiration point”, a simple bench overlooking a flowing creek from which water is pumped into a holding tank from late May until the end of October.
The trump card in Judy’s system is the humus that supplies her plants with much needed nourishment. She washes, chops, crushes, dries and grinds egg shells in a coffee grinder. A handful of egg shell meal, peat moss and kelp meal to provide the nourishment for each transplant.
“If you do not want to go through the labour, then grind up Tums,” Judy suggested.
We walked on the grounds around the house where she and the poplar roots have made their peace. Container barrels are her solutions. She has given up perennials and grows annuals in large barrels.
In the raised beds, she will sow lettuce seeds, arugula and radishes. Sweet peas adorn the south facing wall of the guest room of the shop.
All the plants will get added nourishment from the rich compost of food scraps … but “I don’t add lemon rinds,” she remarked.
The front entrance of the house is adorned with delphiniums, sedums veronica and wild irises.
The colourful wooden tulips add a simple touch from a former business life where Judy (aka Mrs. Chips) built Adirondack chairs, bird houses and delightful wooden tulips.
Inside her home we toast home-made wine to the bounty of Mother Nature and to a woman whose vision and skills manifested in a wilderness oasis.
PHOTO: LILLIAN STRAUSS