Size: 6 acres
Orientation: south, east and west
Conditions: sandy soil
Growing season: April to November
Garden focus: country heritage-type plantings, especially native to Carolinian forest region and rare specimens
Strangers stop their cars and stare, and neighbours take pleasure in a glance, no matter how many times they pass by. The scene that so captivates is a collection of heritage buildings surrounded by a botanical landscape, courtesy of gardener Jody Bodnar. A sign at the driveway entrance to his family's home in Norfolk County, near Lynedoch, Ontario, welcomes visitors to Cranberry Creek Gardens—a name taken from a small watercourse that flows through the back end of the Bodnar farm.
The creation of this unique country setting began in 1990 when Jody and his wife, Ingrid, bought the 100-acre plot of land, six acres of which are now gardens, including a circa 1890 farmhouse and a large, weathered barn. The only landscaping was lawn and a few mature sugar maple and walnut trees.
Within a year or two, Jody, who has a Bachelor of Science in agriculture and a Masters in horticultural science, purchased 1,000 evergreen cuttings with plans to start a nursery. "I couldn't bring myself to sell them because I had a need for landscape material," he recalls. "But I had to get them planted, so I started these allées and pathways. I had no grand plan to begin with. I didn't realize I had created this park until it reached the maturity where you could put a label on it." A self-employed landscape gardener (tending his own property is a full-time job) and "purveyor of special events" (renting out the heritage buildings for weddings and other community events, organizing concerts) he confesses, "One of my desires has always been to create such a setting, not only for my enjoyment, but for that of others as well."
An interesting collection of plants
Those evergreen-lined allées now dissect garden plots featuring plant materials ranging from the ordinary to the very rare—such as horse gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum), a woodland plant that has what look like miniature pumpkins clustered along its stems—many native to Canada's most southerly climate bordering the north shore of Lake Erie. The driveway, which wanders past the house toward the barn, splits the property in half.
Preserving a piece of history
Jody is a man who can't bear to see the county's history forgotten. So the first thing visitors see upon entering the garden is the odd assortment of relocated vintage buildings (a collection that, as Jody says, "ranges from outhouse to temple") and pieces of farm equipment that harmonize with the gardens. Within view is an old railway switchman's shack that sits to the left of the driveway, just past a tree with a long rope swing.
Gardens spreading out behind the small shack to the east are dissected by a path that passes a 1950s hot dog-stand-turned-potting shed. Close by, strawberry plants form autumnal mats of half-red/half-green leaves beside rows of blueberry bushes, their foliage not quite as vibrantly red as a pair of burning bushes (Euonymus alatus). Behind deep green yews, rows of lettuce in shades from green to burgundy are Nelson's project.