By Hetty Stuart
“A frost came in the night and stole my world…” penned the poet, Cecil Lewis. The countryside’s abundance has been harvested, and the gardens are empty now. And yet, somehow, the Riverbend Gardens and Nursery maintain their beauty into this next season. There is a surreal beauty coming from this nursery, where once there was big, bold, and beautiful colour everywhere.
The Riverbend Gardens is a botanical-like garden in Howick Township, one of the best known nurseries in our province. Even though it is well known for their myriad of hostas, their gardens are also full of other Zone 5 flowers and plants. Dozens of seasonal varieties snuggle together, allowing for regular selection changes for their customers.
Allan and Shirley Kock are the owners of this 50-acre property – “a very weird wedge of land at the end of the concession, with the river snaking through at the back, and fir trees rimming the property,” describes Allan. “It’s the epicentre of beauty, with the river flats bringing all sorts of wildlife to the place, from birds to deer.”
Almost half a century ago, this couple left the city of Waterloo for “this God-forsaken hole,” says Shirley, fondly looking over their shade-dappled property. “It’s been a great place to raise our four kids and now our 10 grandkids too.” They both see their property and business as their “reward in retirement”.
“There was hardly a flower on the whole property back then, maybe one peony at each corner of the house, as was custom in the day,” explains Shirley. “We decided to put some colour into the grey.” Every corner of the property has been lovingly tended and nurtured to produce the beauty that surrounds them. In 2003, having tired of retirement, this couple opened their laneway and their gardens to the public, inviting all to enjoy their award-winning gardens.
“Al is a big kid in an old man’s body,” laughs Shirley. “Every night, after supper, we go for a ride in the golf cart, around the property, checking on the gardens. It’s our way to unwind after a busy day of customers, planting, weeding, and general gardening.”
This nursery is a hosta-haven, with over 1,200 varieties of hostas. She claims, “We’ll happily plant trees and shrubs to provide them with the shade they need; protect them from frost and slugs; and even as we crawl into bed exhausted from our efforts, we dream of seeing more in our gardens.” Hostas are definitely Shirley’s passion in this nursery, and there appears to be no end in sight for her hosta addiction.
Meanwhile, Allan’s devotion is the day lily. “Solomon, in all his glory, was never arrayed in so fine a garment as the lily,” Allan quotes with great satisfaction. He dabbles at pollinating the perfect flower: in fact, he developed one specifically for his wife - a bold red and yellow ruffled affair that he aptly registered “The Shirley Koch Lily”.
Surprisingly, as she wandered by her beautiful namesake flower, Shirley reached over and plucked a lush petal and began munching. She explained, “The daylily will bloom for one day only. The taste is quite good – crunchy and satisfyingly salad-like.”
The striking colours of the daylilies – anywhere from the subtle pastels to the shocking combinations of purple and yellow – are beautiful to behold. The varieties are described as “green-throated beauties”, some with “toothy edges” and “beautiful eyes”. Their happy faces always seem to show off after a summer rain, making the decision-process incredibly hard for the customer.
There is a silence now, as the gardens, and their gardeners, prepare for a rest. The sign: CLOSED FOR THE SEASON is hung, and Allan and Shirley are taking the time from the busyness of business to enjoy autumn. Eventually, they will savour winter’s beauty from inside, reflecting on a year full of blessings, and dreaming of new varieties to order for the spring.
The owners at 43846 C Line Rd, Wroxeter feel incredibly blessed to be living in this country. Their website is http://riverbend gardens.net/ ◊