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Merlin’s Hollow enters fortieth year bursting with colour

August 6, 2020   ·   0 Comments

When they honeymooned on a small, sparsely populated island nearly 60 years ago, David and Dierdre Tomlinson marvelled at the beauty of a nearby garden.

“I love gardens,” Deirdre recalls saying to her new husband. “And he said, ‘When we have a house of our own, I will build a great garden for you.’”

“I wish I never said that!” says David, sitting on a bench in their Centre Crescent back yard, with a laugh.

But, if you’re a garden lover, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone else who wishes he hadn’t.

This spring, their famed Merlin’s Hollow garden – really, a garden within a garden within two more gardens – was ready to welcome visitors for its 39th season of four open days from May through August.

Since they first opened their gate in 1981, the gardens – a labour of love for the couple – have welcomed more than a thousand visitors each year.

But this year has been season like no other.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple have not been able to conduct their garden tour and welcome friends new and old to such features as their alpine garden and thyme walk.

“It was very disappointing,” says Diedre, whom David describes as the people person in this coupling.

Yet, on the flipside of the coin, it has allowed the couple a private paradise to spend quarantine.

“It is a very beautiful prison, that’s what it really amounts to,” says David, 85. “It has been a great year for the garden. Diedre and I are getting older now and I can’t do the maintenance I used to, so the plants are taking over. I don’t control them any longer and they decide where they want to grow, so it has become a great garden for insects. I think we have had at least seven or eight species of butterflies and sometimes as many as five different species flying around at the same time.

“It is interesting seeing what plants can hack it. We didn’t necessarily put them there, but that is where they have decided to grow and it is running on its own steam now.”

Much of the day-to-day maintenance is carried out by Dierdre, 79.

For her, maintaining Merlin’s Hollow is not only a reflection of her love for plants and flowers, but also for the community she loves to call home.

“When we first started doing this, on certain days we had high hundreds or 1,000 people come through,” she says. “Last year on one of our open days, families came with their children, well-behaved. A little boy came up to David and said, ‘I need to use the toilet’ and he pointed him to behind the workshop and said, ‘Go on!’”

David picks up the thread: “Then, he came back out, and said, ‘I need to wash my hands.’ I said, go and lie down on the bridge over the stream, stick your hands in the water and you’ll be fine.’ His mother took pictures of him doing it.”

Despite saying that his wife is really the person who thrives on this day-to-day interaction with visitors, David admits it has been the most meaningful part of their nearly 40-years letting the public in on their private secret garden.

“It is the people,” he says. “With me, when people ask my favourite plant, my answer is the plant I am growing now and have never seen before. That has always been my highlight, but Dierdre’s highlight, I think, has always been the people.”

While their 39th season has been limited to themselves and a few handfuls of specially-invited guests, both are looking forward to celebrating the 40th anniversary of Merlin’s Hollow with the public next year.

How many more seasons they might have there, however, is the question of the day.

Nearby properties, he said, have been snapped up for redevelopment, including houses just across the street, slated for condominiums and apartments designed to be within walking distance to the nearby GO Station.

“It makes sense – five minutes to the railway station, you don’t need a car,” says David, adding they are only looking ahead to the next two or three years of gardening. “Eventually, this will be built on. It’s inevitable and I don’t mind – it has served its purpose. We’re going to have to move [at some point] because we can’t manage it. Gardens are very individualistic. If it was taken over by another group, it wouldn’t be the same garden. Dierdre spends an enormous amount of time in the garden, but I have lost interest in gardening; I have been there, done that and got the t-shirt.”

“I don’t understand that, David. You can do more than 20- or 30-year-olds,” interjects Dierdre. “I shall be very sad when we have to go.”

But, the good news is they’re not going yet. They are still looking forward to their 40th garden season next year – and, indeed, their 60th wedding anniversary.

By Brock Weir



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