Tribute to a piece of paradise at Randolph and Kenrae

The Leaside Gardener

The garden on Kenrae.
The garden on Kenrae. Photo by Robin Dickie.

1 Kenrae Rd. is now sold, and the neighbours are worried – not for the usual reason (think monster home replacement) but because of the future of the jewel of a garden that graces the property.
Twenty years ago, Marilyn Kenny and Ian Hallett moved into the bungalow on the corner lot of Randolph and Kenrae Rd. There was only a tiny front garden and a lawn surrounded by a chain link fence. As two avid gardeners, this creative duo imagined instead a mixed perennial and shrub garden, so they began by removing every inch of grass.

Ellie, the next-door neighbour, remembers it well. “I was here when they moved in and I know exactly what it looked like; it was nothing.”

Soon trees, evergreens and shrubs were planted and year after year, more perennials and bulbs were added as Ian was busy making arbours, obelisks and creating the shade patio.

“I watched the garden take shape after many years and have quite vivid memories of Marilyn standing on the sidewalk (many times mid-March or earlier) staring thoughtfully at the open space, plotting and planning what plant to put where,” says Andrea, the neighbour from across the street.

But in 2005 at 52, Marilyn suffered a severe stroke and lost the use of her right side. Daunted but not defeated, she was determined to return to her garden because she needed it as much as the garden needed her.

“At first, I could only sit on a small tractor and pull a few weeds; I tired very easily. I began to think of creative ways to help me function in the garden. I used the old chain link posts to hold onto, and when I garden deeper into the beds, I use an old ski pole as a gardening cane.”

The garden seemed to energize Marilyn and bit by bit she regained her strength by doing more and more gardening. It wasn’t long before she could do almost any garden chore including transplanting, staking and dressing the beds with compost. So, each year the garden grew fuller, more diverse and ever more beautiful.

In 2014 the Leaside Garden Society honoured 1 Kenrae Rd. with a well-deserved garden of distinction award and in 2016 it was one of the eight gardens on The Magical Gardens of Leaside tour.
“In my view, the owners made a very challenging corner lot into an asset to be enjoyed by their Leaside neighbours. They know and love every plant, shrub and tree. It’s a plant lover’s paradise,” says Joanna Blanchard, president of the Leaside Garden Society.

According to Andrea, this garden attracts people as flowers attract bees. “I see people stop for quite a while and truly look at this garden, fascinated by the results of Marilyn and Ian’s hard work.”

Neighbourhood children are attracted too and known to enter the garden looking for the fairies that allegedly make their home among the magnolia branches.

Perhaps it’s the pixie in me but like the children, I too tip-toed into the enchanted garden. The winding path drew me in and I just couldn’t help it. Marilyn told me after, that’s why she put the paths there.
It’s easy to understand why these neighbours are as deeply connected to the garden as they are to Marilyn and Ian and this is why they are so concerned about what the future holds.

Andrea says, “Personally, I would be very upset if the new owners tore down the beautiful bungalow for a monster home, which by definition would destroy most, if not all of the garden that Marilyn and Ian have cared for so beautifully for years. The corner lot is special and quite a landmark in this part of Leaside. … to lose this treasure would be ghastly.”

Marilyn and Ian are moving on to their next big adventure as five acres of land await their magical touch. I can’t help thinking how lucky that land is to get them and, like the neighbours, wonder what will become of this piece of paradise.

Is there a garden without the gardener?

From Marilyn Kenny:

To all of our Leaside friends and neighbours, Ian and I want to say thank you for your many kind words about our garden. It means so much to us that many people found joy in watching it grow and change over the years. We are incredibly sad to leave the garden and do so with reluctance because it’s unlikely to survive. So please drop by and feel free to wander around the garden during the next few weeks to have a last look; you don’t need an invitation.

Take pictures if you want (but not the plants please) to remember what plants you like, and please, please try perennial gardening at your home. Share your plants and knowledge and plant your front yards for everyone to enjoy.

The Leaside children frequently tell me that fairies live in our magnolia tree; adults are not permitted to see them. So why not create another magical garden for the fairies to live in? The children will tell you when they’ve arrived.


About Debora Kuchme 65 Articles
After a 30-year career as a fashion designer, Debora worked at Horticultural Design for over a decade. Now with her concerns about climate change, she hopes to help local gardeners find positive solutions for a greener and healthier neighbourhood. As a board member of the Bayview Leaside BIA, she created the Bayview Pixies, a volunteer group introducing sustainable gardening practice to Bayview.