The Cottage: Raised Vegetable Beds

Mark Benson & Susan Benson

 Building a raised vegetable garden in Ontario cottage country.
The Raised Vegetable Garden

Stay ahead of the latest trends with all things cottage related in our new Waterfront Insight Series. We bring you analysis on the themes we’re seeing in waterfront design, architecture, interiors and lifestyle. Here, we investigate the raised garden bed. 

During this uncertain time, COVID-19 has inspired an hiatus from life as we know it and conversations have centred around just what exactly we have all been doing here in Cottage Country over the past few weeks. The latest activity seems to be; the raised garden bed.

Raised gardens are ideally suited for cottage country locations such as Muskoka, Parry Sound, Haliburton and Kawartha Lakes terrain or anywhere that nutrient rich soil is in short supply. They help lengthen our growing season by easily converting the bed into a cold frame in spring and fall. Plus, being elevated also deter weeds, disease and some wildlife.

When I called my friend Martha on Lake Rosseau to learn more about how she ordered online groceries I learned that she too was considering this gardening technique. Meanwhile, my friend Liane, former Upper Canadian Kawartha Lakes cottager and now Newfoundlander, had the same idea which she is implementing on the Rock.

When all was said and done, Martha decided to online order a stock tank from Home Hardware to use as her raised bed. Liane is opting to pull out every vessel she can find to create a most wonderful hodge podge container garden. As we had some lumber left over from another project, we elected to try building a raised bed and found lots of building options with a quick web search. Martha also sent me initial ideas for raised bed vegetable garden layout ideas, as a first great step on our gardening adventure.

We started by selecting an area with maximum sun exposure and then levelled the rocky ground with a layer of gravel. The boards and corner posts are now cut and ready to put together. Chicken wire, intended as an added wildlife deterrent, is on order from Home Hardware and will be ready for pick up. It should be noted that the local purveyors of Home Hardware earn zero revenue from on line orders. So, to support our local entrepreneurs – call in your order by phone directly to the store and arrange curb side pickup. Normally raised beds don’t require a bottom, but because this will be located about 3cm shy of bare rock, we will be lining our raised bed with plastic to hold the soil in place. We will also pierce a few holes along the bottom centre so that we allow for appropriate drainage. As for top soil, Martha plans to buy some from a local farmer friend and top it with GrowMix from Windermere Garden Centre. Much of ours will come from well composted leaves, kitchen scraps together with ashes from our wood stove and a topping of bagged soil. We signed up for the OSC Ontario Seed Corporation newsletter where we will be buying seeds direct to augment our saved seed supply.

Stay tuned for periodic updates to learn how Martha’s, Liane’s and our gardens, each grow over the course of the season. Any helpful ideas you’d like to share along the journey would be most welcome too! Make sure to follow us on Facebook!


The Cottage: The art of curating and displaying cottage objects.

By: Susan Benson and Mark Benson

Stay ahead of the curve with all things cottage related in our new Waterfront Insight Series, which brings you analysis on the themes we’re seeing in waterfront design, architecture, interiors and lifestyle. 

Here, we investigate the art of curating and presenting storied objects at the cottage including sculptures, paintings, furniture, old tea cups and driftwood. 

If there is a given at the family cottage, it is that objects are abundant. So, as we emerge from the relentless age of decluttering we focus this issue on the placement of art, finds and furniture to create a fresh, new look.

Driftwood retrieved from the woodpile. Paul Bennett Photography.

The modest act of curating and then thoughtfully mixing and placing treasures contributes to the unique feel of a timeless refuge and your bond with it.  This is no more true than at a lakeside cottage or home. Poking around the old workshop or boathouse and in the back corners of the cottage can reveal objects that have accumulated for years and, that when presented in a different way, can create an entirely new vibe.  

Well known Kawartha Lakes artist Elizabeth Barrett has spent a lifetime collecting and displaying a mix of visuals in her Sturgeon Point home and studio. “I have liked the concept of bringing nature into our home through the use of plants, shells, stones and driftwood which I have found outside. Living in a natural space and loving nature I have used these natural objects to enhance different spaces around the house.” The design objective is “placement of paintings, sculptures, artifacts of nature are placed throughout according to design, colour and a feeling to create a focus in a room.”

Lead designer Chris Van Lierop of Home by Tim & Chris, a full service design company in Fenelon Falls, has lent his expertise to many a summer home and points out that “the cottage is a special place where lifelong memories are formed in a casual setting.” We see this with Elizabeth’s thoughtful placement of a model ship created summers long ago by her father in law Flavelle Barrett.

Model ship built by Elizabeth Barrett’s father in law. Paul Bennett Photography.

As Chris Van Lierop suggests, “at the cottage we think of art and objects from a more holistic perspective than we would a city house. Art and sculpture that remind us of our place – free forms, landscapes, natural sculpting materials not meant to challenge or compete for our attention help give us visual clues to our setting.” A visit to Chris & Tim’s Colbourne Street Gallery brings home the point and even as we were shooting photographs for this article a collection of Elizabeth Barrett’s paintings was being prepared for a new home.

Spring Tulips by Elizabeth Barrett. Paul Bennett Photography.

Van Lierop advises that “art is as important as framed window views. We never want exterior views and art to compete for our vision, but to form a natural 360 degree surround.”

Elizabeth Barrett references the importance of space and placement within her lakeside home. “The high semicircular opening in the wall with direct lighting was architecturally created to enhance the viewing of special art pieces. The bird sculpture was placed there to complement the semi circular design connection with the circular pattern of the opening of a bird’s wings before taking flight.” Other sculptures can be used to change up the overall composition and look.

Sculpture by Elizabeth Barrett. Paul Bennett Photography.

Could you gather up all your old tools, tea cups, vases or fishing gear and display them in a new way whilst embracing the chips and imperfections that come with age? Elizabeth draws our attention to the repurposed antique cabinet in the kitchen. “This was a display case from Kent Florists in Lindsay. The items I’ve placed on top of it, such as the teapot, a tea cup, that was my mother’s and the painting above it were all placed together because of the varied shades of burgundy tones in each of the items. This grouping creates a colour interest and focus to that corner of the room.”

Antique corner shelf repurposed. Paul Bennett Photography.

Don’t be afraid to sell off or store pieces that you will never use. A local consignment store like GR8 Finds in Fenelon Falls or the Red Rock Antiques in Bobcaygeon is an ideal place to lose as well as find other more appealing pieces.

After you have decided on the smaller pieces and cleaned out at least a few things you don’t want, take another look. Is there some older furniture that could serve as a means to tie your renewal together? Lisa Vehrs of Recovered Treasures Upholstery in Fenelon Falls has seen her business steadily grow and puts this down to a solidifying trend away from buying everything new and instead holding a place of reverence for older, quality pieces. When it comes to giving a fresh twist to things she points out, “you can achieve this without having to replace your beloved pieces that are comfortable but dated.  The look of a sofa or chair can be updated by removing/changing skirts, modifying the style of the arms, adding or removing cushions, or any number of other customizations to achieve the desired aesthetic.” 

Vintage family wicker refinished. Paul Bennett Photography.

Once you have arranged all of the older and existing treasures the next step is to decide what new pieces will complete the feel you are looking for. A lakeside cottage is the sum of memories, generations of storytelling, found objects and vintage pieces each added over time, endlessly enriching the ambiance.  Chris Van Lierop helpfully sums up, “from views through the trees to the lake, a beautifully sculpted fireplace, floors specifically chosen for the spaces or a sculpture placed at the perfect spot to give us perspective, when we can accomplish harmony between elements such as these, we have found our place.”