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Adcocks Woodland Garden a great walk with plenty of history behind it (15 photos)

Slowly, the restrictions in place to visit the garden are being lifted during the COVID-19 pandemic

In 1960, Eleanor and Russell Adcock purchased 98 acres of land from a relative on St. Joseph Island. It was mainly cranberry marsh, but a heavily brushed area with no development other than a small place to pull off the road and a few trails that had been used by early settlement on that part of the island.

The Adcocks and their five boys would spend time every summer clearing brush from the marsh to allow the cranberries to grow. However, they were unable to enjoy the fruits of their labours as it seemed others got to them beforehand most times.

At the time, Grant Adcock — son of Russell and Eleanor and now sole owner of Adcocks' Woodland Gardens — was just 10 years old. He remembers the original two trails from the times of the French settlers in the late 1800s, The Henry Still and the Homesteaders Trail. Since there were no roads developed at the time of settlement these trails were used to get between places such as neighboring homes or a nearby school that operated in the early 1900s (aptly called Red or Tin School) for the homesteaders or the Still farm.

After an unsuccessful endeavor to harvest cranberries, his parents started the gardens in the 1980s. The house on the property was also constructed in the 1980s and still remains today. It's now used as a guest house for Grant's visiting family.

During the early years, Grant describes his life as contained. When he worked for Ontario Power Generation and prior to retiring he basically left the house to go to work returning to help in the gardens on his off days and vacation. Students were hired throughout the summers and his parents remained active in the gardens up until they reached their nineties.

He used his time to learn about the plants from his parents. They had a very large library of books he draws from even today. Also, over the years Grant took the time to compile a database of what plants were growing, their behaviors, needs, sewing and planting times.

After the passing of Eleanor and Russell, sole ownership went to Grant after buying out his brothers. Two of his brothers own properties in very close proximity to the gardens.

With limited funds coming mainly from donations, help with the gardens sometimes comes from the horticultural society in small pieces. In addition, the utilization of students augments some of the tasks although oftentimes it's difficult to get them on a regular basis. In a lot of cases some are only available on weekends due to other jobs or not being on the island until then.

It's a full-time love for Grant. In the fall, he makes preparations for putting the gardens to bed by bringing the necessary plants indoors, installing cedar poles and wrapping things in burlap to protect from the deer. He confesses he may have a few weeks off before the seed catalogues arrive.

In the spring it's basically reversing the process of fall. On a good day he puts in around eight hours a day in the gardens and additional time in his greenhouse watering and transplanting every morning.

Planting seed is pretty much a continuous process depending on the individual plant cycle. He does this in his personal greenhouse at his home which is also very nearby. Seed collection often comes from his own plants in garden in an effort to maintain plant lines that are different from what the general garden centres have to offer.

When asked what his favourite plant would be Grant has a hard time picking one from the hundreds of varieties he has growing.

"The tuberous begonia offers huge spectacular flowers, grows in the shade and is pretty hard to beat. I also enjoy my three different species of lilacs that bloom for a month and a half often from late May to the middle of July filling the air with their aroma."

Grant advises anyone who gardens to consider using mulch.

"There are many advantages to using mulch such as; it helps keep weeds down, it builds the soil up, it holds moisture, it makes it easier for pulling weeds out and it helps stop roots from drowning to name a few. There is a whole learning experience in it. From my experience don't be afraid to push the limits. If someone or a label says hearty to the zone you are not in, here at least, at this location, we get away with growing things that shouldn't grow here like the Magnolia. We have Hibiscus with flowers a foot across I have things from Zone 8 surviving and according to the zone map this is considered zone 4B."

The parcel of land has now grown to about 300 acres after Grant was able to acquire other nearby plots. There is an estimated 5 kilometres of trail system now in existence on the property and still more plans in the back of his mind. With the development of each new trail a very descriptive name was assigned. In addition to the two original trails you'll find; Woods Walk, Raspberry Road, Beech Wood Path, Hardwood Loop, Meadow Branch, Wanders Itch, High Road, Beaver Pond Way, Round About, Boundary Skidway and Wet Foot Trail. A trail map can be seen at the entrance to the gardens.

Approximately five years ago, Grant partnered up with a gentleman to develop geocaching on his trails and in other areas nearby. It has been a popular pastime for family members of all ages often coming from far away and many times the groups are made up of multiple generations.

The first of three times I connected with Grant this year found him deep in the throes of cleanup after the ice storm of late-December, a task he has been working at since the storm. Topped with the current COVID-19 situation the uncertainty of opening was very real. Working alone, unable to acquire student help and information slow to trickle down to him he continued his cleanup.

In any normal year, the gardens may see between 2,000 to 3,000 people from all over the world accessing it. This year however he knew it would be very difficult and different. With distancing a must and the travel bans — numbers would be down and in particular not likely to see any international travelers. The two of us sat down together to chat between ponds where he was able to answer my questions.

Just over a week ago, the government gave the go-ahead to reopen slowly. Behind schedule he has put the flags out. He has acquired the help of two students from the same household for a few hours a week. The plan at this stage is to respect physical distancing. There are no benches out until the restrictions are lifted but the outdoor facilities are available.

Adcocks' Woodland Gardens are located at 4757-5th Side Rd., St. Joseph Island. When you are visiting the property there are no unattended children, food, bikes, pets or motorized vehicles allowed. Some of the ponds are in excess of six feet deep so children should be accompanied at all times. The garden area is handicapped accessible. Admission is free but donations are very much appreciated. Gardens are best viewed mid-day.

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About the Author: Violet Aubertin

Violet Aubertin is a photograher and writer with an interest in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma's great outdoors
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