A Garden to Remember
Over the last twenty years, Coaticook’s Martial Martineau, who may be better known for his many years as Director of the Harmonie de Coaticook, has created one of the most exquisite and impressive rock gardens I have ever seen at his lakeside property in Baldwin
Mills. Covering most of his huge lot, the garden features about 280 varieties of hostas, several dozen types of ferns, including many rare varieties, mosses, astilbes and other shadeloving plants.
Under a canopy of hardwoods, the garden resembles a beautiful, enchanted forest, accented with naturally sculpted rocks and pieces of driftwood, souvenirs from hikes taken in mountain forests all around Quebec and New England.
“I’ve tried to reproduce what I see in nature,” said the ‘fit as a fiddle’ octogenarian who likes to hike an average of about 7 or 8 kilometers a day. As we toured the garden, I learnt much from this self-taught, amateur botanist who is, not surprisingly, related to Brother Marie-Victorin, the founder of the Montreal Botanical Gardens. “I only water my plants when I transplant them, because when we water, the plant often makes roots at the surface of the soil. If you don’t water, the plant will send its roots deep into the soil,” explained Mr. Martineau.
Martial’s hostas range in size from just a few inches across, like his Pandora’s Box hosta hiding under a fern, to his mammoth-sized Jade Cascade hosta, easily five feet across and five feet tall. Every hosta had a little identification plate, provided for the many visitors who tour his garden. The beautiful plants had some unusual names like “Moonlight”, “King Tut”, “Pineapple Upside-down Cake” and “Jimmy Crack Corn”.
As much as he loves his hostas, Mr. Martineau is really keen about ferns. “This is a lovely fern that I bought from a laboratory,” he said as he pointed out a delicate, tiny fern about three inches across. “It is Asplenium trichonames – a real jewel of nature.” When we came to his Ostrich ferns, Mr. Martineau showed me how to identify these ferns which provide tasty, edible fiddleheads. “It’s not always easy to identify ferns; sometimes you have to look at the spores with a magnifying glass. Ferns are strange. Some grow right on rocks and others, like the Virginia Fern, grow in holes in special rocks.”
Martial’s passion for growing rare ferns has ‘taken him to new heights’, so to speak. “Some ferns like to grow in serpentine rock, so I gathered some at around 3,900 feet in the Chic-Choc Mountains to crush,” said the mountaineer who has climbed around 100 mountains. Mr. Martineau stressed that, although he gathers rocks sometimes as he hikes, he doesn’t “touch” mountain plants. “All along the new trail in Coaticook people have been picking rare plants; it’s deplorable! Here in Baldwin, we’re lucky. I’ve found many disappearing plants, like orchids, in the forest here.”
He’s most thrilled with his rarest fern, Phyllitis scolopendrium, with its strangely solid leaves. This fern, which grows naturally on rocks along the Niagara River, actually reproduced in his garden. “These ferns are grown in laboratories. That it reproduced naturally here means that I chose the perfect spot for it!”
Of course, a ‘forest’ rock garden also needs moss and Martial has transplanted many varieties among his hostas and ferns.” It’s so beautiful when you get close to look at it. As we grow up, sometimes we can lose that sense to stop and observe nature, that sense of admiration; children have it. But when you study nature, you see how it’s all connected. These mosses produce an acid that decomposes the rock. An orchid can’t flower without a certain kind of fungus. This lichen,” he says as he shows me some growing on a rock, “is made when algae and fungus come together. Everything has a role.”
Tons and tons of rock have gone into Martial’s garden. “I get rocks from neighbours, and I find great rocks in rivers. Like my plants, almost all my rocks have stories about where they came from.” Standing in front of what looked like a natural outcropping of huge, granite boulders, he said: “One neighbor brought this pile of rocks over with his tractor and dumped it there. He wanted to then ‘place’ them with the tractor but I said ‘No. Don’t touch them.’ If you ‘place’ them, they don’t look natural!”
Along Martial’s shoreline, his garden is also spectacular, ‘naturally’. “When I hike I observe what naturally grows beside lakes. These plants stop stuff from going into the lake.” Among those plants were irises six feet tall and clumps of elegant, tall grasses. “These grasses turn red, yellow and orange in the fall, and they’re even nice in winter when they become covered with frost.”
“Lake Lyster is a ‘head’ lake. The water is very pure because none of its rivers run through farmland and all the homes around the lake are hooked onto a sewer system. But the biggest reason why the lake is so good is the Baldwin Family. They protected the lake, especially not allowing any construction on the mountain. We could have ended up like the lake at Waterloo: that water is as green as this leaf. We owe the Baldwin Family a lot.”
Not only is Mr. Martineau’s garden, with its myriad hues of green, a wonderfully calming environment, it’s also appreciated by the animals. Although he’s not happy that the deer have nibbled some of his hostas, he is happy to give up his blueberry bush to a family of robins. “I watched a mother robin pick the blueberries one by one and feed them to her baby bird. I’d rather see that and then go and buy my blueberries at the store!”
Martial Martineau stands beside the giant ‘Jade Cascade’ Hosta at the foot of his beautiful, forested rock garden in Baldwin Mills.