Garden Photo of the Day

Keith’s Zone 3 Garden

Decades of creating beauty in a cold climate

various bright yellow flowers around a white picket fence

My name is Keith Irvine. I am 70 years old, and I am guessing that I started my first garden somewhere between the ages of 6 and 10. I grew up on a farm about three hours south of where we currently live. That first garden was about an 8-foot by 8-foot plot that I put a crude fence around within my parents’ chicken range to take advantage of well-amended soil. It would have contained some basic vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, radishes, and probably a few marigolds for color.

two matching container with yellow flowers and colorful foliageThe photos I am sending you today are from the little oasis we have created on the 40-acre property we purchased as a clean slate piece of bush in 1977, one year after our marriage. It has gone through a lot of evolution from the simple vegetable garden I started in 1978 that was quite a distance from the building site because there just happened to be a little clearing there.

close up of container with yellow flowers and hot-colored foliageWe are located about halfway between Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Zone 3. Many challenges are presented by that!

various bright yellow flowers around a white picket fenceThe earlier years saw the vegetable garden moved to the building site once we got enough land cleared. It went through constant expansion, and soon the growth shifted more and more into flowers and accompanying hardscapes such as pergolas, arbors, and a pagoda.

flowers with yellow petals and purple centers in a container with dark foliage plantsI have always favored annuals because I like to be able to totally work the ground and start with a clean slate each year. However, as I am aging, perennials are finding their way into the landscape as well.

garden pond next to a garden bed with various hot-colored plantsThis is a relatively large landscape with many rambling forms within it. We have a Japanese garden with a backdrop of an abandoned chicken coop from our earlier years, now adorned with sprawling Virginia creepers. There is a picket-fenced English garden with paths paved in large disks of salvaged tamarack from the property, a large goldfish pond with waterfall, several rock gardens, and various-shaped flower beds.

various bright-colored flowers in containers on top of and in front of latticeThere is a 40-foot-long by 4-foot-high lattice wall with a planter all along the top and an annual bed at the base that was built as a backdrop for our eldest daughters’ wedding in 2004.

raised vegetable beds in a fenced-in gardenI would have to say that the successes I am most proud of are the pond, the Japanese garden, and our latest creation—a completely made-over vegetable garden. It is 32 feet by 40 feet, fully fenced for deer proofing. I strongly resisted a fence for many years simply because most fences I’ve seen are so unsightly! But the deer became such a problem that it was either scrap the vegetable garden or put up a fence. I am a staunch supporter of Bobbex for keeping deer out of the flower beds, but you can’t use that on your food crops. So in the winter of 2019-2020 I spent hundreds of hours on Pinterest gathering ideas for deer fences and waist-high raised beds that aesthetically I could put beside my house. I am very proud of the result.

We have a greenhouse that has grown along with the garden and is now 12 feet by 28 feet. It is always bursting at the seams by planting time. I start all my own seedlings.

container with a few different orange and red foliage plantsI have a very large collection of coleus and succulents that I keep in the basement over winter along with boxes of canna, calla, elephant’s ear, begonia roots, etc., in the cold room.

I retired in the winter of 2014. At the same time, since my wife was still working and I was going to be making frequent road trips alone to visit my aging parents, I got my first-ever cell phone. When shopping for that phone my main concern was that it have a very high-quality camera. Samsung has been very good for me. I started entering an annual photo contest on the Dave’s Garden website and have scored several wins. Some of those photos are among those I am sending you.

I have a particular passion for container gardening with both annuals (particularly coleus) and succulents. I am constantly trying new combinations and thrive on the creativity aspect. In addition to pots of all sizes, I use many other items for containers, large and small. Some of the more unique ones are antiques from my parents’ farm.

close up of a large variety of succulents growing together in a potI have a blacksmith’s forge that was my great grandfathers; I stuff it with a different assortment of succulents every year. I also have a cast-iron maple-syrup cauldron that was my grandmother’s. The succulent collage in the photos is a close-up of one of the plantings in the forge.

vintage cart full of various flower and foliage plantsThe largest container I plant is an ox cart that I re-created with wheels from my great grandfather’s cart. 


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View Comments


  1. sandyprowse 03/07/2023

    Well that was an amazing post. I am in shock that you would be able to bring forth this beauty in the Thunder Bay/Winnipeg area. I am challenged in Toronto! The lattice fence incorporating the planter is sensational. The garden has served you well as a hobby over the years. I loved the photos. Thanks for sharing.

  2. User avater
    musabasjoosue 03/07/2023

    What a fabulous garden oasis you have created. I am particularly enamored by your creative container combinations. That simple vignette of black millet, yellow Osteospermum and purple clover is master class!

    1. nwphilagardener 03/07/2023

      Yes. "Master Class" sums it up. The use of deep red/black foliage exlusively really amps up the impact

  3. bsavage 03/07/2023

    Wow! What an absolutely gorgeous property with so many beautiful gardens and vignettes! I too am amazed that you have been able to create this in your location! Thank you for sharing, it is all very inspiring!

  4. debbieorifici 03/07/2023

    You are not just a gardener, but an artist. The maroon (black) and yellow combo is sensational.

  5. fromvirginia 03/07/2023

    Lovely and unique garden and in Zine 3 no less! Wow. Thanks for sharing.

  6. User avater
    user-7007816 03/07/2023

    Your gardens are stunning! Your color combinations are bold and beautiful. I will never complain about the limits of my zone 5 garden. Thanks for sharing.

  7. User avater
    simplesue 03/07/2023

    I'm just amazed at how tidy and organized every inch of your garden is!
    You have it all in this garden, ponds, flowers, vegetables, arbors-and I love that you recreated your grandfathers cart with the actual wheels!
    Every inch is gorgeous!

  8. User avater
    bdowen 03/07/2023

    So much color- must be such a welcome view after a long winter. Your beautiful garden flowers and hardscape are certainly a labor of love. Please share what it looks like in other seasons as well.

  9. nwphilagardener 03/07/2023

    Such robust plantings really showcases a gardener (farmer) who could conduct classes (even podcasts) on so many aspects of upgrading our gardens. From the fencing to soil growing medium and fertilization, It is obviously expertise gained over a very longterm passion. Thanks for sharing and please keep finding ways to continue sharing. [Can the rest of the GOPD week show more and more of this garden?]

  10. sheila_schultz 03/07/2023

    I am thinking 'Wow, Wow, Wow' as my jaw is dropping in awe with the riot of colors you have brought together in your gardens! Bravo!!!

  11. User avater
    cynthia2020 03/07/2023

    Keith, so glad you shared your wonderful gardening story with us. Especially love the photo of the day and the view of the new fenced veg garden. And I know what you mean about the need for Bobex!

  12. Tz_Garden 03/07/2023

    The colors and textures are just marvelous! Thank you for the inspiration :)

  13. btucker9675 03/07/2023

    I am simply stunned by the beauty of your garden and by imaging the amount of work put into it! Worth every hour. I am just starting the process of sprucing up my raised beds and yours are a perfect blueprint. The deer fencing you came up with is beautiful - proof that something utilitarian need not be an eyesore. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful gardens and containers.

  14. colleenak 03/07/2023

    I am gob-smacked! How I would love to see your garden in person. We actually stayed one night in TB on a road trip from Sault Ste. Marie to Banff before dropping down through Spokane back to Portland (fantastic RT!)
    Please do more GPODs so we can see more of your property. Do you have an aerial view or a site plan drawing?
    I retired in 2015 and turn 70 next month - and have loved being able to spend hours in my garden! Your deer fence, veggie boxes, picket-fence annual planter, containers - just amazing! I'm getting ready to replace the backyard lawn with more garden beds and you've given me some great ideas! Thanks so much for sharing with us!

    1. colleenak 03/07/2023

      I mean lattice-fence annual planter :-)

    2. Oxdriftgardener 03/07/2023

      Sorry, no aerial views or site plans. Closest thing to an aerial view is the photo of the pond which is taken from the roof of the house. I have one of those of the vegetable garden area as well however it was taken before the surrounding grass came in good and is not the quality I like to post.

  15. gardenconcierge 03/07/2023

    Dear Keith,

    Such a gorgeous garden you have created. I wish you were my next door neighbor so that I could enjoy this beauty in person. Congratulations.

  16. Oxdriftgardener 03/07/2023

    Thank you all for the very flattering comments. To those of you asking for more posts, you can rest assured there will be more if Joseph approves them. Maybe not until next fall.

  17. cheryl_c 03/07/2023

    What an eye for color you have - true artistry! And the combinations of forms and textures - I just can't stop looking at the photos. Thanks so much for taking the time and energy to share your photos. It would be great to see a larger shot of how everything fits together, but I know how hard that will be. Thanks for sharing!

  18. jos29803 03/07/2023

    The creativity, ingenuity and passion displayed in your garden is amazing! I applaud your effort and ability to do this in a cold climate. I love the ox cart and forge filled with succulents, which I am particularly love and the pond is very pleasing and comforting. GREAT JOB and IMPRESSIVE!

  19. janeeliz 03/08/2023

    Thank you for sharing your fabulous garden! Such beautiful color combinations, such lush plants, such love and work that has gone into your amazing garden!

  20. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 03/08/2023

    Thanks for sharing your garden, its history and development. A great story and inspiration.

  21. User avater
    treasuresmom 03/08/2023

    Keith, your garden is out of this world!

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