Machal Gardens a growing stop on trail tour
By Kate Martelle
SPENCERVILLE - Two doors down from the Historic Spencerville Mill stands the Spencer-Fairbairn homestead. Originally built in 1855, the impressive stone home is regarded with awe and wonder by both locals and passers-through alike. A painting come to life, the home and its immaculate front garden immediately draws the eye and full attention of those who encounter it. What lies beyond the front gates of the property, now owned by Doug Hall and Gordon MacDonald, is a hidden utopia of lush green and vibrant colour; the breathtaking Machal Gardens. Two acres of living canvas and over 20 years of vision, conception and labourious toiling have created a place of beauty and tranquility that transports visitors to the gardens to a world far removed from the one that exists only metres away. The gardens are a popular stop on the1000 Islands and Rideau Canal Garden Trail.
When Hall and MacDonald purchased the estate in 1991, they began a complete renovation and restoration of the home and acreage. The yard, which was barren upon their arrival, has been meticulously planted with 350 trees and close to 2,000 plants, as well as shrubs, a pond and fountain, patios and arbours, ornaments, sculptures and benches.
The gardens are astounding. Almost inconceivable and more astounding however, is learning that all that lays before and around you has been diligently achieved by one man. Hall spends up to ten hours a day bringing his plans for Machal Gardens to fruition.
"I have been known to stay out until dark, until I reluctantly go in after being called for dinner. I do spend a great deal of time out here, and I love every minute of it. People often go on about the amount of time and work this must take, but it's not work to me; it's what I do," said Hall of his passion and dedication to the gardens, which were named Best Large Country Garden by Canadian Gardening Magazine.
Upon entering the gates of Machal Gardens, guests come upon three stone figures. When a large and cascading willow tree had to be removed from the property two years ago, Hall commissioned Spencerville sculptor Rob Turnbull to create a group of sculptures to reside in the spot, five feet across, left by the large tree. Named 'the Spirit of the Tree', the figures watch over the gardens and pay homage to their predecessor.
Raised by his grandparents and brought up in a farm family, gardening came naturally to Hall, and he has gardened consistently throughout his life. He has now passed on the passion to his own three children.
"Growing up, gardening was something that brought my family together. When my children were growing up, they'd get a little tired of me asking them to move something here or dig a hole there, but now they are all gardeners themselves, so I guess it wasn't so bad," laughed Hall.
Continuing on past the sculptures, visitors enter the English Country Garden-themed portion of Machal Gardens, which opens upon an effervescent pond with a bubbling fountain, which runs six-feet deep at its lowest depth. Water lilies, a wooden bridge, coloured lanterns and a vast collection of river rocks and stones embellish the area. The enchanting spot is a popular backdrop for wedding and special event photography.
The first public tour of the gardens was in 2005, when Hall and MacDonald agreed to open the gardens for a fundraiser benefiting the Edwardsburgh-Cardinal Library. Over 400 guests attended the event, raising $3,000 for the library.
"I was unsure about having people in the gardens at first, but that event was so much fun and people really seemed to enjoy the gardens, so that's when we decided we would start letting people through and sharing what we have here," said Hall. "It was in 2011 when we were approached about joining the 1000 Islands and Rideau Canal Garden Trail. I didn't have any idea how far reaching it would be. That first year, we had over 700 visitors here, and hundreds more each season since. It's been fantastic to see so many people enjoy the gardens."
Though there is no entry fee for the gardens, Hall and MacDonald have been able to raise numerous donations and funds for worthy causes and efforts. They encourage visitors to their gardens to make a donation to Cystic Fibrosis Canada, a cause that is particularly close their hearts.
Deeper into the gardens, visitors enter a quiet zen garden where the sun beams gently through the trees, catching and reflecting light off of thousands of small stones in the serene corner of the property.
"I thought this spot would we ideal for a zen garden. There's a feeling when you walk into this area; everything is quiet except the breeze through the trees and the birds nearby. I wanted to make this a tranquil spot for reflection. I based this garden on the time I spent in Japan," said Hall.
Hall obtained his degree in Design from the University of Manitoba and worked as an Interior Designer for External Affairs with the Government of Canada for many years, working on official residences and chanceries. It was throughout his travels that his love and appreciation for gardening was accentuated.
"On my days off, wherever I was in the world, I would spend my time touring gardens and estates in the area. I've tried to incorporate touches and influences from many destinations I've been lucky to live and work in," said Hall of the many elements and influences he has tied together to create the unique ambience of Machal Gardens.
Exiting the main gardens and returning towards the house, the flora and fauna continue around a well-kept in-ground pool. Complementing the greenery are large works of art on display, all original paintings by Hall.
"I guess I've always been an artist. I have a number of hobbies that all stem from the same creativity," said Hall of his passion for artistic expression.
Though Hall is the visionary behind the pristine landscape, Mother Nature plays her hand as well, ever-changing the gardens with the passing of days and variation of temperatures and weather.
"I always tell me people that the garden completely changes every ten days; I encourage people to come back as many times as they like over the season because there is always something new to see. We have many people that come back numerous times and have become regulars, it's a wonderful thing," said Hall.
For more information on Machal Gardens or to schedule a tour, visit http://leedsgrenville.com/en/visit/thingstodo/machalgardens.asp.