GARDEN NURSERY WORTH THE DRIVE: Lost Horizons in Acton, ON.
MY RATING: ♥♥♥♥ (This highly unscientific and thoroughly opinionated rating system is based on a range from lowest score of one ♥ to a highest score of five ♥♥♥♥♥).
THE TIP-OFF: I knew I had to check out Lost Horizons because it seemed every time I went to a seminar or class at the Toronto Botanical Gardens, the name of this nursery came up again and again as the place for unusual yet hardy (for southern Ontario) plants.
WORTH THE DRIVE: Most definitely but getting there won’t be pretty if you’re from metro Toronto. Lost Horizons is located just outside of Acton, Ontario, halfway between Brampton and Guelph. Acton is technically a community in the greater Town of Halton Hills but Acton still pops up as a town on Google maps. From downtown Toronto, you’d probably need about an hour and a half to get there and most of that time will be spent crawling through urban sprawl. Once you get there, however, you’ll feel like you’ve dropped into another world.
FIRST IMPRESSION: The main entrance was so humble, I thought I’d found the service entrance. There was no paved pathway, no signals indicating the threshold of an official nursery. And although there were some long rows of tables filled with plants in pots, there were no huge signs shouting out plant categories or cheerfully broadcasting gardening advice. Instead, the nursery quietly unfolded itself to me. Potted plants were arranged on the ground in tapestries of colour and texture. One series of flowering perennials looked like a small field of wildflowers. Trees and shrubs for sale were grouped almost as if they had already found their place in a lush garden.
WHAT’S OFFERED: Lost Horizons has made a name for itself among experienced gardeners as southern Ontario’s best kept secret. Here you’ll find perennials from Acanthus to Zigadenus, ferns, ornamental grasses, and “woodies”, including shrubs and trees.
There are no gift shops, snack bars, or children’s play area. There aren’t any racks of fertilizers and expensive garden tools. What you will find is more plants than you’ve ever seen offered any where else in this region. You want chocolate scented clematis? It’s here: Clematis Jan Fopma. You’re looking for a tuberous begonia that will survive a Toronto winter? Begonia grandis is your answer. You can find all kinds of lovely native plants like Jeffersonia diphylla and Lobelia cardinalis, too. And enough hostas to satisfy the most finicky of collectors.
Of special note is that Lost Horizon plants are almost exclusively grown in containers using a special heavy mix (rather than the usual peat mix) resulting in a strong root system better able to cope with the clay soil found in southern Ontario.
My favourite discovery at Lost Horizons wasn’t a plant, though. It was the overwhelming amount of possibilities for my own garden found within the huge tumbling garden located towards the back of the nursery. The red archway and footbridge drew me in. I followed one narrow path after another, getting lost to the point of having to backtrack several times and not caring in the least. I just couldn’t believe this riot of exotic growth was thriving in decidedly un-exotic southern Ontario (mostly zones 5 and 6). There were more ideas for pairing up plants, mixing textures, colours, heights and habits than I’ve seen at most public botanical gardens. And I was really impressed that you could get inspired by a combination of plants and then just walk over and buy them.
WOULD I GO BACK? Again and again. One of the reasons this nursery is so special is that you can keep coming back to get new ideas for spring, summer and fall. For instance, with the fall gardening season looming, a regular garden centre would push the predictable pots of asters and ornamental grasses to the front and call it a day. At Lost Horizons, plants offered are shown in the gardens so that you can see how a variety of perennials, ferns, shrubs and trees complement each other from spring to fall. To get an idea of what’s possible in the fall garden, check out the photo gallery of Lost Horizons Fall Garden images.
PARTICULARS: LOST HORIZONS Perennials Nursery, 5654 HWY #7, Acton ON L7J 2L7 Phone: (519) 853-3085. Open Wednesdays to Sundays from May through October, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sometimes they close if the weather is really bad so, if in doubt, call first. Details on how to get there as well as a full list of available plants with prices, including a downloadable 200+ page catalogue, can be found at Lost Horizons.