WildThings Plant Farm, owned by Nina Aprile and John Harris, began in 1996.
Today, with annual festivals and garden workshops through the season, WildThings lists up to 1,500 plant varieties at any given moment – including a choice hosta collection, ferns and native wildflowers, and perennials, shrubs, trees and grasses of all kinds. A heritage tomato – Purple Calabash, routinely referred to as the “ugliest tomato in the world” – is, for us, a direct link to that business launch in 1996.
At our home on a half-acre country lot in a crossroads community near Arthur, called Metz– we were soon to add another acre of growing space – we shifted that year from working as freelance journalists and growing our own food to growing and selling perennial garden plants, annuals and cut-flowers. We sold at farmers’ markets and plant shows, all the while developing WildThings as a stay-at-home business.
Our move, in 1999, to a 36-acre rural property near Mount Forest, changed everything. In short order, we erected two greenhouses, built a retail area, carved out a parking lot, and perhaps most importantly, added display gardens – many of them, with more being added all the time. Our plant list is substantial and it is eclectic, including both old favourites and hard-to-find new arrivals. Display gardens give all of us, customers and staff alike, a quick and easy assessment of a plant’s actual garden performance.
We are a plant nursery in the woods. Roughly 30 acres of rolling hills here is forested, primarily hardwood: black cherry, sugar maple and ash. The wildflower carpet in spring is stunning – trilliums, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild ginger, soloman’s seal, trout lily etc. The forest and bordering meadow, is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Visitors enjoy a network of walking trails, which follow age-old deer paths.
Our hosta collection – over 350 varieties on display – is a particular point of pride. We add carefully, and delete constantly: we don’t want the most; we want the best. We make our own potting soil: the main ingredient is composted leaves, massive piles of them, turned constantly to produce black gold in less than a calendar year. Our potted plants, grown in real dirt, no chemicals required, have a garden-ready root structure. We don’t water or fertilize our own gardens. Judge for yourself.
Annual events here include the Trillium Festival, on Mothers’ Day weekend; Canada Day, Eh!, an all-Canadian summertime garden party featuring music, food, craft vendors and a native plant sale; What The “H”?!, a Civic Holiday plant sale featuring all “H” plants – Hosta, Hydrangea, Heuchera, etc; and Monster Plant Sale, a plant bonanza with huge discounts, on Labour Day weekend. Check out our website: www.wild-things.ca, for details and to view our plant catalogue.
Heritage tomatoes – we believe we are among the first in this part of Ontario to grow them for sale – continue to fascinate us. These days, we list as many as 80 varieties in spring. At tomato seedling time here – mid-May through June – gardeners champion their favourites and trash-talk the choices of others. It’s a lot of fun.
Purple Calabash is a lightning rod. In Metz, we grew it for our own table, and we grow it today for sale as seedlings. Squat and deformed, and coloured black, purple and blood red, Purple Calabash won’t win any beauty contests. Yet, its spicy-sweet taste is strangely seductive. All these years later, the “ugliest tomato in the world” ties us to those first glorious gardens where WildThings began.