Each spring, among the first to arrive at 303283 SR 33 in Annan are the robins, then the hummingbirds, and soon the orioles, Eastern phoebes, and a variety of birds that feed on the withered berries left over from last year’s growing season. Soon to follow are the bees that feed on the pollen from early-flowering shrubs. In short order, the tender shoots in the monarch butterfly garden are covered with larvae and the earliest of three types of peonies will be in full bloom.
Emily Bi and her husband Dennis Zhang have carefully crafted exquisite gardens that beckon birds, bees, and butterflies to take shelter and feed on the rotation of plants, many of which are native to southern Ontario, among them arrowwood, a variety of dogwood, chokeberries, service berries, redbud, fringe tree, and button bush, starting in early spring and continuing throughout summer and fall.
The gardens are a source of both pride and joy for Emily and Dennis who have been welcoming visitors for many years. “One year, many years ago, when our peonies were in bloom and we were standing in our garden surrounded by our many beautiful flowers, we thought this is too good not to be shared,” said Emily. “Peonies have such a short blooming time and we felt selfish enjoying them by ourselves. First we invited members of the Grey County Garden Club and, more and more, we opened the gardens to the public.
“We are immigrants from China. English is our second language. We feel that we are not good at speaking in public. We hope to express our appreciation to the community by talking through our plants.”
Peonies are a particular source of pride for Emily and Dennis. “In rural Asia,” Emily explained, “peonies are what the rose is to English gardens. I have been asked many times: Why peonies? Peonies are such a showy flower. They bloom so early compared to other flowers, provide food for pollinators, and they are so easy to grow and to look after. You can make fresh bouquets with peonies and they make good dried flowers.
“We grow three different types – tree peonies, herbaceous peonies, and intersectional peonies ( ITOH).”
Over the years, Emily and Dennis have hosted master gardeners, artists, photographers, horticulturists, and members of provost clubs. Eight years ago they offered a formal invitation to the public to tour the garden in June when the peonies were in full bloom. On June 18, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., the gardens will be open to the public for the eighth annual Among the Peonies tour when the 300-plus varieties of peonies in Emily and Dennis’s gardens are expected to be in full bloom. The annual event will showcase the work of area artisans, a garden clinic, and, this year for the first time will include a tour of Emily’s art studio featuring her ink on rice paper, ink on silk, and acrylic paintings.
For a list of artisans, visit ginkgofootprints.com. rain date June 19.
The gardens’ resident birds, pollinators, and continuous rotation of flowers, berries, and grapes provide a steady source of inspiration for Emily’s artwork. Until recently her paintings featured primarily Canadian birds, bees, and plants in traditional ink on rice paper and silk paintings. Recently, she has branched out and has been painting using acrylics. Her work is currently being shown in three galleries – the Craig Gallery in Meaford, the Owen Sound Artist Co-op, and the Southampton Gallery.