Where to start? Where to start? With the hundreds of residents of Tollendale Village, the retirement facility with semi detached homes and fabulous gardens, with life lease buildings complete with decks and flower pots? Or with former City of Barrie Gardener Renny deBoer who moved from his Colleen St home and into a unit at Tollendale Village a few years ago?

Or do I begin with the Kidds Creek watershed that carries runoff into Lake Simcoe? Provincially owned land, mostly cedar forest, accompanies Kidds Creek through acres of woods, rough woods with lots of fallen trees and crippling vines and dappled sunlight. Impossible to walk through.

Or do I begin with the marsh area next to Hurst Dr, as it bridges over Kidds Creek on its way to Minets Point and the Lakeshore Dr?

If I'm having trouble figuring out where to start, surely Renny deBoer had equal difficulty. Renny is a man of quiet generosity, of good humour, solid direction, and a gift. He's able to visualize gardens where scrub land is; he's able to see walkways and flowers, and ducks and geese in a pond where marshland soaks into shoes and cat-tails soar to eight and nine feet high.

When Renny retired officially from the City in the mid-90's, he didn't stop gardening. When he moved to Tollendale Village, he found fellow gardeners tackling the front beds of each building, nestling flowers in retaining walls, developing walkways... this is an energetic group of seniors at Tollendale Village!

He looked a bit beyond the lawns to the provincially owned property next door. And with the help of fellow residents, the woodworking shop, and his dozens of contacts in the gardening business, and his ability to make something fabulous from offcasts, Renny has created his ultimate gift to residents of Barrie.

Do yourself a favour. On a warm day, park your car on Hurst or Little near Tollendale Village and walk through the path to the south, towards Coxmill Rd. And revel in what a kind nature can achieve. Acres of cedar forest have become wood chip trails past beds of primroses, daffodils, forgetmeknots, and more. As he hauled dead trees away, cutting some up for stacks of firewood, Renny's used deadwood to build fence areas, creating interesting paths past beds and beds of beautiful flowers. The paths meander around a pond, with miniature street signs like Wendy Way (after Wendy Hicks). The pond is alive with not only geese and ducks, but, to Renny's surprise, the goldfish he added last year have multiplied by hundreds.

It's early Tuesday morning, just above freezing, but Renny (at age 82) and half a dozen other gardeners are at work, planting, raking, continuing to create this beautiful place for the public to enjoy. Elegant bridges cross little streams that have been created to filter and move runoff from the nearby buildings. Where did Renny get the bridges? Well, when the new bridges were built down at the marina, the old ones were cast aside. Woodchip paths? The city usually adds woodchips to the land waste section of the dump, but if Renny can use them, well...

And thousands and thousands of flowers, daffodils, mini daffodils, pansies, blue hyacinths, primula, more and more... where did these perennials come from? They often come with notes, tucked at the deposit area just off Hurst Dr. "Thought you could use these, we had them left over!" And of course, with a lifetime of professional gardening in his back pocket, Renny placed some calls to bulb distributors and plant sales people, and poof! the gifts arrive. And those gifts become eternal gifts, thanks to the energy of so many.

As we stood on the precipice looking down on Kidd's Creek, Renny smiled and looked at me. "Here we are, in the heart of Barrie, and yet we feel like we're in the wilds of northern Ontario. Isn't it wonderful?"

It's the morning walkway for many who find beauty, comfort, birds, wildlife at their doorstep. Weekends are full of busy families who arrive to just enjoy what's been created... woods to play hide and seek, pathways to explore, time to just sit and enjoy what's been created. And, that's exactly why this wonderful flowering mecca is now there... to be enjoyed! For Octogenarian Renny deBoer, this is just about the best retirement you could ask for.

And for the rest of us? Well, thanks, Renny!

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