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Gardening Volunteer Opportunities at Crieff Hills

A group of volunteers gathers at Crieff every second week, from April to October, to tend to the gardens and supplement the work of the maintenance team.  We would be delighted to have you join us, whether as a one-time thing or whatever your schedule will allow! 


We meet every other Wednesday at MacLean Hall between 8:45 and 9 am.   Please call the office to verify which Wednesday we are meeting and to let us adjust our work plan for another set of hands. Bring your own hat, gloves and tools (kneelers, spade, snips, weeder, bug spray and/or sunscreen).   The kitchen provides a coffee break and lunch before we head home.


Come and work and laugh with us!



Our objectives are: 

- to add to the diversity of plants on-site for the benefit of pollinators, and birds;
- to replant areas where invasive species have been removed, with an emphasis on native plants;
- and to generally enhance the guest experience with beautiful areas for meditation and enjoyment.


Recent Projects include:

The Pollinator Garden by MacLean Hall (Fall 2017, with the support of TD Friends of the Environment Foundation )
The Native Shrub area between MacLean Hall and the Conference Center filling in where invasive European Buckthorn has been removed.  (Summer and Fall 2018, thanks also to TD FEF grant )
The Vegetable Garden including our Three Sisters planting of Corn, Beans and Squash in respect of and reconciliation toward our indigenous sisters and brothers
The ongoing multiyear renovation project in the hollow south of the House of the Dove, where the Dove sisters once had an English garden.  (2017-2022?)
And keep your eyes peeled for some further changes around the Conference Center once the eavestroughs and rainbarrels are in place (Fall 2018 with the support of TD FEF grant).

These projects are especially fun as we build for Crieff’s future, while maintaining the existing beds around each of the buildings and special areas such as the “Lily” Garden.




Crieff's Volunteer Gardeners...


 We are a motley group of retired folks who enjoy being outdoors and giving God’s plants a helping hand.  We are not the hot house plant, lace handkerchief and fine china kind of gardeners.  We are the dusty muddy types who laugh a lot and respect the rightful place of a good chainsaw in a garden tool kit.  We call ourselves a “Gang” because we each have a favourite tool and gardening position (… and secretly, we’ve always wanted to be part of a gang!).  We have a secret handshake.  Our experience is diverse.  We have real agricultural types, plant identification gurus, tree people, flower folks, willing unskilled workers and medicinal plant trivia enthusiasts.  Between the bunch of us and with the help of books and the internet, we have fun playing in Crieff’s botanical and biological world.




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From the Crieff Bee Hives...


The hives at Crieff Hills are doing well this summer. Our bees have already produced 50 lbs. of honey! Jars of honey are available for sale in the dining room.


Thanks to our volunteer beekeepers Rick and Marion Robertson for all their hard work....and to our hardworking bees!


The process of making honey is fascinating! Did you know that bees fan the hive to help remove moisture and reduce the water content of the honey?


Marion Robertson explains how honey is made:

Probably, the most asked question, to beekeepers is, ‘How is honey made? ‘It is, actually, a very involved process between flower and bee. Once you understand this process, you really do appreciate what a miracle bees, honey and pollination are.

Honey is a natural product made from plant nectar by honey bees. The flavor and odor of honey is derived from the plant pigments and other materials in the nectar. Honey from each floral source is unique just as the flowers themselves. For example, sourwood honey from North Carolina has a slightly blue hue. California honey derived from morning glories has a slight green color. Of course, plants produce nectar for the sole purpose of attracting insects that become contaminated with pollen in the process of nectar collection. As insects fly from flower to flower, the pollen is transported and cross pollination occurs.

All nectar contains microscopic yeast cells. These are specialized yeast that can grow in rich sugar solutions containing 30 – 80 % sugar. These yeast cells may cause fermentation of diluted honey (green) but they are inactive in normal (ripened) honey containing less than 19% water. It is important that the bees ripen honey as quickly as possible in order to prevent this fermentation. There is commercial pasteurization that kills all yeast cells in honey when the product is brought to 160 degrees F for 1 minute. There is also the natural way, by the bees. We will be discussing this in detail.

In most nectars, the predominate sugar is sucrose. The other major component is water. The nectar is manipulated by the honey bee in many ways. The nectar undergoes 2 chemical changes induced by natural enzymes secreted by the honey bee into the nectar from glands in their bodies. There is also 1 physical change that occurs, again, by the bee.

The first chemical reaction occurs immediately out in the field with the forager bee. As the forager bee collects nectar from different flowers, she secretes an enzyme into the nectar and stores it in her honey stomach. This is of particular importance because the fresh nectar is being protected against microbial fermentation. The enzyme, glucose oxidase, converts a small amount of glucose to gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. It is this gluconic acid that creates acidity in the honey. This is reflected in the pH of honey of 3.9. Most microbes like to have neutral conditions to reproduce, pH near 7. It is this creation of gluconic acid that has kept some honeys safe for thousands of years from bacterial activity. The remarkable adaptation of the enzyme, glucose oxidase, is that it is only functional and will only drive the chemical creation of gluconic acid when nectar or honey is dilute. Once honey reaches ripened levels, the enzyme becomes inactive.

The second chemical reaction to occur, out in the field in the honey stomach of the forager bee, is the conversion of the sugar, sucrose. As discussed previously, the main sugar in nectar is sucrose. The enzyme, invertase, is secreted into the nectar and powers the chemical reaction of reducing sucrose to its simple components. It reduces sucrose to fructose and glucose. Fructose is the sweetest of all sugars. This sugar conversion causes the osmotic pressure of honey to double.

Time to remember some biology. Osmosis in living things is the flow of materials across a cell membrane. High osmotic pressures reduce water availability. Therefore, the higher the osmotic pressure the more inhospitable the environment for bacterial or yeast growth. In honey, (high osmotic pressure), fluids from the yeast and bacterial cells are forced to pass through their cell membranes and into the honey. It is a fact that microbes cannot grow without sufficient water.

Now we are on the last conversion of nectar to honey. The physical conversion. When forager bees return to the hive, they surrender their nectar to the waiting house bees. These house bees physically remove water from honey by taking a small drop of nectar and sucking it up into their mouths and then back out to the end of their tongues. This eventually reduces the water content. At the same time, groups of house bees, over the course of several hours, fan the hive. They move large volumes of air through the hive and remove moisture, much like a giant fan.

The creation of honey is truly a miracle. So next time, when you want to enjoy some honey, ponder over nature’s truly remarkable story of honey.



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Summer Feasts

Crieff's Chefs are creating very colourful combinations for our guests this summer. Check out these Mediterranean Buddha Bowls and a vegan version of Eggs Benedict made with tomato and avocado!

The group here this week are enjoying the great weather and delicious meals garnished with some fresh herbs and vegetables from the Crieff gardens.

vegan buddha bowls with chick peas,onion, tomato, olives and cucumbers silver pan with english muffins topped with tomato, avocado and onion slices


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Summer Blooms!

Thanks to Crieff's dedicated volunteer gardeners the raised kitchen beds by Maclean Hall are looking great!  Guests dining at Crieff Hills will be enjoying some very fresh salads and vegetables before too long.




The next time you are here, be sure to take a look at the new sloped garden at the House of Dove created by the volunteer gardeners and check out the variety of plants growing there.



Dwarf Bee Balm ('Cranberry Lace' Monarda didyma) is a colourful addition to the new wooden planters outside Maclean Hall.  A favourite plant of hummingbirds and butterflies too!


The maintenance crew at Crieff are making sure the plants get the water they need and hoping for some rain soon!

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Grace-Filled Gardens

Summer is on its way and the air is filled with the fragrance of flowers and the wings of butterflies!


Guests this week are enjoying quiet retreats at the Pines Suites and in the Hermitage, sitting at the picnic tables for writing sessions and walking the sunny paths through the field.

Thanks to Crieff volunteer, Margaret Boyd, for these stunning photos of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails gracing our gardens.



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Music, Worship and Reconciliation

There was "music in the air" last Friday at Crieff Hills at the Music, Worship and Reconciliation Conference. With gratitude to everyone who joined us for a very special day.




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On the Bluebird Trail!

What a beautiful day for a walk on the Bluebird Trail at Crieff Hills! Tree swallows were incubating eggs in many of the nest boxes, the bluebirds were watching their box from a nearby tree and the bobolinks were putting on quite a show!
Thanks very much to Crieff volunteer Marion Robertson for a wonderful morning with the birds and to everyone who joined us today!

Photos to come!





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Bird Banding Pictures from May 12

Big thanks to bird bander, Brian Pomfret and family, and to everyone who joined us on Saturday May 12 despite the cool start to the day!

Thanks also to Marion Robertson for guiding guests on the Bluebird trail.
We were very excited to see a Bobolink, a threatened species, as the fields at Crieff have been recently converted to hay to provide habitat for species such as this grassland bird.


Birds banded today at Crieff Hills:
4 House Wrens
3 Black Capped Chickadees
2 American Goldfinches
1 Grey Catbird
1 Field Sparrow

Birds seen and/or heard at Crieff Hills this morning:
Eastern Bluebird
Cedar Waxwing
Indigo Bunting
Rufous-Sided Towhee
Brown Thrasher
Yellow Shafted Flicker
Brown Headed Cowbird
Wood Duck
Turkey Vulture
Savannah Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
American Robin
American Crow
Mourning Dove
Turkey Vulture
Blue Jay
Canada Goose

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Thank you and Happy Retirement!

Crieff Hills staff, volunteers, friends and family gathered to thank Lawrence and Marylu Pentelow for their outstanding dedication to Crieff Hills Community over the past 15 years and wish them the very best for their retirement.  Lawrence was managing director and Marylu coordinated Crieff Hills programs.  They will be deeply missed by so many for their leadership at Crieff Hills and wonderful hospitality!




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Come Walk the Bluebird Trail!

Bluebird Trail Walks at Crieff Hills with Marion Robertson are taking place at 9:30 am every Tuesday in May (weather permitting). 
Meet in the Conference Hall parking lot.


Please call ahead to let us know you are coming! 519 824-7898.  Come and watch the Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows as they build their nests and raise their young!


There is no charge for these guided walks but donations are appreciated.




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Fiona van Wissen
August 8, 2018
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Marylu Pentelow
April 12, 2018
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Guest Blog
June 23, 2016
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