It has been said that “Friends are the flowers in the garden of life.” For the Summerland Ornamental Gardens, without friends, there would be no flowers.
While Agriculture Canada owns the land and the buildings and provides a limited amount of maintenance for these historic gardens, it is the Friends of the Gardens Society that preserves, protects and enhances them. They promote the gardens as a tourist attraction as well.
The society raises funds in order to hire two full-time gardeners and one community program director.
Volunteers work under the direction of the gardeners, to plant and weed the flower beds. Up until recently this work has been done on “Weedy Wednesdays.”
In order to accommodate more volunteers, the staff members have agreed to alter their work week to include Saturdays. This allows volunteers to work alongside them on the weekend as well as midweek.
In the spring the volunteers gather together to do a mass planting of the flowering annuals.
It is the love of gardening and of the garden itself, that brings some of the volunteers out to help.
“It’s a special place in Summerland. It is a wonderful place to see and hear birds,” said Helen Poncelet.
“The thing for me is I’ve recently downsized and I don’t have a garden anymore, so now I can still get dirt under my nails,” said Juliet Schoonderwoert.
Connie Davis’s grandfather had come over from Ireland with his bride when the gardens were being started.
“It’s a very unusual feeling to be kneeling in ground that my grandfather was in. He worked here his entire life. They lived in a house here on the farm, as it was called then, so most of my childhood was spent here,” she said.
Her husband Ray Davis’s father also worked at the Research Station.
“It is a chance to pay back because of lots and lots of memories,” he said.
Linda McIntosh has childhood memories of the gardens as well. “I use to come here as a kid for church picnics and family outings. It was always a joy to come here. They use to have quite a staff of paid gardeners. They don’t have that now, so it’s payback time,” she explained.
A retired teacher from Giant’s Head School said it all started for her when she brought her students to the gardens.
“I would bring my class here in the fall and in the spring, as part of giving back to the community. The kids worked while they were here. They lifted daffodil bulbs in the fall and planted them again in the spring. It has been a gift, a wonderful spot, an outdoor classroom for them,” said Marian Rudisill.
She still appreciates the gardens today.
“I refer to this as the hidden secret. It’s a wonderful place to come and have a quiet walk,” she said.
The two paid gardeners appreciate the help of the volunteers. “It’s fulfilling, when we have a group that comes together on one day, to see how much we can accomplish in a few hours,” said Trina Taylor.
While acknowledging that working with the volunteers helps with their workload, what Head Gardener Wilma Kruger appreciates most is being able to meet and work with so many different people from different backgrounds.
“It’s really nice working in a relaxed garden atmosphere and hearing their stories. I love it,” she said.
Community program director Eva Antonijevic has taken the initiative to use the gardens as an educational centre by offering workshops and holding garden projects for school children. She also believes that volunteering at the gardens has benefits.
“Working with the Friends gives novices a really great opportunity to learn how to garden, because they are always working with our horticulturist gardeners. It is a way of getting to know what is good for your own home garden.”
Friends of the Gardens is offering a free xeriscape landscaping presentation, by Canadian author and horticulturist Sara Williams, on Saturday, May 31 at the IOOF Hall from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
They are always happy to welcome more volunteers and to accept new members as well as donations. To find out more go to www.summerlandornamentalgardens.org.
If you know a positive story about someone in our community, contact Carla McLeod at email@example.com or contact the Summerland Review newsroom at 250-494-5406.