Toronto Star column – published May 31, 2014
Think about this: here in Canada there is a National Ice Cream Day [the third Sunday in July] and a National Blueberry Muffin Day [July 11th]. Isn’t it time to celebrate our horticultural heritage with National Garden Days? The answer, clearly, is ‘yes’.
On April 8th of this year, a private members’ bill was passed in Ottawa that establishes National Garden Days as the three days of Father’s Day weekend, including the Friday. M.P. Malcolm Allen of Welland , Ontario, proposed the bill. As a representative from the Niagara fruit and wine belt, he is closely connected to the world of agriculture and [I might add] a thriving industry of nursery stock production. I know of one grower that is currently in their 6th generation of greenhouse production: Schenck Greenhouses has been growing geraniums [among other things] for a lonnnnng time.
“National Garden Day[s] is an opportunity for gardening enthusiasts, families and schools to share their knowledge and passion for gardening and the outdoors,” said Allan. “Canadians could enjoy their home gardens or favourite community garden, visit their local garden retailer or travel to other communities to experience gardens there.”
The idea is to sequester a weekend for the purpose of raising Canadian awareness to the benefits of both working in and viewing the great gardens that we have here. “Supported by Canada’s Garden Council, National Garden Days promote environmental stewardship, while also educating Canadians on the importance of public and private gardens and on the health and well-being benefits of gardens.” (http://malcolmallen.ndp.ca/ndp-agriculture-critic-tables-bill-to-establish-national-garden-day)
The next logical question might be, “So, what? How is a designated weekend going to spark a greater interest in gardening?”
So glad you asked! You can hear the Executive Director of the Canadian Garden Council respond breathlessly. Michel Gauthier has been working hard behind the scenes creating the perfect horticultural storm.
“I realized that we do not take the time to acknowledge the importance of gardens as they relate to our wellbeing. National Garden Days provide the perfect opportunity for all of us to celebrate the role that gardens and gardening play in our lives. We need this opportunity to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of gardens.”
Canada’s Best Garden Street
To help kick things off, the Canadian Garden Council is sponsoring a contest to find ‘Canada’s Best Garden Street’. Here is how it works: in 150 words or less explain why your street, road or avenue is Canada’s best garden street. Explain how gardens, private and/or public, contribute to the quality of life on your street and in your neighbourhood. Be sure to include pictures. A letter of endorsement from your local Member of Parliament, your Communities in Bloom committee, or the local horticultural club will not hurt your chances.
If your street is awarded this honour you will win: The ‘bragging rights’ of being named Canada’s 2014 ‘Best Garden Street’ and $1,000 worth of Mark’s Choice Lawn and Garden products from Home Hardware. Details at www.gardendays.ca.
I am pleased to be named the ‘national spokesperson’ for this new endeavour and I am delighted that my friend and fellow garden writer, Larry Hodgson, is the Quebec rep. He says, “There are extraordinary gardens in Canada, in all regions, and they really are worth discovering. By becoming a spokesperson for Garden Days, I hope to help further stimulate more people to go out and visit the beautiful gardens of Canada.” He should know something about it: he has been writing and broadcasting the gardening message for longer than I have. And that is saying something.
I have enjoyed studying the history of gardens in Canada over the years. I note that one of the largest, national endeavours to beautify our land in the early days was a program instigated by the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the 1890’s. As immigrant settlers were shuttled from east to west along the newly installed railway track, an extraordinary effort was made to create a ‘welcome mat’ of flower beds at each station along the route. A contest was launched to determine which municipality could provide the most beautiful and colourful welcome. I am not aware of the winning communities, but the idea caught on and spread from the train station into communities through a culture of public parks and private gardens that established our land as a horticultural mecca, of sorts. It was a little rustic, I am sure, but it differentiated our land from others in a unique way.
I believe that the efforts at that time to beautify Canada from coast to coast live with us today. The values that promote cleanliness, order, and the invitation of pollinators into newly developed urban centres at that time are not a mistake. We inherit our pedigree from those who came before us. City ‘fathers’ [and mothers, no doubt] had a vision of a country that engaged the hand of man with that of Mother Nature in an effort to make our communities more livable. Their success produced some of the highest quality urban spaces on earth. The promotion of gardens 130 years ago provided a wonderful foundation for a young country that should celebrate its green spaces and gardens, however you choose to define them.
Let me put it this way: had the first Canadians not taken the time to plan, plant and nurture our public green spaces, for whatever reason, we would be starting at ground zero today and the image would not be a pretty one.
Several years ago the people at VIA saw fit to cobble together all of the notable tourist attractions of a horticultural nature along the VIA route including some that are not directly on it. Today you can visit many of our national public gardens by going online to visit canadasgardenroute.ca to get all of the details.
Keep in mind that one of the 5 goals of National Garden Days is to promote our numerous garden ‘experiences’ and VIA is helping interested patrons indulge in their national garden curiosities.
It is time that we stopped for a moment to observe and absorb the many great gardens that we enjoy and reflect on their national significance. National Garden Days is a new idea that that has been sown on fertile soil. I have no doubt that the ideas and principles behind the concept will sprout and grow into national significance over time. And the sooner the better.