By Sue Tiffin
While most people might not be thinking about gardens in December, the Minden and District Horticultural Society is ready at that time to order the plants they will plant in the first week of June and which will bloom alongside the riverwalk and in the concrete planters on Bobcaygeon Road throughout the warmer months.
In the fall, a committee gets together to decide on the colour scheme that will be used, referring to Garden Ontario, the Ontario Horticultural Association resource library, to find out what the plant of the year will be, and what colours will be showcased. The committee chooses colours, and then chooses plants based on those colours, the type of plants that survive and thrive in this area and perhaps what members have seen elsewhere in town – the zinnias at Grahams’ Farm Market attracted the eye of Karen Shirley, secretary of the society and co-chair of the community gardens committee.
“A rule of thumb when you’re doing a planter is you have a thriller, which is something that sits in the middle, a filler, which goes around it and a spiller, that spills over the edge,” said Shirley. “We went with red fountain grass this year, the filler was the pink zinnias and then we just put in a little bit of yellow marigolds, to give it a little bit of lift, in the gardens. But the zinnia just overpowered everything, they were so gorgeous and we were so pleased, because sometimes they don’t catch on – they can go mildewy and look terrible but this year they looked great.”
When looking for purple or blue flowers, the committee members often go for salvia, said Shirley, as “in some instances it looks quite purple-y and in some it looks quite blue, so we cover both stones.”
Shirley said regular watering tapers off when university students employed by the township return to school in September, so that factors into decision-making too.
“We tried to find ones that are drought-resistant, so even though they don’t get watered too often in September, they will try and last,” said Shirley. “Sometimes they don’t. But this year with the water, we had tall purple salvia and the pink profusion zinnias went wild – they just looked gorgeous on the river.”
And besides that care, the committee ensures the flowers represent even greater meaning in the community.
“Well, yellow was the colour of hope, so we tried to put a little yellow in our gardens, as a sign of hope that this virus would go away,” said Shirley.
A grant from the township, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and membership fees help pay for the flowers, which Shirley sources from Pine Reflections and Country Rose.
“People have said how beautiful the gardens were looking,” she said. “Members would report back, I saw so-and-so and they said their neighbours just loved it. In fact, I had one phone call, this lady’s daughter lives on the river and wanted to know what the purple flowers were because she wanted to plant them next year in her garden.”
Additionally, Shirley plants a pollinator garden with bright colours by the Loggers’ bridge.
“It will pollinate butterflies or ants or insects or birds to keep things going,” she said. “The bees especially, but all insects pollinate so we’ve got that garden in there.”
Last week, members of the Minden and District Horticultural Society put the gardens along Minden’s riverwalk to bed for the winter season, but there is hope the gardens will be planted again, even if the society undergoes some changes after next month’s annual general meeting.
The society is facing the same strain many local groups, clubs and organizations are challenged with due to multiple reasons including an aging demographic of members, a decline in participation during the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of new members.
“The problem is, the demographic of our membership, most of them are over 65,” said Shirley. “A lot of them are over 70. It’s hard, you think at that time, I just want to stay in my own little garden.”
Though the society has tried meeting at different times in the day to better suit working members or those with families, membership rates haven’t been positively affected by alternative meeting times.
Another option for the society is that they become a garden club, which Shirley thinks might be more appealing to those who find the ‘horticultural’ aspect of the society intimidating, though she notes it’s not mandatory to know the Latin names of plants.
“Sometimes I’m asked, do you know the name of that? Not on your life. I have what I call a prayer garden. I plant a plant and hope that it grows.”
Shirley said the group will “see what happens,” and said that there is a chance people will want to remain as the horticultural society and that names will be offered to take the roles of president, vice-president, secretary and directors.
Regardless, she thinks that volunteers from the group could continue helping the riverwalk gardens thrive, continuing to put in hundreds of hours of work that would otherwise require a paid consultant determining what plants will go in and what will survive. For now, members of the society are sure to pull dead flowers or weeds as they walk by.
“Everybody does their little bit and we’re quite pleased with that,” said Shirley.
The Minden and District Horticultural Society AGM takes place on Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church at 7 Bobcaygeon Road.