Steele: Summerland research farm/gardens celebrate centennial

The Okanagan celebration was modelled on the historic farm picnics which happened annually from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Gwen Steele

Gwen SteeleOn the weekend of July 16 and 17, I participated in the enjoyable and varied celebrations marking the centennial of the Summerland Ornamental Gardens.

It was also the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Friends of the Summerland Ornamental Gardens.

The event was modelled on the historic farm picnics which happened annually from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Hundreds of people of all ages participated in the centennial event. It was a delight to hear the music floating through the gardens from musicians on the stage set up on the great lawn.

There were tours of various parts of the gardens led by experts familiar with the gardens. I especially enjoyed the tour of some of the 135 species of mature trees with Douglas Justice, associate director of the UBC Botanical Gardens.

Many old-time Summerland residents enjoyed catching up and sharing stories of olden days at the farm.

The events were punctuated by the whistle of the historic KVR steam train as it passed by across the canyon.

The Canyon Walk at the edge of the property provides an excellent view of the canyon, train and old trestle bridge.

In the early years,the Dominion Experimental Farm researched all aspects of valley agriculture.  Most employees lived on the farm so it was a real community.

The gardens were started in 1916 as part of an ornamental research program at the farm (now the Summerland Research and Development Centre) which was established in 1914.

It was the place in the Okanagan to find out what trees, shrubs and flowers would thrive in gardens and parks. Over time the area developed into an English-style garden covering about 15 acres.

When the research station closed the ornamental horticulture program in the 1980s, the gardens languished under minimal maintenance. The Friends of the Gardens was formed to save these beautiful, historic gardens.

Over the years they have worked hard to restore the gardens.

In 1991, then garden manager Brian Stretch introduced the first public xeriscape demonstration/test garden to the Okanagan. It was the first in Canada and is still the largest.

Now the focus is to bring the gardens into the 21st century so they can be the place to go to find out what plants and techniques are appropriate for our dry climate.

Program manager Eva Antonijevic has done a remarkable job of organizing new garden projects, obtaining grants to finance them, and involving many volunteers, including school classes, to implement them.

Friends raise funds through annual plant sales, memberships, and donations from garden visitors to pay two seasonal gardeners and other garden expenses.

Today the gardens are a lovely place for a quiet picnic.

To ensure this treasured resource continues, be sure to make a donation in the collection box beside the new vegetable gardens when you visit or buy an annual membership.