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The Fenelon Falls Horticultural Society in Conversation

May 24, 2024

Fenelon Falls Horticultural Society Kids Garden Project

With Janet Scott, Carol Milroy, Judy Kennedy and Laurie Jones

Saturday May 25 is their Much-Anticipated Plant Sale

By Sophie Kaloudas

For locals who are interested in gardening, the Fenelon Falls Horticultural Society’s annual plant sale needs no introduction. Put together by passionate local gardeners, it is a great opportunity to purchase plants that are well-suited to our area at reasonable prices. It also features interesting displays by local artists and artisans. The Providence Road Band will be providing the day’s musical entertainment. The 2023 plant sale held at the Museum was extremely well attended, and the plant sale for 2024 looks to be the same.  The event is cash only, and the proceeds support a great cause—beautifying the village of Fenelon Falls with gardens.  

If you have noticed that Fenelon Falls has many beautiful plantings, you can thank the Fenelon Falls Horticultural Society, a team of volunteers who devote much of their time to creating interesting these living works of art. The club was founded in 1919, just as the Great War in the Influenza Pandemic were ending. The first president of the Horticultural Society, Mrs. H.B.C Fraser, thought it was a good idea to bring beauty back into the lives of Fenelon Falls residents. The club gained 81 members quickly and from there started gardening in and around Fenelon Falls. 

The club expanded through the 1930s and 1940s, while continuing their work of beautifying the village. It started hosting guest speakers to lecture at the monthly Horticultural Society meetings. For the next 50 years, it maintained a vibrant presence in Fenelon Falls. Events were hosted for members, such as tea parties, turkey dinners and of course the annual plant sale held to raise funds for the club. For more information on The History of the Fenelon Falls Horticultural Society, check out Janet Scott’s book or the timeline that is available online at www.backyardbuzz.ca

Currently, The Horticultural Society has many members. Some have gardened all their lives, others wanted to learn more about gardening and horticulture. However, all are united in their love for gardening and sharing this skill, to local youth, including their own children and grandchildren.

The club’s mission is twofold-to educate people about the natural world and planting, while also beautifying Fenelon Falls, and making it into a more welcoming village. “Everybody wants to take pride in their town,” and by planting and maintaining gardens throughout Fenelon Falls, the Horticultural Society gives the cataract village something to be proud of. By beautifying Fenelon, they are then inspiring others to start their own gardens and flowerbeds at home. People will often stop to admire the gardens while the Horts are working, thus sparking conversations about the joys and benefits of gardening.

In 2023, the club maintained a vast number of gardens, flowerbeds, and nature spaces. A notable example is the rain garden at Maryboro Lodge Museum. Part of the purpose of the garden is to highlight native plants and pollinators, something the club has been recently working towards. The view of the river behind serves as a perfect backdrop for plants such as bee balm, black eyed susan and asters. Another purpose of the Rain Garden was to mitigate water flow, and this was highlighted in the artwork that was featured in the Garden. A sculpture of canoe paddles, alongside a beautiful glass sculpture. 

The club recently revitalised the Rock Gardens, above the Fenelon Canal. “FENELON FALLS,” is spelled out in hedges, but the stairwell beside that runs down to the rocks and canal became unsafe. It was eventually removed, and the Horticultural Society has worked to revamp the garden and bring it back to life in a natural way. It is a wonderful time to visit it, as the tulips bloom.

The Fenelon Falls Horticultural Society cares for 31 gardens over 9 areas. Alongside the Rain Garden and the Rock Garden by the Locks, there are also the gardens at the cenotaph, which feature a Maple Leaf flowerbed and the Queens Jubilee Garden. There is the appropriately dubbed ‘Fallsview Gardens,’ overlooking the Locks with seasonal flowers. The sailboat garden adorns the canal, welcoming visitors to Fenelon Falls.

If this wasn’t enough, there are gardens throughout Garnet Graham Park and museum grounds including the Triangle Garden on the walkway. The Pump Garden, which is a beautiful place to rest after a long day. There are gardens that feature butterfly benches, flowers, plants and an overall inviting atmosphere all throughout town. It’s a lot of work to keep these gardens looking their best, but it’s also something that the Fenelon Falls Horticultural Society enjoys. 

A large part of this work is Laurie Jones, lead gardener. She has the responsibility (or pleasure) of planning, designing, and maintaining the gardens around Fenelon Falls with a devoted team of gardeners. Often, it is only weeding and deadheading, adding compost and wood chips, but the team also gets to plant at the start of each season. This requires a lot of work on Laurie’s part, including organising volunteers, creating plans and shopping for plants. But it is fun, for both Laurie, and the volunteers, as they get some creative liberty into the gardens, and they are a large part of the reason why Fenelon is so beautiful!

Recently, the Horticultural Society planted the new beds on Colborne Street. Just last week, the Downtown Sculpture Exhibition launched, and there are different sculptures in each garden bed that the Horticultural Society has planted. Additional work has been done at the Grove Theatre, with assistance from Langton Public School students. Native plants and gardening along the pathway up to the theatre area is an important part of the appeal of visiting the Grove.

But the club’s influence doesn’t just stop with gardening in town. The club offers a wide variety of programs to get children and young adults to try gardening, and educate children on where our food comes from. As a founding member of the Langton Public School Green Team, the Horticultural Society holds a special significance for me. It was the Horticultural Society members who mentored our club, and taught us all about gardens, and helped us build six raised bed gardens at the school. Now, the Horticultural Society continues this legacy, by helping classes plant the gardens in June. Throughout the summer, the Horts help the Fenelon Langton Daycare tend to the garden, and harvest the produce so it can be donated to the food bank. Alongside this, the Horticultural Society teaches the children lessons on food production, and how to take care of a garden. “It’s teamwork,” Carol says. “It fosters a sense of caring and compassion, especially when the food is donated to the food bank.” 

Alongside Langton Public School’s garden, the Horticultural society worked with the PALS class at Fenelon Falls Secondary School to plant vegetables in the greenhouse, with Indigenous plants under the newly installed story poles. This included Sweetgrass, Sage, and Tobacco. The Horticultural Society also supports youth through an annual award at High School graduation, and summer employment opportunities. “Young people are so important,” says Carol. “We need a younger generation who is willing to carry on the club in the future. This is part of the reason the club wants to engage local youth and teach them about the joys of the natural world and gardening. “Gardening takes time, but it is very accessible, while also calming and peaceful.” This is also reflected in recent programs the Horts have created at Fenelon Court, including holiday themed crafts and activities for residents. 

Another big part of the Horticultural Society is the Victory Garden, located at Maryboro Lodge Museum. It was created in 2017 as a partnership between the Fenelon Falls Horticultural Society and Maryboro Lodge Museum. Judy Kennedy explains that it was created to emulate the Victory Gardens during the First and Second World Wars.  “The wartime Victory Gardens enabled more commercially grown food to be shipped overseas to feed soldiers in battle. Residents on the home front were encouraged by the government to support the war effort by growing food in their gardens and were given seeds and gardening instructions to help alleviate food shortages, due to food rationing” says Judy. “Many cities, towns and villages created community gardens in their parks and school yards to offset food shortages, helping to foster morale, patriotism and a sense of community among its participants.” 

Judy tells me that the Victory Garden is managed and maintained by a team of Horticultural Society members and community volunteers. Every spring, Grade 7 and 8 students from Langton Public School help to turn over the soil in the garden frames. A plan is mapped out on a diagram of the garden layout to ensure crop rotation, so that the various plants are not planted in the same space two years in a row. This helps to avoid possible plant nutritional imbalance and fungal proliferation.  Small space gardening and companion planting is also practised to encourage maximum harvest and the benefits of shade and nutritional benefits that plants provide to each other through their symbiotic relationships.  Each fall, after the harvest is complete, the gardens are fortified with composted sheep manure that seeps down into the soil, ready for next year’s planting. 

In the Victory Garden, the most common vegetables are planted, such as potatoes, beans, carrots, cucumbers, beets, parsnips, radish, peas, tomatoes, cabbage, kale, salad greens, herbs and squash are regularly grown. Occasionally, the club also experiments with some vine fruits and veggies such as cantaloupe, watermelon and sweet potatoes. This year they will try to grow some peanuts as well.  It provides our community and visitors from away with a great example of small space gardening, rainwater collection for watering, and weed, insect and disease control, using natural and organic methods, without the use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides. All of the harvest is donated to the local Salvation Army Food Bank, which means the Horticulture Society is giving back to Fenelon Falls even more. The combined harvest from both the Victory Gardens is over 1000 pounds every year! 

It is no surprise that since its inception in 1919, the Horticultural Society has faced its fair share of changes through the years. Did you know that the Horticultural Society used to be a largely male club? In the past twenty years, the Horticultural Society has attracted new members, allowing it to reclaim abandoned gardens that had been overgrown. A noteworthy example is the once decrepit Fallsview gardens that have now been transformed into a place of splendour. The club has also reintroduced many native plants back into their gardens to support pollinators and bolster the ecosystem of their gardens. The club will continue to change as the years pass. It is especially important that the club will continue to gain new members, as other members retire from gardening. New members are needed to continue the club’s work, and to ensure that all gardens in town can be cared for properly. The Horticultural Society also encourages the protection of natural spaces and conservation of natural species, something that is often lost within new community planning. 

The society meets the 4th Monday of each month throughout the Spring, Summer and fall. (In the winter they take a much-deserved break!) At meetings, there are announcements about current projects and volunteer signups, and many events the Horticultural Society hosts. Every meeting, the society has a speaker who speaks about gardening or horticulture. For example, they hosted a ‘Creating a Mini Meadow’ session in September, as well as an ‘Experiments in Hugelkulture’ session in July. On other occasions, the club makes outings to different locations. During summer 2023, they went to a farm to talk about Hugelkultur and its relations to gardening, and visited the Sturgeon Point Church to learn more about different types of flowers. In 2024, they have many exciting events planned for members, including a summer picnic and a session on medicine wheel plants. Their tea in August will be part of Fenelon Falls’ 150th anniversary celebrations.

If you are interested in joining the Fenelon Falls Horticultural Society, give it a try, contact the club, or come out to a meeting. You will gain not only knowledge about gardening, but make many new friends. Happy gardening!  For more information see: backyardbuzz.ca

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