Peggy Bell has toured many beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake gardens in the last 15 years, and knows there are many more to be found.
The Shaw Guild volunteer, an experienced gardener herself and an admirer of the work of others, investigates gardens with an eye to including them on the annual Shaw Garden Tour, which is celebrating 15 years. It has been her task from the beginning to not only find tour-worthy gardens, but to cajole the owners into opening their properties to the public for a day.
“Fifteen years ago, I don’t think anyone thought about this as long-term fundraising,” says Bell. “It’s turned into the largest fundraiser for the Shaw Guild.”
“It’s very generous of people to allow their gardens to be part of the tour,” she says. “It’s a huge commitment on their part. One was even offered to me — I didn’t have to go looking for it. That doesn’t happen often.”
“Peggy possesses a combination of intuition, and experience in gardening,” says Cheryl Morris, who helps promote the tour.
This year, Bell’s not only excited about the selection of gardens, but of the list she has for the 2021 tour — four of the eight are already chosen, she says.
Bell says the front garden of a home is a good indicator of what the back garden will be like. She looks at the “bones” of a space, which could be the shape of the beds, placement of trees, shrubs, statuary, structures, and of course, plant material, she said, explaining her approach to gardens.
“Unusual plants are always a crowd-pleaser, as well as the arrangement of “outdoor rooms “ such as kitchen, dining area, seating area, pond and/or pool, waterfall, and other striking visual elements.”
There are eight gardens on this year’s tour, and Bell also has a few on a list for next year, which is a good feeling as volunteers prepare for the June 13 event.
She can rhyme off the attributes of each unique garden, giving the impression each one is her favourite — they all have something special to offer.
One home on this year’s tour has a massive vegetable garden, something you don’t see often on a garden tour, Bell says.
Another, on the Niagara River Parkway, is about two and a half acres, is owned by the retired director of the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture, and has “thousands of plants. It’s unbelievable.” It will be a surprise to visitors — it can’t be seen from the street, she says.
Another large property stands out with its repetition — it has mass plantings that are a very effective way to bring a garden together, she says.
Six of the eight gardens are in a cluster in the Old Town, within walking distance for those who choose to walk, with another on the Niagara River Parkway, and one in Queenston, both within a 10-minute drive from town. Both are spectacular, and well worth the drive, she says.
In addition to considering the proximity of the homes to each other, and the availability of parking, the “traffic flow” of the gardens is important, Bell says, for the visitors who will walk through them.
And although they will be viewed in June, she visits them at various times of the year, to see if there is all-season interest.
Although some gardens are created and maintained by the property owners, and others by professionals, all reflect the taste of the owners, Bell says, and each have elements that visitors on the tours could replicate in their own gardens.
This year, in addition to the garden tour, the Guild is organizing an event for June 12, the Friday evening before the tour. Sense, Savour and Stroll will begin in the garden behind the Royal George Theatre, says Morris, and will include two “secret” gardens in the Old Town. Limited to just 100 guests, the tickets have been going quickly for the “elegant garden party,” which includes gourmet foods, beverages, live music and a silent auction of four works of original art.
The Shaw Guild Garden Tour is the major fundraising activity for the Shaw Guild, a large group of volunteers who support and promote the Shaw Festival.
Funds from the garden tour have supported the Shaw production of A Christmas Carol for the past three years, and will again this year, says Morris.
Early bird tickets are available for both events until March 15. See details at www.shawguild.ca/