“The gardens are going to look magnificent. To be more specific, the burning bushes are in their full glory and colour. The hydrangeas are going to be looking beautiful,” says Jane Catcher, convenor of the Shaw Guild’s Garden Tour Committee, when she is asked about hosting the fall version of the garden tour.
“People say to me, ‘what is a garden going to look like in the fall?,’ because people’s minds are saying, ‘aren’t all the flowers spent?’” Catcher believes a fall garden still has much to offer the eye, and even the nose. “One of the gardens, for instance, has a beautiful feature plant called a Sweet William clematis, which is a fall clematis. And when your eye falls upon it, it is jaw-dropping, not only to the eye but to the nose. The fragrance that comes out of it is significant, and it is a must-see.”
The Shaw Guild’s 15th annual Garden Tour will take place this Saturday, Sept. 11, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will feature eight gardens in total. Five are within Old Town, two are located on the Niagara River Parkway and one is in Queenston. Tickets are $25 and are being sold online through the Eventbrite platform at www.shawguild.ca.
As the convenor of this event, one of Catcher’s primary roles was to select the gardens for the tour. She explains the guild has a bank of gardens they choose from each year. They then approach the homeowners to see if they are interested in participating. “You look for gardens that not only have a ‘wow’ factor, but there is historical significance to the home itself and then that translates into the garden. Some of the homes are historical from years past, back to the 1800s. That historical significance obviously translates through to the garden,” she says. “Some of the gardens are designed by key landscape architects. There are some features within these gardens which are really
eye-popping. One of the gardens is right on the waterfront. It has three different terraces. As you approach each of the terraces, you are just wowed with all of the details in the design.”
She continues, “There are other homes where the gardens are reflective to Old Town Niagara. It’s not all about pretty, perfectly-placed flowers, but about well-thought-out bushes, perennials and annuals too. Gardens that are really eye-catching not only from inside the home but also from outside on the street.”
“This year it will be our 15th annual garden tour and of course it was . . . ” She hesitates, “I just left no stone unturned, is what I want to say, toward being able to host this event this year and not have to cancel it for yet another year,” she says with renewed confidence. In her quest to move forward with the tour, she approached the executive of the guild with her committee’s proposal for a fall version of the garden tour, as opposed to the traditional late spring event. She said that the support for the proposal was unanimous. With this idea, she then approached the homeowners. There again, the support was unanimous. She says that the homeowners felt more comfortable with a fall garden tour, especially with the uncertainty of COVID restrictions and lockdowns.
The response from the public has also been enthusiastic. “Sales are going fantastic,” Catcher raves. “We have already sold over 650 tickets. My goal was to have 750 tickets sold. We know that we are going to comfortably meet that goal because we know we sell somewhere in the range of 100 tickets on the day of the event. We also find that our sales bump in those three days before the event. People wait to see what they’re doing and they keep their eye on the weather. So far, our long-range forecast is saying that it would be an absolutely beautiful day.”
This year the Shaw Guild is making their largest fundraising event even more spectacular. They have added special features to each garden to enhance the experience. In each garden, there will be a certified master gardener on hand to answer questions about that particular garden. As Catcher explains, “One of the things we do in advance is that we have a meeting at every garden and we identify plants the master gardener thinks are of interest. We have beautiful tags made up for all of these plants and then should questions arise, the master gardener can answer any question about the garden that people come up with.”
Also this year, every garden, is going to have a “special activity,” says Catcher. “It could be anything, like how to use edible flowers, it could be how to make a fall planter, and we will have two musical performers,” she adds. These special activities are not added to distract from the gardens, but to enhance the overall experience. “It’s just to add a little bit of extra ‘piece de resistance’ to the tour.”
The Shaw Guild is a volunteer organization with approximately 300 volunteers who work to support the Shaw Festival and their productions throughout the year. On the day of the Garden Tour, between 110 to 120 people will be working hard to make the total experience successful for their guests. Catcher explains that this includes organizing everything from signage, to cash boxes, to first aid kits if the need arises. “It’s all the little details,” she says. The last week before the event is filled with “uncountable hours of volunteering” for her, her committee members, the homeowners and other guild members.
Catcher also wanted to highlight the contribution of the sponsors to make this event successful. “The sponsors are a very big part of this. Our local sponsors, who we go to time after time for all the various fundraisers that are being held in this town. Our local sponsors continue to step up and say, ‘yes, I can support that’ and ‘yes, I’d love to support you.’ They are all community-spirited and they really step up every time. For two Christmases in a row, I am very pleased to say that everything that I purchased was local to Niagara-on-the-Lake, so I encourage people to think, really think local.”
“Never before have they needed our business like they do now,” she continues. “They need to be recognized for the continued support that they show our town, and all the various fundraising events that are being hosted.”
For more information about the Shaw Guild and the 15th Annual Garden Tour contact the Guild at www.shawguild.ca.