A casual conversation leading to a “brilliant idea” is resulting in not only a pivotal fundraiser for the Shaw Guild, but also a virtual visit to experience Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Guild member Dave Hunter describes the seed that was planted, and how it has grown.
“I was at Peggy Bell’s place, digging up some of her plants, and we were chatting about gardening and this year’s garden tour,” he says. Hunter lives in St. Andrews Glen, and Bell was giving him some plants for the common areas of his neighbourhood.
Bell is a 15-year veteran of organizing the Shaw Guild garden tours, and after missing out on last year’s major fundraising tour completely, due to COVID, decided that due to pandemic restrictions, it would be safer to plan for a fall tour, instead of the traditional late spring date.
Videographer Rene Bertschi and Bell had visited each garden on the tour in June, and again just before the fall date for the tour. As Hunter and Bell chatted about the videos, “Peggy came up with the idea of a virtual tour, showing the gardens in the spring, and then in the fall. It was one of those inspired moments that just popped up. It seemed incredible that Rene had all this video of these beautiful gardens, and it suddenly struck us, look at what we’ve got, and what we could do with it. A garden tour of the same gardens, at two different times of year. It would be a unique approach to a virtual tour,” says Hunter.
The garden tour itself was very successful, selling about the same number of tickets the June event has in the past, and raising about $30,000. That and funds raised from the virtual tour will help support Shaw Festival plays, says Hunter.
The 20-minute video, narrated by Shaw Festival actor Ric Reid, showcases the tour’s eight private gardens in two seasons, showing the changes in colour and growth of the garden plantings over the three-month span, as well as the beautiful properties on the tour.
“This is a virtual garden tour, with an extra twist,” says Hunter.
The video does even more than that, adds Bertschi.
As he and Bell visited gardens to make the video, travelling from Queenston, along the Niagara River Parkway to the Old Town, he recorded the scenes they were passing, as guests on the tour would. The result is more of an actual experience of visiting NOTL, using some drone shots as well, including some of the town’s most beautiful sites, including the gardens the town plants on Queen Street, and some of the other highlights visitors would see, he says.
Bertschi has been making videos of the garden tour for six or seven years, and posting them on YouTube. He has also posted other videos of NOTL, some of which have received 20,000 to 30,000 views, while the garden tour videos typically get 200 to about 800 hits, of interest mainly to other gardeners. This video, combining both gardens and NOTL scenes, he hopes will be seen by many more viewers.
Now that the video is made and available to be viewed, Hunter is determined to ensure it receives a wide audience.
He says he was surprised to learn there are 19 horticultural societies in Ontario. “I even found one in Rainy River,” he says. And many more gardening clubs.
Between his efforts and Bell’s, horticultural clubs, master gardeners and garden clubs have been notified and asked to share the information with their members, and the word is out on Facebook. Hunter hopes to reach many more people than could come to the actual garden tour, including the American visitors who have bought tickets pre-pandemic, and those who maybe haven’t ever been on a tour and will learn about NOTL and its beautiful gardens, “like the people in Rainy River,” he says.
He relates a situation he encountered on the day of the September tour, when he was sitting in his car outside one of the gardens, and saw a couple in a car with U.S. licence plates. He got out of his car to talk to them, and found they had heard about it from the Shaw — they had been coming to NOTL for years to see a few plays, and timed their visit with the garden tour.
“Think about that — they’re not only paying for Shaw tickets and the garden tour, they’re paying $150 each for PCR tests to cross the border.”
The Shaw Festival is making sure everyone who comes to see a play knows about the garden tour, he says.
And this year, with the extra efforts to make the event especially appealing, with Shaw Festival actors present in the gardens, live music, and artwork on display, “my sense is the character of the garden tour will become even richer in the next few years, thanks to the creativity of the people on the organizing committee, a group of really great thinkers.”
To watch the virtual tour, visit shawguild.ca. The charge of $11 provides unlimited views of the tour from Oct. 14 to Dec. 2.