What about the Garden?

May 31, 2023 | General News

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What about the Garden?

Judith van Manen

“What about the garden?” I questioned one of the directors of the Museum Board as we entered the old one-room schoolhouse. The once flourishing garden appeared abandoned and dismal. The 50-year-old juniper donated by the 1972 Garden Club appeared forlorn, forgotten. “ You are a new director and this is the job for you!” the director countered.

Then began the challenge to create a garden to fit the restored 1872 schoolhouse. A plan was proposed dividing the project into three rather simplistic phases: preparation, construction, and planting. Next, a Board presentation was developed to secure a budget and finally, the quest began for the perfect team.

First, I recruited, Peter Michaux, a local arborist with an extensive background in horticulture and a career that began in the forests of Jasper. We began by cleaning up the site, eradicating invasive species, pruning three large neglected trees, and planting two ailing heritage Rhododendrons that had been sitting atop the soil for over a year due to the restoration of the building. Peter then applied essential mulch to nourish the existing plants that we wanted to keep.

Early on, I was in touch with Isabel Tipton who had participated in the creation of the first landscape at the museum 50 years ago. In reminiscing about the ornamental garden and the demise of many plants, Isabel suggested we might want to consider a native garden. The seed was sown.

A native teaching garden would enhance the educational vision of the Schoolhouse Museum. Our native plants are a defining feature of this beautiful and unique area of the world that we call Metchosin. It is worth nurturing and protecting. We could acquire appropriate signage for the garden and feature traditional indigenous uses of the territory.

We now had a vision for the garden. Katy Nelson, our local native plant expert who tends both the Community House garden and Moralea’s Meadow joined the team. About the same time, artist, designer, and inventor, Joanne Parker Robertson of Green Heron Studios offered her talents and skills in both design and gardening areas.

After much research and discussion, a landscape design emerged. We settled on six beds and the process of annexing the small parcel of land bordering the tall Laurel hedge began. With Councillor Marie-Terese’s support, I approached Council with a power point presenting our plan and a proposal for annexing the land. By mid-December, the land was ours. Richard Jones of Richard’s Landscaping, using his expert Bobcat skills, removed the hedge, created a berm,  and excavated huge chunks of concrete from the site. Suddenly, the naked garden became exposed for all to see.

Phase two included pathways, patio, and seating area construction featuring the skilled work of Abbey Road Landscaping who were able to repurpose and incorporate the over one-hundred-year old Baker bricks into

the hardscape. Behind the scenes, the team discussed plant selection based on growing conditions and plant availability. Katy Nelson has personally contributed countless plants, and both the Metchosin Foundation and Metchosin Garden Club made significant donations for plant acquisition as did Royal Oak Burial Park and Down to Earth Nursery and Landscaping. As of July 1, we have planted over 40 different native plants in our garden.

Another valued member of our team is graphic artist Bonnie Farris who designed both our “What is a Native Plant” and “Pollinators at Work” signs. Her tireless work and guidance resulted in fulfilling the teaching dimension for the native garden. To top it off, Ed McLean, has won our hearts with his authentic white picket fence and arbour which will surround our garden with security and welcome visitors into our Schoolhouse Museum.

  Once Wade’s Irrigation installed an irrigation system, we began planting, and continue even now to add new plants. Fall is an important time to plant bulbs so we will have an abundance of Fawn Lilies and Camas in the spring. A garden is a work in progress and there will be changes to enjoy as the seasons come and go.