Garden still planting history across campus

It is hard to believe, but Western’s Friends of the Gardens (FOG) is 23 years old next year.

It began when I, newly retired from my job at Western, decided to live near some type of public garden in order to do volunteer gardening. I didn’t want to move away from my home in London and couldn’t think of any such public garden here.

So, why not Western?

With encouragement from my former boss, and a little help from Western News, Facilities Management, the Department of Biology, Parking Services and Food Services, FOGs came into being.

We began with 10 members – including some staff, students, retirees and a couple of off-campus people. The late Beryl Ivey, a prominent Western grad with her own fabulous garden, agreed to be our honorary patron. The recently created St. Mary’s Cement Rock Garden, which winds its way between the Upper Greenhouse and the Collip Lab, became our workplace.

As the organizer, I visited some well-known Botanical Gardens in Chicago, Denver and Vancouver, as well as the Government House Rose Garden in Victoria (which had 200 volunteers then) to learn how this type of group worked. The coordinators of these gardens were very helpful and soon, we decided our mandate would be to look after the garden and hold a plant sale in May, proceeds of which would go toward bursaries for undergraduate science students. In addition, we would educate ourselves by having garden workshops, talks and garden visits.

Soon, our place of work expanded to include the inner courtyard of the Biological and Geological Sciences Building, plus the Jancey Memorial Garden. The latter was created by FOG members at the request of then Botany Chair and professor Alan Day, in honour of late Plant Sciences professor Robert Jancey. The courtyard garden, originally shared with late Biology professor Terence Laverty, who worked with bumble bees, became a place where we could hold over plants, have our sale and bursary presentation lunch, plus other events like an Iris Tea and a Trough Workshop.

Experts, such as taxonomist James Phipps, and Diane Fausel, both Biology professors who worked with ferns, would give us lunch hour talks and short tours. Member Bruce McCoy was able to utilize leftover plastic and wood from another campus project to build an unheated greenhouse. Other members created a small pond and bog, backed by a trellis. There was even a  room with running water where we could hold over tender plants, do some plant propagation and stop for a coffee or cool drink from our fridge.

The planning and planting of the Jancey Garden allowed us to give vent to our creativity. In addition to planting some of our own favourite plants, shrubs and small trees, members constructed a path through the garden. Picnic tables and memorial benches were installed. It became a place where people could come and sit, lunch, smell the flowers, watch the birds and take pictures. It was not unusual to see wedding groups come there to take photographs. It was an exciting time for us.

However, things had to change.

The Jancey Garden was removed to make place for the Biotron. A new Jancey Garden, which includes some of our original plants, was created at its entrance. Biology had plans for the courtyard, which was converted into a memorial garden for another beloved professor, Jane Bowles. This is tended by Facilities Management.

Over the years, members came and went – students graduated and went elsewhere; older members became ill or passed away. Due to the double cohort, which took place in the early 2000s, when Grade 13 students were transferred from secondary schools to the Western community, the lack of parking space discouraged members coming from off-campus.

This was a difficult time for FOG. However, due to the perseverance of member Sarah Lee and Facilities Management in dealing with this new situation, FOG survived. Lee negotiated with Facilities Management and, as a result, we were given a patch of land near the St. Mary’s Rock Garden. Soon, a nice fenced-off shed was constructed.

Things have changed – but FOG has changed too.

Today, we have just the original St. Mary’s Rock Garden where we work. Our sale still happens every May. There is space in our ‘yard’ for the plants and the customers. Thanks to Vicky Lightfoot, space in the greenhouse has been allotted to FOG where we are able to prepare for the sale – starting plants from cuttings and seeds. Thanks to former member Bruce McCoy, the original Jancey Garden in its four seasons, is preserved on a disc in the Western Archives.