Parkwood's Blooming Buddies Garden Club hard at work

Parkwood has embarked on a project to showcase Ontario’s historic gardens in 2012 – with the aim of promoting collaboration amongst these gardens and capitalizing on new tourism investment opportunities.

As far as we know it’s the first venture of its kind, and it’s creating both real excitement and splitting headaches for us.  We believe historic gardens are well-positioned to take advantage of new government investment in tourism and to capitalize on contemporary consumer trends for authentic experiences, gardening, food safety and culinary history, heirloom plants, etc.   We also want to encourage visitors, stakeholders and supporters to embrace heritage conservation as a green investment.

Through our work with the Ontario Garden Tourism Coalition and the National Historic Sites Alliance for Ontario, our project partners, we know that historic gardens fly way under the tourism radar and make too few appearances on “bucket lists”.  For many gardens, their stories often play second fiddle to the buildings or events that hog all the attention and they are seldom promoted for their own worth as historic and horticultural resources.

From a day-long workshop we hosted earlier this year for Ontario’s Historic Gardens, we learned that there was great enthusiasm for increased communications and collaboration amongst the garden operators and programmers, but that we lacked an agenda or organization to provide the rallying point.

Historic Garden Workshop

There were two outcomes from that event:  Parkwood began to compile an inventory of Ontario’s historic gardens and;  we secured grant funding to support a showcase event or week, around the historic themes and geographic links expected to emerge from the inventory.   Parkwood will have a starring role of course!

OK, a little too ambitious perhaps and the headaches should have been obvious, but we had to start somewhere.    Beyond the better-known historic gardens it has not been easy to identify likely sites, and then to coerce/cajole the owner or operator into providing useable information.  To be fair, most of us are highly overworked and highly resentful of filling out questionnaires.

On the other hand, the identification process has led to exploration of what constitutes an historic garden and who defines.  Where do cemeteries, forts, spiritual or cultural landscapes fit in?   Can we fairly present the evolution of garden practices in Ontario – from aboriginal, through settlement and survival to the highly-designed gardens of the 20th century wealthy?

Did we mention that Will & Kate’s first royal visit to North America began at the historic gardens of Rideau Hall, the residence of Canada’s Governor General?

The thematic possibilities look fantastic, but a bit overwhelming as we attempt to group and distill it all into sexy visitor offerings and travel itineraries.  We have definitely entered “What were we thinking?” territory, but stay tuned…