August 2018 – Sue Cumming

Photo by Polly McColl

Seeking Shade Among the Hostas

 By Julianne Labreche

Sue Cumming is a big fan of the Central Experimental Farm. Since arriving in Ottawa over thirty years ago, a significant chunk of her volunteer, family and vacation time has been dedicated to this Farm situated in the centre of the city.

Sue volunteers regularly in the Hosta Gardens at the Arboretum, a restful spot nestled under trees at the top of a steep hill there. She works there alongside other volunteers with the Farm’s Hosta Team to care for some 300 different varieties of these tough plants. Gardeners often like hostas because they’re no fuss, hardy, and disease resistant perennials. Hostas grow best in moist soil and prefer dappled shade so this location is ideal.

Sue’s reason for choosing this team when she decided to volunteer was purely practical. Volunteers at the Farm work mainly during the mornings. It can get really hot and steamy some days. Like the hostas, she prefers the shade. It seemed a good match.

“Hostas just come up and do their thing,” she says.  They’re easy to grow and usually trouble free. Most gardeners grow them for their foliage, not their flowers. “They’re such great plants. They just sit there and grow all summer,” she adds, enthusiastically.

Sue has hostas at home in her own flowerbeds too. She describes herself as a ‘minimalist gardener’ who enjoys puttering outdoors. Hostas are relatively low-maintenance, requiring care in spring and fall. That suits her just fine. Nowadays, having raised a family, a few weeks every summer are spent travelling and helping her husband collect tiny flies. Her husband, Jeff Cumming, works as an entomologist at the K. W. Neatby Building, located at the Central Experimental Farm. The couple and their young son moved to Ottawa after he completed his PhD at the University of Alberta in Edmonton back in 1986. She enjoys tagging along to collect flies, helping him with his work. Hostas, she adds, are usually insect-free so her two volunteer jobs are quite separate.

Her family also enjoys spending fun together time at the Farm.  Now that their children are grown-up, the couple takes pleasure bringing their grandchildren on tours of the Farm, including the Ornamental Gardens and the Arboretum. “Whenever we have company, we usually end up at the Experimental Farm,” she says.  In many ways, the Farm continues to play a big part in her life.