February 2018 – Christine Banfill
Tending the Perennial Gardens
There was no one event in Christine Banfill’s life that “led her down the garden path.” But considering her love of nature and the outdoors, it’s easy to see why Christine is a familiar sight in her own garden and the perennial beds of the Central Experimental Farm.
After she moved to Ottawa from Montreal in 1975, she maintained a city allotment garden for several years. Why did the woman who leads the Friends of the Farm perennial team turn to vegetables and not flowers? The answer is simple: “I had several friends who also had allotment gardens and we were side by side, so it seemed like a natural thing to do.”
Today, Christine tends a colourful and eclectic garden at her home. Her approach, she says, to establishing her garden “was not scientific, it was mostly hit and miss. Things do well or don’t do well enough.” She leafs through some of her favourite gardening books and smiles somewhat sheepishly when she opens a well-worn copy of The Field Guide to Weeds. Some of those weeds – hardy Creeping Charlie and vinca – figure prominently in her garden, along with poppies, peonies, yellow loosestrife, bee balm, cranesbill geranium, Siberian and bearded iris, and Shasta daisies, among others. Hollyhocks, the descendants of seeds from her grandmother’s garden – stand sentinel along the front of the house.
Christine joined the Friends’ perennial team in 2001, just as the beds were being redone under the direction of Sharon Saunders, former Lead Hand, Ornamental Gardens, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. It was a somewhat daunting task – the beds were overgrown with weeds and grasses. By 2004, she was co-leader of the team along with the indomitable Sally Hill and after several years ”somehow just grew into the position of team leader,” with Sally’s tacit consent.
Photo by Polly McColl.
January 2018 – Bill Wegman
A Passion for Peonies
While leafing through “one of those fancy catalogues from a mail order nursery” in the mid-80s, a heritage peony named ‘Doris Cooper’ caught Bill Wegman’s eye. Bill knew next to nothing about peonies, but knew he wanted it. So Doris was purchased, planted and nurtured. She became the centerpiece of Bill’s slowly expanding garden – a small collection of hand-me-down peonies.
When he retired from a career as a communications engineer in 1995, Bill got serious about peonies. “I was growing them, but really didn’t know very much about peonies,” he admits. On the Internet, Bill came across the newly formed Canadian Peony Society, which was planning an exhibition in 2001 at the Governor General’s in Ottawa.
By now, ‘Doris Cooper’ was a beauty – “at least in my eyes,” says Bill – so he entered her in the show. Bill was justifiably proud of his heritage peony – ‘Doris’ won best of the show. Bill now has two “bests of the show” to his credit, although he is quick to downplay the accomplishment.
The Canadian Peony Society’s exhibition brought Bill and Mary Pratte together, and Mary introduced Bill to the Friends of the Farm. “I thought I should learn more about peonies,” Bill explains, “so I joined the peony team. It was so interesting, the collection at the Farm is so diverse, and I learned so much.”
Bill admits to spending the bulk of his retirement on peonies – growing and tending his own, heading the Friends’ peony team, and looking after the Society’s seed distribution program (collecting, packaging and mailing out seed orders). He has also ventured into hybridizing. As he explains how to do it, it is clear that the painstaking process is well suited to the meticulous mind of a professional engineer.
Mary Ann Smythe, January 2018. Photo by Polly McColl.
December 2017 – Linda McLaren
Digging In and Getting Things Done
The Farm has become a big part of Linda’s life in retirement. She has been a Friends’ volunteer since 2009, after leaving a 33-year-career in the federal government at Corrections Service of Canada. Linda says she was drawn to the Friends of the Farm because “it was one of the few volunteer opportunities that offered the chance to work outdoors.” The first of 10 children born to Jim and Betty McLaren, and raised on a working farm near Lanark, Ontario, Linda spent a great deal of her childhood outdoors, helping with the family vegetable garden and lending a hand at haying season.
When Linda contacted the Friends, she was given a list of garden teams from which she chose the Hosta and Explorer Roses teams. The hostas offered shade from the summer sun and she already grew them in her own garden. And although Linda always thought “roses were too much work to grow,” she had read about Explorers in Hole’s Garden Catalogue and was willing to give them a try.
In 2011, Linda stepped in to lead the Hosta Team. It was a challenge but Linda is used to digging in and getting things done. A year after joining the public service, she got involved in the local union. “No one else wanted to run for secretary-treasurer and I felt that I should pitch in. It’s something I think I learned from my parents who were willing to step forward in organizations, not just sit back and let others do the work.”
During the last few winters, she has ventured into the bowels of Building 72 at the Farm, to sort books every Tuesday for the Friends’ June book sale. It is the perfect job for the voracious reader and helps pass the cold, snowy days while she waits for the hostas to appear and the roses to bloom.
Mary Ann Smythe, December 2017. Photo by Polly McColl.
November 2017 – Theresa Ring Hoffman
Theresa Ring Hoffman: In Love With Lilacs
Growing up in the small Ottawa Valley town of Killlaloe, Theresa Ring Hoffman spent many summers on her Uncle Tom’s and Patsy’s farms helping in the kitchen and occasionally in the fields. These treasured memories come to mind when she cycles through the Farm fields on her early-morning rides from her nearby home on Kingston Avenue. Theresa moved to Ottawa when she was 18 to begin what would become a 35-year career at Statistics Canada in Tunney’s Pasture.
When her two children were young, their outings included walks and bike rides through the Farm. It was there her love affair with lilacs began – a love shared by her sister Nora. “After I walked by them, I enjoyed their lingering fragrance.” It was sheer coincidence “Or was it really?,” Theresa wonders, that when she retired and discovered the Friends of the Farm, there were openings on the Lilac Team. She was very fortunate to initially work with and learn from Joan Speirs, the Friends’ lilac “guru.” “Joan was always willing to share her knowledge and I learned so much.” Theresa also appreciates that Nerine Walton, team leader, is “always there to answer questions and makes us feel that what we do really matters.”
She looks forward to her Wednesday morning shift where her favourite task is pruning – “cutting out the old to give new life to beautiful, fragrant blossoms in the spring. “What a life!” Theresa exclaims. “I am greeted on Wednesdays by a rich canvass of colours (in the Ornamental Gardens) and get to work and chat with a wonderful group of volunteers.”
Mary Ann Smythe, November 2017. Photo by Polly McColl.
October 2017 – Janet Stephenson
Janet Stephenson: The Farm as a “Classroom”
Janet Stephenson became a Friends’ garden volunteer for two main reasons: she wanted something physical to do and to learn something new. Four years later, it’s immediately apparent from her delight in recounting her experiences at the Farm that joining the Iris and Day Lily Team has filled the bill. Janet readily admits that when she arrived for her first shift, she was not a “very experienced nor knowledgeable gardener.”
And although one of the younger members of the team, she had a “tough time keeping up with the ladies who having entered their seventh decade wheeled a garden fork and spade with strength and skill while I huffed and puffed. Although humbled by these apparent Amazons, I was also inspired and have kept at it.” Janet has kept at it despite what she describes, with some humour, as an “up close and personal encounter with an iris grub,” which has made it impossible to “look at gummy worms in the same way again.”
Eager to learn, Janet has improved her gardening skills, which she has transferred to her own garden. She attributes her newly gained skills to her “colleagues’ collective plant wisdom, which is one of the best things about volunteering at the Farm. I particularly enjoy our conversations during breaks to identify different garden pests, how to get rid of them, and what to do with a failing plant.” Despite the collective wisdom, however, she laments that “no one has a solution to get rid of squirrels that actually works.” And so the battle continues and Janet continues to learn new things at the Farm.
Mary Ann Smythe, October 2017. Photo by Polly McColl.
September 2017 – Joan Craig
Joan Craig: The Farm Calls on Her Western Roots
Joan Craig’s introduction to the Farm is somewhat unusual. It was made more than 35 years ago and from a distance of 3,300 km. After graduating from the University of Manitoba with a degree in Home Economics, Joan worked at DuPont Canada Agricultural Products in Calgary for 15 years. “Some products were shipped to the Central Experimental Farm and so the name was familiar to me.” She tucked the name in the back of her mind and when her daughter settled in Ottawa with her family in 1998, almost every visit Joan made to see her grandchildren ended up at the Farm. “We would walk through the Ornamental Gardens and also visit the Agricultural Museum. I loved that place; it called on my Western roots.”
In 2011, the Craigs moved to Ottawa. “I wanted to be part of my grandchildren’s lives, not just an occasional visitor. The first place I brought my husband to was the Ornamental Gardens and he was pretty impressed.” When Joan saw an ad for volunteers, she grabbed the chance to become involved with the Farm. Relegated to container gardening in her new home, she planned to join one of the garden teams. Unfortunately, an unforeseen medical issue has sidelined those plans for now. Instead Joan helps at the Victorian Tea and Book Sale. She also volunteers with the Friends of the Ottawa Public Library so the book sale is perfect fit. For Joan, helping at events is a “great way to meet a group of very interesting volunteers who share the common goal to help support the Farm. I’m glad to be able to give something to this special corner of the community.”
Mary Ann Smythe, Septembert 2017. Photo by Polly McColl.
August 2017 – Karen Walker
Karen Walker: A Latecomer to the Farm
Among Friends’ volunteers, Karen Walker is an exception to the general rule. While many volunteers have a longstanding connection to the Farm, it didn’t become part of her life until four years ago.
Karen moved from Alberta to Ottawa in 1974 and with a Masters in Management Science from the University of British Columbia in hand, joined the public service. Five years later, she became part of an internal consulting group that provides management consulting services to other federal departments. In 2011, Karen “officially” retired, but continued to work part time on contract for the next six years.
As the end of her professional life drew near, she began looking for volunteer opportunities. An ad in the Glebe Report for the Friends’ garden teams “sounded like a nice activity and I have always enjoyed gardening,” Karen explains. She joined the Macoun team in 2015 and also helps in the flower garden at her church. “My own yard is mostly shade plants so it is very exciting to work in gardens where there is colour.”
Karen is also one of the busy servers at the Friends’ Victorian tea, volunteers with the Kiwanis Music Festival, and belongs to a group sponsoring refugees. “We already have three families with two more on the way. I am the ‘lead’ on settling them in – taking care of all the paper work, answering their SOS calls – so it’s a very busy time.” Working in the Macoun garden may well be the perfect antidote to Karen’s busy life. “I love going out in the early morning. It’s so beautiful in the garden. The group I work with are wonderful and a joy to be around.”
Mary Ann Smythe, August 2017. Photo by Polly McColl.
July 2017 – Jim Odell
Long Walks Lead to the Farm
When Jim Odell moved from Moncton, New Brunswick to Ottawa in 2013, he was drawn to the open spaces of the Farm during his long walks through the city. Now settled in his Westboro neighbourhood, Jim’s weekly schedule includes at least two trips to the Farm. On Tuesdays he can be found labouring in the Shelterbelt and the following day, he tends the iris and daylily beds. Jim also helps at Friends’ events whenever he can.
When he discovered the Friends of the Farm in 2015, Jim was drawn to the Shelterbelt team by the prospect of planting trees. During university, he worked in forestry one summer, and later spent several years on the landscape construction crew at the University of Calgary. “I thought my old skills would come into use and that I would get to plant trees” he says of his decision to volunteer in the Shelterbelt. Although Jim was disappointed to discover that the team doesn’t actually plant the trees, he was happy working outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air, doing some of the heavier work, including lawn cutting and tree trimming.
Joining the iris and daylily team was a bit of a gamble, however. He was motivated by memories of his grandmother’s glorious gardens – “they would have given the Ornamental Gardens a run for their money” – and her passion for hybridizing irises. Long on memories but short on gardening skills, Jim admits to being so embarrassed on his first day – “I couldn’t tell a plant from a weed” – that he spent his entire shift pulling dandelions from the grass. Two seasons later, he’s not only developed gardening skills but finds himself “doing stuff you wouldn’t have paid me to do as a kid” and finding it enjoyable and satisfying.
Mary Ann Smythe, June 2017. Photo by Polly McColl.
June 2017 – Linda Butcher
A People Person
Linda Butcher’s first garden memory was from the age of five, when her Aunt Lucy came to visit. Her aunt asked what was her favourite flower. Her answer was the pansy. She remembers being told that this plant had faces like people. Linda is a people person.
Linda became a teacher. Her school had a garden and she would teach her students about plants and the joy of gardening. Now retired, she volunteers at Abbotsford Community Centre with programs for active seniors. She makes teddy bears there, which are sold with the proceeds going to support the Centre. She has also joined several dance classes.
Her favourite flowers now are daylilies, lilacs and, especially, the blue forget-me-nots. She has these in her own garden along with many other flowers, vegetables, and herbs.
The Central Experimental Farm has been in Linda’s life for a long time. She and her husband would bring their children there to enjoy the green spaces where they would have picnics and walk around the gardens. Their favourites were the Macoun garden, the tropical greenhouse and the rock garden. And a visit to the animals at the Agriculture Museum was always a part of the outing.
Linda joined the Friends of the Farm in 2014. She is a friend of Carol MacLeod, team leader in the Iris and Daylily garden, who asked Linda if she would like to work on Carol’s team in the Ornamental Gardens at the Farm. A very enthusiastic gardener, Linda agreed to join the team and it’s a perfect fit. She loves working in the earth, with plants and, of course, with people.
Polly McColl, June 2017. Photo by Polly McColl.
May 2017 – Rob Leslie
Two Good Reasons to Join the Friends of the Farm
Rob Leslie had two good reasons to join the Friends of the Farm: his wife Lynn was already a volunteer and his next door neighbour is Polly McColl – a long-time Friends’ volunteer and past president. One might presume that Lynn and Polly may have “applied a bit of gentle pressure” to convince Rob to join their ranks, but he is quick to dispel the notion. “With Lynn involved and Polly in need of volunteers, it was natural for me to sign up. I was glad to help.”
And Rob has been a big help as part of the behind-the-scenes set-up team. It’s a group of volunteers who handle a lot of the heavy work – lifting, carrying, assembling – and was a good fit when he joined the Friends in 2013 as most events take place on the weekend and Rob was still working full-time. He retired in January 2016 after 30 years with the Department of National Defence where he was responsible for chartering ships for the military and moving equipment.
Rob’s job description for the Friends is very simple: “Essentially we help Polly with whatever needs to be done to get ready for an event.” He’s a regular at the annual book drop off and also helps to set up and organize the tables the night before the sale. He’s also one of the helping hands at the Victorian Tea and Rare and Unusual Plant Sale and has been seconded several times to post event signs around the Farm. While the team has changed over time, Rob remains a constant. For him, the motivation is simple: “It feels good to help out and I enjoy meeting people.”
Mary Ann Smythe, May 2017. Photo by Polly McColl.
April 2017 – Valerie Gourlay
Creating a Shady Glen for all to Enjoy
When Valerie Gourlay arrived at an Open House to explore volunteer opportunities with the Friends’ garden teams, she was surprised to learn about the Rock Garden. “I didn’t know it even existed.” An avid gardener who prefers to work out of the sun, Val says that the Rock Garden Team was her obvious choice. Over the last three years, this “shady glen” has become her “special place” where “trees and rocks and plants share space.” (See the spring newsletter for Val’s poem about the Rock Garden).
Born in England, Val moved to Peterborough, Ontario as a child, and, in 1965, after completing teachers college was offered a job in Ottawa. She taught for five years, took time off to care for her three children, and returned to work in special education. Val retired in 2007, but it wasn’t until the sudden and unexpected death of her husband that Val began looking at volunteer options and eventually headed to the Friends’ Open House.
She is a self-admitted gardener to the core. “I have to have a garden. I couldn’t live without one.” Val’s passion for and expertise with plants are evident in her own extensive gardens which draw praise from neighbours and passers-by alike.
Val also considers gardening a “great stress reducer” and finds working under the shady canopy of the Rock Garden to be “very calming.” The garden itself is a big draw for Val but so too are her team mates. “I was away for a few weeks after cataract surgery and when I returned I was greeted with open arms. I’m fortunate to work with such an amazing team.”
Mary Ann Smythe, April 2017. Photo by Polly McColl.
March 2017 – Anne Darley
Macoun Garden Provides Perfect Antidote to 37 Years in the Workforce
After 37 years in the workforce, clocking 8 hours, five days a week, Anne Darley was ready to pack it in. However, in 2011, as she closed the chapter on 27 years at the Merivale and Meadowlands branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia, Anne had no concrete plans for retirement. “I just wanted time to myself,” she explains. It would be another three years before Anne sought out volunteer opportunities and found herself in the Macoun Memorial Garden, happily weeding, thinning, and deadheading along with her fellow Friends’ volunteers.
Born and raised on Montreal’s south shore, Anne moved to Ottawa with her five sisters after her father died in his early 40s, and her mother resumed her nursing career. “My aunt lived in Ottawa so it was a natural choice.” Anne has a long-time, although tenuous, connection to the Farm. I have a vague recollection of picnics at the Farm when the family used to visit from Montreal and my aunt was once a Friends’ volunteer.” After three years on the sidelines, Anne missed the social interaction that comes with the workplace. “I learned that I needed to be with other people now and again and I wanted to do something outdoors.”
As a Friends’ volunteer, Anne wears several hats – she works in the Macoun Garden, sorts books in the winter, and helps at events whenever she can. Although she enjoys all aspects of volunteering, the garden team tops the list. “I find it very therapeutic, working outdoors in a relaxed atmosphere. I usually stay back after our Monday session and tour the gardens. It’s been great to reconnect with the Farm.”
Mary Ann Smythe, March 2017. Photo by Polly McColl.
February 2017 – Jennifer Williams: Reconnecting with the Farm
Jennifer Williams may have the distinction of being the only volunteer to have been paid for working in the Ornamental Gardens. Her salary, however, was earned almost four decades ago when she was a university student. Jennifer spent three summers at the Farm, two in the Ornamental Gardens and one in the tree nursery. Among her memories, Jennifer recalls the flurry of activity when it was thought members of the G6 Summit might visit the Ornamental Gardens. It was all for naught, however. “They ended up taking a helicopter for a birds-eye view of the perennial beds.” When a photographer captured the students planting annual beds, Jennifer found herself on the front page of the newspaper. And then there were the hot, humid days working in the greenhouse without any air conditioning.
Considering her early connection to the Farm, it’s not surprising that Jennifer chose to volunteer with the Friends when she retired from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2013. After being on compressed leave prior to retirement, in order to care for her mother, Jennifer took advantage of her “free” Friday to join the Heritage Rose Team. “I came out every second Friday so I was familiar with the routine when I eventually joined the team every week.” There are many benefits to volunteering with the Friends, Jennifer adds. “I’ve been able to reconnect to the Farm. I work with a group of like-minded people from all walks of life. I enjoy the contact with the public and the positive feedback. It’s a rewarding experience working with plants and seeing the results of our labour when I leave every Friday.”
Mary Ann Smythe, February 2017. Photo by Polly McColl
January 2017 – Nancy Irving: A Penchant for Peonies
If anyone had mentioned the Arboretum to Nancy Irving when she was 18, she would have drawn a blank. Today, Nancy counts the Arboretum among her favourite haunts and is teaching her five-year-old grandson to identify many of the trees. “It is so much fun introducing him to a place that means so much to me.”
Nancy has lived near the Farm since 1988, and says “this absolute gem of a parcel of land” has long been a favourite destination for weekend walks. But she began volunteering with the Friends only after her retirement as a lawyer with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in 2014.
When she phoned the Friends’ office to volunteer, Bill Wegman, Peony Team leader, answered Nancy’s call. And she is clearly delighted that he did. “I always thought a peony was a peony but I quickly learned I didn’t know anything about them.” She has since developed an intimate relationship with the Farm’s peony garden and was proud to be part of the CEF Peony Team when it won best in show at the 2015 Canadian Peony Society’s National Show in Ottawa.
Nancy continues her education by visiting the Farm between weekly gardening sessions to record when various peonies come into bloom. It is part of her learning curve and another way to support the team. “I love the team,” she says. “Everyone is so optimistic. I work with a great group of people in a beautiful setting while supporting a wonderful organization. Who could ask for more?”
Mary Ann Smythe, January 2017
December 2016 – Diane Scharf: “It’s good to be part of something bigger than yourself.”
Diane Scharf’s Irish roots run deep in the Ottawa soil. Her father’s family immigrated to Canada from Ireland and so prominent was one of her Irish ancestors that two city streets bear his name – Nicholas and Sparks.
Raised in the Glebe – Diane purchased and now lives in the family home – she recalls family excursions to the nearby Central Experimental Farm. “When I was little we’d pack up a picnic and come to the Farm. My parents thought it a glorious place. My dad would take me to the greenhouses and much later on the Ornamental Gardens were the backdrop for my sister’s wedding photos.”
When Diane moved back into the family home the Farm proved a valuable resource. “There was a moth in the house I couldn’t get rid of. I contacted one of the scientists who quickly identified it and how to get it out of the house. People all over the world use the Farm’s scientific resources when they have a problem. It’s wonderful to have that resource. It’s also a great learning experience for children – to see and learn about Farm animals and where food comes from.”
After Diane retired from a long and “interesting” (to say the least) career on Parliament Hill, where, over 42 years, she worked for two prime ministers, two cabinet ministers, three senators, and five members of parliament, she naturally gravitated to the Farm when looking for volunteer opportunities. As a Friends’ volunteer, Diane helps at events. She enjoys working with such “wonderful people.” And, she adds, “it’s very good to be part of something bigger than yourself.”
Mary Ann Smythe, December 2016
November 2016 – Andrew Keller: Learning to Grow Roses at the Farm
Andrew Keller’s love affair with roses began when he was 15 years old. At that time, however, his attempts to grow them exceeded his gardening skills.
Today, it’s a much different story. Roses are still Andrew’s flower of choice but he has conquered the requisite knowledge and skills to successful grow and maintain them.
Much of that knowledge has been gained at the Farm, where Andrew has been a Friends’ volunteer since 2003. On a warm, cloudless, mid-September morning, I found Andrew in the Heritage Rose Garden, carefully coaxing a rambler up the arbour. “I’ve always been interested in roses,” he says, “and by working on the team, I’ve finally learned how to grow them. I enjoy working with ramblers and climbers. I find it very creative to shape them and I love the ramblers’ big splash of colour.”
Andrew has a plot in the Nanny Goat Hill Community Garden in Centretown where, not surprisingly, he grows (miniature) roses in addition to vegetables. “They (roses) do very well. I’ve managed to keep them going three or four years at a time.”
There’s a third garden in Andrew’s life. He is the principal gardener at the co-op where he lives and where, in addition to flowers, he also maintains a small salad garden.
Andrew spends at least 20 hours a week gardening. It is time very well spent, he says. “It helps structure my time, especially my weekly stint at the Farm. It is great for weight control.
Mary Ann Smythe, November 2016
October 2016 – Deborah Roundell: Learning at the Garden
Deborah Roundell was raised in Greenbank, a rural community north of Toronto. She loves gardening, being outdoors, and keeping busy. When you add up all those facts, it’s not surprising that she choose to volunteer with the Friends of the Farm when she retired in 2012 after 15 years as an office administrator at a local public school.
Deborah had an early introduction to gardening. “Both my grandmothers were gardeners and I remember, as a child, being in their gardens. I often think of them when I’m working in my yard or at the Farm.” Deborah’s garden in Westboro is “a work in progress. The grubs were so bad a few years ago that we removed all the grass in front of the house and planted perennials. We are still working on it, and I’ve learned so much from the team that it’s really helped in my own garden.” Deborah is part of the Friends’ Wednesday Iris and Day Lily Team. She admits that it was the day of the week rather than the plants that attracted her to the group. “Wednesday fit my schedule best. I love going there. I garden alongside an amazing group of people. I’ve learned so much, especially from Carol (MacLeod, team leader).
When Deborah, her husband and their family moved to Ottawa in 1989, she would often cycle through the Farm with her children. Today, she rides her bike to her Wednesday gardening session. And with a new grandson, she has introduced another generation to the Farm. “He loves the animals and the Agriculture Museum. It is really an amazing place.”
Mary Ann Smythe, October 2016
September 2016 – Marilyn Snedden: Tea Time at the Farm
To say that Marilyn Snedden believes in community service is an understatement. Eight community groups in Marilyn’s Almonte neighbourhood benefit from her helping hand.
Marilyn’s story begins on an Almonte farm where, in the absence of male siblings, she and her two sisters learned to do all the chores. A highlight of the summer was the family trip to the Experimental Farm. “I was fascinated by the Macoun Garden and the goldfish in the pond. For a country kid it was a very exciting trip.”
Decades later Marilyn took the first of two Friends of the Farm bus trips and subsequently attended the Victorian Tea. A keen history buff – she volunteers with Archives Lanark and is also the curator for the Ramsay Women’s Institute – Marilyn signed up in 2009 to help with the tea. For the past eight summers, she has faithfully returned to assist on the food assembly line. “I started out washing tea cups,” she laughs, “but was ‘promoted’ to the assembly line.”
Marilyn also volunteers with the Almonte Fair and on August Wednesday evenings helps with car bingo. “People love bingo and at times we get over 100 cars. For some, it’s a great family outing.” Marilyn chairs the local senior games group and has thrice been president of the Almonte Horticultural Society, which maintains flower beds throughout town.
Despite her full volunteer plate and distance from Ottawa, Marilyn looks forward to her afternoon at the Victorian Tea. It is her way of helping to ensure that this “jewel” remains for generations to come. “I get nervous when I hear about plans to give away parts of the Farm. It is a wonderful oasis and I worry about how long we can keep it in the middle of the city.”
Mary Ann Smythe, September 2016
August 2016 – Lynn Leslie: No Arm Twisting Required to Become a Friend of the Farm
Living next door to a Master Gardener and past Friends’ president offers benefits – a bit of gardening advice or perhaps a plant or two might find their way across the yard. But as Lynn Leslie discovered, there’s also the distinct possibility of being recruited as a Friends’ volunteer.
Lynn laughs as she explains Polly McColl’s persistent but gentle recruitment techniques. “She would talk about the Farm and make it sound so interesting. Then she asked me to type a few letters when she was president. When I retired, Polly said they really needed help in the office and I said I would give it a try.” Lynn admits that she needed little arm twisting when she signed up in 2013. “I like meeting people and I like gardening, so working in the office and helping at events within sight of the Ornamental Gardens brings those two things together.”
With a long career in retail and a human resources management course at Algonquin College to her credit – “I’m a life-long learner and like to take courses when I’m bored” – Lynn’s first assignment was to help process new volunteers and input volunteer data. Her retail experience has also made Lynn a popular choice to handle the cash desk at the Victorian Tea, and this year at the Rare and Unusual Plant Sale, she volunteered at the “plant check.”
Although retired, Lynn leads a full life. She minds her two grandchildren three days a week and devotes two afternoons to “doing the books” for son’s construction company. Despite her busy schedule, Lynn looks forward to volunteering with the Friends when and wherever she can.
Mary Ann Smythe, August 2016
July 2016 – Anne Maurais: Fulfilling Her Dream of Working Outdoors
Anne Maurais has fond childhood memories of the Farm – the green-roofed windmill in the Rockery, sliding through the Arboretum on a wooden toboggan, and watching the fish in the Macoun Garden pond. She recalls these memories on a break from patiently and methodically pulling tangled blades of grass from clump of iris.
Anne is a member of the Friends’ Perennial Garden Team, drawn to the Farm to fulfill her dream of working outside once retired. She joined the Friends after 27 years of various “desk jobs” with the federal government. “I used to look out the window and wish I could be outdoors.” Now Anne’s outside most of the time – in her own extensive garden, not only volunteering at the Farm but also with the Ottawa Duck Club (checking boxes and doing a bird count) and the Rideau Trail Association (trail maintenance), and paddling at Mooney’s Bay on a dragon boat team.
Among all these pursuits, there is also time for travel. Anne has journeyed extensively covering roughly 27% of the world travelled. Closer to home, she finds great satisfaction after her three-hour stint in the perennial beds, knowing that she’s left a pristine patch of garden behind. When friends ask Anne what she does on the garden team, her answer is simple: “I pull weeds and deadhead most of the time.” In response to their raised eyebrows, she says, “I love doing this. It’s lots of fun. I enjoy the camaraderie. It’s nice to be with a group that has gelled so well.”
Mary Ann Smythe, July 2016
June 2016 – Joan Butcher: From “Tackling Crime” at Justice to Tackling Weeds in the Perennial Beds
When Joan Butcher would peddle through the Farm on her way to work, she often thought “how wonderful it would be to spend my day here instead of being chained to a desk.” That thought became reality three years ago when Joan signed on as a Friends’ garden volunteer.
A proud Maritimer, she came to Ottawa when job prospects seemed bleak in Halifax. “A headline in the newspaper characterized Ottawa as ‘recession proof’ and off I headed.” Joan did indeed find employment in Ottawa and although she intended to return “back East,” the accidental Ottawan retired three years ago after 28 years with the federal government. Her last assignment was in the communications section at the Department of Justice where she worked on innumerable “tackling crime” bills. When she retired, Joan knew exactly what to do with some of her newfound freedom. “I sought out the Friends so I could volunteer. When I arrived in Ottawa, I couldn’t believe there was this amazing gem of a place plunk in the middle of the city. I don’t think the government really appreciates it or it wouldn’t be trying to give parts of the Farm away for other uses.”
A member of the Perennial Team, she is constantly delighted to discover a new plant coming through the ground or bursting into bloom when she arrives for her Tuesday morning stint. “I love being in the garden; every week there is something new. There’s a connectedness with nature and it’s fun gardening with other people. I always end my time in the garden feeling it’s a job well done and worth doing.”
Mary Ann Smythe, June 2016
May 2016 – Jean Durjan: A Novel Introduction to the Farm
If there was a prize for an unusual introduction to the Central Experimental Farm, Jean Durjan would win it hands down. On her way home from the airport one day, Jean’s route took her near the Farm. When the taxi driver discovered that she had been in Ottawa since 1989 and never visited the Farm, he decided to drive Jean around for a view of the scenic gardens, at no charge.
Born in Guyana, Jean arrived in Ottawa by way of Montreal, Toronto, and Kingston, in 1989, to work at the Strategic Policy Branch of Employment and Immigration Canada. “It was a dream job,” she says of her work on the employment/unemployment insurance policy. Although she loved the work, it left little time for an outside life. “I was always pressed for time, but visiting the Farm was on my to-do list.”
An economist by profession, Jean retired from public service in 2013, her last assignment as a Senior Policy Analyst at Industry Canada, and immediately put her newfound personal freedom to work.
Jean sought out volunteer opportunities at the Farm because she “appreciates its serene nature, created by the beautiful gardens and trees as well as its scenic and peaceful location. The lush grounds in the summer remind me of the abundance of bright and colourful landscapes in the tropics where I grew up.”
Assisting in the office and at events such as the annual book sale is Jean’s way of “giving back to this beautiful city” and to “meeting and interacting with new people.”
Mary Ann Smythe, May 2016
April 2016 – Nancy McDonald: “It Takes a Village”
Volunteers with the Friends of the Farm come with varying experiences. Nancy McDonald spent 42 fulfilling years in the nursing profession. Volunteering was part of her retirement strategy and she has been a member of the Friends now for five years.
And volunteers with the Friends find varying opportunities. Nancy is a member of the Master Gardeners of Ottawa- Carleton and during the past four years has coordinated the Friends of the Farm Master Gardener Lecture Series. In addition, she has been part of Rare and Unusual Plant Sale committee. She has contributed to bake sales and last year baked over 200 scones for a very successful Victorian Tea.
Nancy uses the saying “it takes a village” and it indeed takes many hands like hers filling in where needed to ensure the ongoing success of the Friends of the Central Experimental Farm.
March 2016 – Marc LeBlond: Following His Parents’ Legacy of Community Service
Marc LeBlond finds working in the Rockery at the Experimental Farm the perfect antidote to 34 years with the Canadian Revenue Agency – the last 13 as a Senior Income Tax Rulings Officer. Compared to the CRA, life as a Friends’ volunteer is “stress free.” But at the same time, Marc’s hours helping to transform the Rockery from a tangle of plants and weeds into a orderly and handsome garden, assisting at fundraising events, and tramping through the Arboretum to locate and identify the entire stock of trees, provide some structure to life as a retiree.
Marc wanted to maintain some structure to his days but wanted it to come from volunteering. “I was raised to give back to the community,” he explains. “It’s one of my parents’ legacies. My dad is 84 and still volunteers.”
Marc and his wife Deborah Higdon-LeBlond, also a Friends’ volunteer, live within sight of the Farm. Considering their proximity to the Farm, his wish to work outdoors after three decades of being cooped up in an office, and his love of gardening (Marc has removed all grass at home and created a mini version of the Rockery), the Friends of the Farm was a natural choice. He enjoys the challenge of trying to identify the trees in the Arboretum from maps nearly a decade old, of getting his hands in the dirt as part of the Rockery Garden Team, of meeting new people at Friends’ events, and of “working with a great bunch of people” no matter the task. “I enjoy the Farm, the camaraderie, the chance to be outdoors. It’s a great place to spend time.”
Mary Ann Smythe, March 2016
February 2016- Lise Anne James: A “Virtual Volunteer”
In our modern high-tech world, Lise Anne James could be considered a “virtual volunteer.” Lise Anne plays a special role with the Friends of the Farm and yet she doesn’t remember when she last set foot on the Farm. Lise Anne is a French translator and kindly donates her expertise to translate portions of the newsletter and website and any other documents as required. All this accomplished from the quiet and comfort of her home.
Retired from the Treasury Board Secretariat in 2010, Lise Anne regularly scanned the Volunteer Ottawa website looking for a “career as a retired person.” An ad seeking a French translator for the Friends of the Farm immediately caught her attention. “I’d love to do that,” she remembers saying to herself. Lise Anne also happened upon a second volunteer career completely removed from her professional life. One afternoon a month she helps with workshops sponsored by Look Good Feel Better, a charitable cancer program that helps women manage the effects that cancer and treatment can have on their appearance.
Lise Anne has also returned, part time, to the federal fold – filling in as an editor-translator with a federal department on an as-needed basis. Like most retirees, she enjoys a full and satisfying life. Lise Anne’s contribution to the Friends of Farm remains “a wonderful change from decades of translating government policy.” She continues to “love working with words” and, in the case of the Friends, that means finding just the right ones to convey the (English) meaning “in an elegant way.”
Mary Ann Smythe, February 2016
January 2016 – Barbara Woodward: Awed by the Work Done at the Farm
Barbara Woodward is “awed by the breadth and scope of what is done at the Central Experimental Farm.” From her ringside seat as Assistant Editor of the Friends’ newsletter, Barbara has learned so much about what actually goes on at the Farm. “It has broadened my vision of the Farm. It is a living, breathing scientific and horticultural experiment – a useful, productive, and beautiful place in and of itself.”
Barbara became a volunteer in 2012 after retiring from the federal government. It was an easy choice, she says, because of many ties to the Farm. It was a popular destination for walks and toboggan rides when her four daughters were young. Later, Barbara and her husband walked their dog Paddington Bear through the Arboretum and much later she discovered the Ornamental Gardens when one daughter announced peonies as the flower of choice for her wedding. “I thought they were too old fashioned and when I mentioned her request to my neighbour Blaine Marchand (a past president of the Peony Society and a member of the Friends’ Peony Team since 2011), he suggested I tour the peony beds.” Barbara was enthralled with their beauty and vibrant colours. So much so that she now tends what she fondly calls “unruly roses” as part of the Peony Team, where she has “learned so much under the expert tutelage” of Bill Wegman, team leader.
Of her volunteer experience – both in the gardens and on the newsletter – Barbara says: “The Farm belongs to all of Canada, so when you volunteer it’s not about doing something for yourself – it’s about doing something for all Canadians.”
Mary Ann Smythe, January 2016
December 2015 – Deborah Higdon-LeBlond: Teacher Turned Techie
Mention the word “techie” and odds are that the image of a retired kindergarten teacher with a degree in Italian Literature doesn’t come to mind. But Deborah Higdon-LeBlond is indeed a techie – a self-taught computer fan who designed the digital version of the kindergarten report card for the Ottawa Separate and Catholic School Boards, and who generously shares those talents as a Friends’ volunteer.
Deborah originally joined the Bloom Time Team but after two outings ailing knees and back objected to the undulating terrain and, “terribly disappointed,” she left the team. However, Deborah was immediately reinstated as team administrator responsible for data entry when her facility with computers surfaced. As word of Deborah’s computer skills spread, she received and accepted two additional offers. She is responsible for downloading GPS data on the cataloguing of trees in the Arboretum and transferring them onto maps, and serves as the Shelterbelt administrator. Deborah is also making it much easier to manipulate data from the living collection by starting the process of replacing the old data bases with Google Sheets, a free, interactive web-based program that allows multiple users to access spreadsheets simultaneously with the assurance that they are always working from the latest copy.
Deborah is a familiar face in the office and with just 18 months under her belt as a volunteer she is enthusiastic about the work she does and about her interaction with other volunteers. “I love it,” she offers. “And because I’m in the office regularly I run into the same sub-set of people and have found it a wonderful community of volunteers.”
Mary Ann Smythe, December 2015
November 2015 – Brendan Roy: Teacher Turns Student at the Farm
Brendan Roy makes good use of his summer break from teaching high-school geography and history. In July and August, Brendan becomes the student and his classroom the Central Experimental Farm. “I carry over the knowledge I gain here to my own garden,” he explains, taking a break from spreading mulch in the Shelter Belt. In fact, his own extensive garden – located across the street from what used to be part of the Farm where sheep grazed – mirrors many of the plants and shrubs he tends in the Shelter Belt, as well as “any flower that attracts, bees, butterflies, and birds.”
A Friends’ volunteer for the past five seasons, Brendan is a “real outdoors person” and jogs to his weekly stint at the Farm. Brendan’s mother was raised on a farm in Ireland and he inherited her love of gardening. “The first thing I remember as a child is pulling carrots out of the garden and washing them under the hose. My mother had a big, big garden with every possible vegetable, even before she started growing flowers.”
Brendan also recalls roaming the Ornamental Gardens with his mother as a child and visiting and working on a family friend’s farm as a teenager. It’s those fond memories that come to mind as he works at the Shelter Belt. “I love gardening and I love being close to the crops,” he explains. Brendan also enjoys the variety of his volunteer duties and the comfortable companionship of his team mates. “We are a good group. We’ve all been together for a while so we have established our routines and work well together.”
Mary Ann Smythe, November 2015
October 2015 – Suzanne Sauvé: Friends Help Transition to Retirement
As Suzanne Sauvé edged toward the end of her professional life, she began searching for a volunteer position that would help her make a successful transition from full-time employment to retirement. Looking through the Volunteer Ottawa website, she discovered an opportunity to help at Friends’ events. For Suzanne it was a perfect fit. It was a chance to repay the many hours of pleasure from walking through the Arboretum over the years and would also provide a social outlet – “I tend to keep to myself and was concerned that I might become isolated once I retired.”
After a demanding career in human resources, Suzanne, like many new retirees, didn’t want to be tied down. “When you help at events, you come in, do your job, and then it’s over. I enjoy the flexibility that volunteering at events provides.” Four years after becoming a volunteer, Suzanne is always ready to help out when she can. She has worked at the Rare and Unusual Plant, Book, and Craft and Bake sales, on the Friends’ membership desk at Doors Open Ottawa, and at the Victorian Tea. This year, Suzanne did double-duty at the tea. She was part of a group of women who made finger sandwiches and then she returned on the day of the event to sell tickets.
Volunteering has always been part of her life and Suzanne is amazed at how many people it takes to stage our events. “I am very impressed with how generous people are with their time and energy, especially those volunteers who organize the events.”
Mary Ann Smythe, October 2015
September 2015 – Gwen and David Addison: Macoun Garden Proves Perfect Antidote to Condo Living
What do a professional ballet dancer and an ophthalmologist have in common? Well, in this case, nearly 30 years of wedded bliss and a love of gardening with the Friends of the Farm. Gwen and David Addison are one of several volunteer couples at the Farm. David remembers walking through the Farm when he was a resident at the Civic Hospital to “clear his head and get a much needed breath of fresh air.”
As a married couple, the Farm has always been a popular destination for the Addisons. On one visit as they neared retirement, they wondered if there was any possibility of volunteering in the gardens. That possibility has been reality since 2009. On Monday mornings, Gwen and David toil in the Macoun Memorial Garden where they enjoy “getting in and tidying up”
Although David comes from a gardening family, he admits that, in his case, the technical side of things missed a generation. “When we showed up the first time, we stressed that we had little plant knowledge, but that we could probably learn to distinguish weeds from actual plants,” David laughs.
The Addisons share a common situation with many retirees who have moved into a condo and are frustrated by the lack of gardening space. “We have a few pots on the balcony and even then have to watch out for the air conditioning vent.” Gwen and David love being outdoors and enjoy the process of helping to improve the gardens. Add to those benefits the “pleasure of working with a great group of interesting volunteers” and you have the perfect antidote for condo living.
Mary Ann Smythe, September 2015
August 2015 – Aruna Ghatalia: Came to Garden, Stayed for Tea
When the doors opened at the Friends’ annual book sale in June, shoppers flooded into Building 72. Amidst the human crush stood Aruna Ghatalia, calm, cool and collected, one of the volunteers handing out shopping bags and directing bargain hunters to their book categories of choice
Aruna is celebrating her sixth year as a volunteer. She came to the Farm on the recommendation of several Friends. “I was still working at the time, but it sounded very interesting, so I said: ‘Okay, when I retire, I’ll make it a point.’” And she did. Initially, Aruna – a gardener at heart – joined the Arboretum team, but cranky knees forced her to look for other volunteer opportunities.
“I was disappointed that it didn’t work out with the garden teams, but I still wanted to support the Farm in some capacity.” Warm and welcoming, she found her niche helping at events and in the office. She’s one of the regulars who gather round the boardroom table to prepare envelopes for the quarterly newsletter, and is a familiar face, and helping hand, at the Book Sale, Art on the Farm, the Rare and Unusual Plant Sale, and the Victorian Tea.
The latter is one of Aruna’s favourite events. Born in India, she is a tea drinker, and loves to see the china cups and tea sandwiches and scones set out under the trees in the Arboretum. Helping at events provides an opportunity not only “to give back to the community” but for Aruna to mix and mingle with other volunteers and with the public. “I enjoy meeting people,” she says, “and I love the people I meet at the Farm, they are all so nice.”
Mary Ann Smythe, August 2015