September 2019 – Heather Black

A Good Book 

Long before Heather Black signed up as a volunteer for the Iris and Day lily Team at the Central Experimental Farm, she worked as a librarian. Even as a young girl growing up on the Prairies, she always loved the power of a good book to teach and inspire. One book she treasures that remains on her shelf today is a 1977 publication, Canadian Garden Perennials, written by A.R. Buckley. 

She’s a bit unclear on the details but her Uncle Warren either recommended the book or gave it to her long ago. That’s where this story takes an interesting twist. Her uncle was employed throughout his entire career at the federal government’s agricultural research station in Melford, Saskatchewan. She remembers as a child visiting the station, located northeast of Saskatoon.  It looked just like a mini version of The Farm, she remembers. “There was a big tree canopy and spectacular peony fences.”

The Buckley book, it turns out, was written after the author retired from plant research with Agriculture Canada too. Who knows, maybe A. R. Buckley and Heather’s Uncle Warren knew one another? In any case, A.R. Buckley went on to become a well-known garden columnist and then wrote his book. The content is not only about Canadian perennials but plants at The Farm too. It’s full of beautiful photographs and illustrations of The Farm’s flowers. 

Ironically, Buckley’s book became Heather’s gardening bible after she moved east and started gardening in Ottawa. When she and her husband bought a home several decades ago, there already was an herbaceous perennial bed on the property.  Neighbors welcomed the couple by sharing plants from their own gardens. Heather quickly got herself up-to-speed as a rookie gardener by reviewing the Buckley book in her spare moments. 

Time passed. Uncle Warren, a favorite relative, passed away but she holds good memories of her days visiting the Melford research station with him. The Buckley book, now covered with tea stains, has withstood the test of time and shows signs of being well used. 

Her fascination for The Farm, based on her early memories in western Canada, continued over the years. Heather spent many hours at the Central Experimental Farm as her two children grew up, visiting the farm animals or watching her husband run five or ten kilometer races at the Arboretum. She continues her tradition of attending the Rare and Unusual Plant Sale organized by the Friends of the Farm every Mother’s Day. 

Now that she’s retired, Heather enjoys the friendship and knowledge shared by members of her gardening team every Wednesday morning. She’s a big day lily fan and has many in her own garden. She has had less success with iris at home but has learned a great deal about bearded and Siberian irises during her four years of volunteering.  She reckons there’s just too much shade around her yard for iris.

Leafing through pages of the four-decades-old Buckley book, she sighs and says: “There are some lovely pictures of irises in it.” At least she can enjoy the illustrations in her treasured book and, as a dedicated volunteer on the Iris and Day lily Team, care for them at The Farm.

By Julianne Labreche

Photo by Polly McColl