November 2020 – Julie Fletcher

A Mighty Seed

     Speaking to Julie Fletcher, office manager for Friends of the Central Experimental Farm (FCEF), there’s a feeling that she’s like a seed ready to sprout and grow strong roots in her relatively new job. She’s chock-a-block full of energy, enthusiasm and a sense of optimism that the Central Experimental Farm (CEF) will return to its full slate of activities, events and volunteer teams whenever it’s safe.

Personally, she can’t wait.

Like so many waged workers in Ottawa these days, she’s working from home right now – answering a multitude of questions from the public, trying to keep the office humming from afar and really missing those one-to-one interactions with the public, staff and volunteers at the Farm.

“I really love feeling part of a team,” she says. “I’ll be glad to return to work at Building 72.”

Julie started in her new job in November 2019, just a few months before the pandemic hit. Like others, she was forced for safety reasons to pack up and temporarily relocate to a makeshift home office space in Old Ottawa South.

These days, she works from there helping the Friends in their day-to-day operations, a behind-the-scenes employee who appreciates The Farm as much as the tourists and locals who visit it to take wedding photos, picnic, cycle, explore the gardens or enjoy a casual stroll with their dog. For many, The Farm has been a place of tranquility and escape from the pressures of the pandemic this year.

Julie’s own training and background is in event planning, a career well suited to her skills in planning, organizing and coordination.

During these tough times, her own inner peace has come, ironically, from planting seeds in her tiny garden space. Earlier this spring, she planted vegetables seeds. Now, at harvest time, she is reaping the produce. Her containers and small beds are full of juicy tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, kale, arugula, beets and peas, grown with varying degrees of success.

Being semi-retired and having more leisure time to be outside, she loves her forays into gardening.

“It’s the first time I’ve had time to throw myself into it,” Julie says. “I’m having fun!”

She’s also learning about shade gardening, experimenting with recently planted perennials and shrubs beneath a beautiful honey locust tree. This summer, she’s successfully growing hosta, astilbe, Japanese painted fern, St. John’s wort, hellebore, sedum, false spirea, bleeding heart and columbine.

“It was a sad little space,” she says. “It needed some love.”

With fall in the air, she might even save some of those vegetable seeds. It will be a long, cold winter ahead. Meanwhile, she has office work waiting and positive thoughts of better days ahead at The Farm – and hopefully elsewhere too.

By Julianne Labreche

October 2020 – Annie Creighton

Addicted to Gardening

Some people are armchair gardeners. Others consider it too much work or call it quits after planting a few pots of geraniums. That is definitely not Annie Creighton’s style. She’s totally addicted to gardening in the best kind of way. No matter where she lives, she always finds a way to dig in the dirt to satisfy her cravings.

Currently, Annie leads the Rock Garden Team at the Central Experimental Farm. She started on that team eight years ago and stepped into the leader role in 2016. Her teammates heap high praise on her, saying that her lively, warm, and fun-loving style makes the volunteer work so pleasant. She also eagerly shares her deep knowledge of rock garden plants so everyone learns from her.

Annie chose to work in the rock garden because of the variety of plants, projects, and growing conditions found there. This garden features different elevations, a stone pathway, and even a water feature. The light conditions vary too – sun, dappled sun, and shade. In some ways, it feels like a walk through an enchanted forest.

Annie missed not being able to work as a volunteer this summer because of Covid-19 restrictions. She’s keen to return to the rock garden whenever it is safe and she is permitted to do so.

Meanwhile, she praises dedicated staff who have tried their best to maintain the Ornamental Gardens at The Farm, including the rock garden, despite these challenging times and without volunteers to help them.

So much has changed in the past few months. Before the pandemic, staff sometimes shared carefully detailed plant lists with Latin names with her, or new, interesting plants for the rock garden. She enjoyed the mental stimulation as well as the physical exercise.

“It was a real treat,” Annie says.

Given her love of gardening, it’s not surprising that she worked professionally in horticulture for many years, managing a nursery with eight greenhouses. Back then, she’d work ten-hour days at the nursery and then return home to her family and her own country gardens in Lanark County.

“Three hours a week seems like nothing,” she says laughing, comparing her gardening work back then to her volunteer work at The Farm these days.

Since moving to Ottawa, she maintains a vegetable and herb garden at home and maintains her perennial garden too. In her spare time, she tends a couple of other gardens professionally and helps out a friend growing garlic, potatoes, and other vegetables at a large farm property on the Quebec side.

Gardening is in her blood. She grew up in England and started to garden as a child, helping in her parents’ large vegetable, fruit, and flower garden. Just about everyone in her family was a gardener, Annie recollects.

There are so many ways this gardener gives back to her community – growing vegetables to share, planting flowers for pleasure and pollinators, and helping with other volunteers at The Farm.

As far as addictions go, you couldn’t pick a better one than gardening.


By Julianne Labreche

Photo courtesy of Annie Creighton


September 2020 – Susan Kehoe


The last person who ever expected to become a volunteer at the Friends of the Central Experimental Farm is Susan Kehoe. In fact, the retired accountant fully expected to spend the first decade of her post retirement at her newly built home deep in cottage country with her husband and grandkids. Fast forward to a cold and sunny winter morning in early 2019 and Susan is scanning for volunteer opportunities in order to stay busy. The call for volunteers for Friends of the Farm catches her eye. It hits all of the right marks and her passions in life—plants, high tea, books, an artisan event AND gardening. She meets with Donna Pape, the Director of Volunteers at Friends of the Farm, and agrees to become a member of their team. Now that is serendipity!

Susan is the event coordinator for the Art on the Farm event, an annual fundraising event held on the grounds of the Central Experimental Farm at the Arboretum. She, along with a number of volunteers, work the fundraising events (Mother’s Day Plant Sale, the Used Book Sale, the Victorian Tea, and Art on the Farm) all in the name of helping the Friends of the Farm raise funds and public awareness of the importance of the Central Experiment Farm to the Ottawa community.

Susan is also a member (at large) of the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Farm, and helps out on the administrative side where she can. She finds it a rewarding experience to work with the other team volunteers who come from diverse backgrounds and yet all share a common passion and give freely of their time and talents.

“I love to see people passionate about something in life. The fact that I get to spend time with people who are passionate about the same things that I am is the bonus here.”

While the current Covid-19 pandemic has forced the Friends of the Farm to cancel its 2020 fundraising events, Susan is looking forward to getting back to business next year. “Event planning is not unlike organized chaos, and engaging with the many artisans who make our Art on the Farm event successful is a lovely way for me to give back as a volunteer.”

Text and photo provided by Susan Kehoe.

August 2020 – Randy Taylor

The Numbers Guy

Randy Taylor is very good with numbers. That’s why he worked as an accountant.

But there’s something else that you should know about him. Apart from being a numbers guy, he also happens to be a man who is deeply committed to giving back to his local community.

“I believe in giving back,” he says. “I’ve always volunteered.”

He is also committed to the Central Experimental Farm (CEF). He grew up in Ottawa’s west end and fondly remembers family trips as a young boy to visit the Farm. Those memories have stayed with him all the way into retirement.

In 2017, when he saw an ad in the local newspaper looking for volunteers to help at the Farm, it felt natural to reach out and offer his skills. The way he tells the story, there was no easing into volunteer work at the Farm. Suddenly, he crash-landed onto the Board as their new treasurer.

But he has no regrets about taking on this job. He thoroughly enjoys the volunteers he has met both on the Board and around the Farm. He also enjoys working with the Board to plan new activities and projects to preserve The Farm and its heritage. It hasn’t been so easy though this summer, given the restrictions of the pandemic.

Current challenges however have given him a brand-new respect for the Farm volunteers. They do a great deal, so their presence this gardening season is sorely missed.

Currently, Randy is involved in discussions with stakeholders working to build a new hospital nearby. While a new, upgraded Civic campus site is needed in the city, he and others are committed to preserving the history and natural beauty of The Farm that attracts so many visitors every year.

He is working on the Celebration Bench Program, a Farm fundraiser that involves the donation of a memorial bench and plaque to celebrate a loved one. The benches are located at different sites across the CEF, offering places to rest and enjoy a few moments of tranquility.

He’s proud too of the recent fundraising work by the Friends that helped to restore a water feature at the Rockery, located in the Ornamental Gardens at the Farm. Most assuredly, visitors and locals will enjoy it for years to come.

Randy Taylor has done so much to help the Farm and his local Ottawa community. He has contributed his time, energy and skills, cheerfully and willingly. As well, he volunteers with his church and helps low-income residents at tax time.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to count the ways this numbers guy has helped to pay back his community.


By Julianne Labreche

Photo courtesy of Randy Taylor


July 2020 – Rob Stuart

Rock Solid

Rob Stuart is a rock-solid kind of guy – inquisitive, dependable, friendly and smart. No wonder then, that a few years before moving into retirement, his curiosity led him to rock gardening as a hobby.

For years, Rob has been a gardener, preferring to start his plants from seed. But back in 2003, he discovered the Scottish Rock Garden Club online, and it opened up a whole new gardening world. The club’s bulb log with pages of alpine bulbs intrigued him. He immersed himself in the club’s online chats. He was fascinated by the stories of early plant explorers who visited faraway places such as Tibet and Nepal to collect rare species of alpines.

Naturally, he started to look around for local information on rock gardening. In 2006, joined the Ottawa Valley Rock Garden and Horticultural Society. He attended their lectures and meetings, sharing information with like-minded gardeners.

After he retired in 2013, he had more time to pursue his interest in rock garden plants. He set up LED lights to grow alpines – plants that grow at high elevations above the tree line – from seeds during the winter, donating the young plants come spring to local plant sales. He became a master gardener and continues to share his interest about rock gardening enthusiastically with local audiences.

When another master gardener suggested he consider volunteering in the rock garden at the Central Experimental Farm, Rob didn’t have to think long before making the decision to join the Rock Garden (or Rockery) team. In April 2018, he went to the orientation session, knowing instantly what team would best suit him. In July 2018, he began his once weekly volunteer work on Tuesday mornings.

The volunteer work suits him well in many ways. Practically, it’s comfortable work because the rock garden, situated in the Ornamental Gardens at the Central Experimental Farm, is partially shaded by tall conifers and shrubs. Depending on the weather, he and his team can work either in sunshine or shade.

Being a practical man, he enjoys watching the progress of his team as they weed and pull out invasive plant species in the rock garden. Being a friendly man, he enjoys the camaraderie of his team that has doubled in size since he joined it. Last summer, it consisted of twelve volunteers. He also appreciates the diversity and dedication of his team who travel from many parts of the city to volunteer there.

“Everyone is there because they really enjoy it,” he says.

Of course, he enjoys the plants that grow there too – primulas, sedums, native iris, campanula and heukera. His favorite plant is gentian with their pretty blue blooms. He is least fond of Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), a dense spreader that he describes as “a garden thug.”

Even though the team is unable to work in the rock garden this summer because of safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rob looks forward to returning. Rock-solid, he can be counted on to continue his volunteer work with the Rockery team as soon as it’s safe to return.

By Julianne Labreche

Photo courtesy of Rob Stuart


June 2020 – Kate Driscoll


Kate Driscoll has always lived in small spaces.

These days, for example, she lives in a small townhome surrounded by a small plot of land. There’s hardly any space to garden. That’s one of many reasons she decided to volunteer at the large, sprawling Ornamental Gardens at the Central Experimental Farm.

Her story begins soon after her retirement in 2017. After a couple of months of relative inactivity that winter, she started a serious search for some volunteer work. She checked out different options. Then, one day, she saw a photograph that clinched her decision. It was a kick line of smiling volunteers, a team of happy gardeners at the Ornamental Gardens.

That spring, she went to an orientation organized through Friends of the Central Experimental Farm and decided to join The Rock Garden (or Rockery) Team.

“That space just spoke to me, “ she remembers.

It’s a picturesque area at the Farm with tall conifer trees, sprawling shrubs and shade-loving perennials and annuals. Volunteers need to be agile because of the uneven surfaces, able to maneuver between the rocks and boulders and mossy flagstone paths.

Although it was the physical space that first attracted her, Kate is quick to point out the many benefits of volunteering. The fresh air is always therapeutic. She enjoys some physical exercise.  She likes the social aspect too, loyal to her team. Every spring, rock garden volunteers return with their stories to share.

Kate finds gardening itself rewarding. After just a couple of hours of weeding or cleaning up the beds in the shade, the transformation is evident and sometimes even quite dramatic.

She also appreciates the ongoing horticultural skills and the expertise of the more experienced team members. She finds herself always learning.

“I’m working with some very knowledgeable people,” Kate recounts, sharing her own stories of pulling out invasive dog-strangling vine, transplanting young plants grown in the Farm’s greenhouses and removing the fast-spreading lily-of-the-valley.

“I’ve learned to follow orders well.”

While volunteering in the rock garden, she enjoys the earthy smell of low-growing thyme that spreads between the rocks. She’s fond of many rock garden plants, including the bright perennial geraniums and Japanese anemones.

Later, the tools are cleaned and put away. After saying goodbye to her gardening team for another week, Kate always plans for a walk through the gardens. Those big, lush, lovely spaces are rejuvenating after a hard morning’s work.

“I think it’s a wonderful place to volunteer,” Kate says cheerfully.

Who knows? Being such a happy volunteer, she might even want to take a selfie to celebrate?


By Julianne Labreche

Photo courtesy of Kate Driscoll



May 2020 – Randy Thur

New Beginnings

It’s not easy to pick up roots and start somewhere fresh, far away.

It means saying goodbye to trusted colleagues, good neighbours and dear friends. It also means leaving behind familiar, well-loved places packed with memories.

Randy Thur remembers those feelings well.

In 2016, he and his wife moved to Ottawa from their 50-acre property at Golden Lake, just south of Pembroke. He put down roots years ago by that big lake, designing and building his own home.

As his children grew up, he tended the property, mowing an acre of grass and growing a large vegetable garden filled with asparagus, corn, tomatoes, beans, squash, onion and carrots.

He always liked to get his hands dirty in his garden, even after those darned raccoons repeatedly raided his corn patch.  “I tried everything,” he says, “even an electric fence. After the dog died, the raccoons just moved in.”

His roots in Golden Lake are deep. Ancestors on his father’s side arrived there in 1857 from Prussia. (His mother’s side, Irish, arrived in Ontario after the 1840’s potato famine.) As a boy, Randy grew up around Golden Lake and later raised his own family there.

That place had always been home.

Moving to Ottawa after retirement was a big step, involving many changes. However, being a friendly, gregarious man, it didn’t take him long to make new friends. This was accomplished in large part by giving back to his new community and becoming a volunteer.

Randy has many volunteer activities. One of them is helping out with the Friends of the Central Experimental Farm. He’s a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades, it seems. In the spring and fall, he’s active with the Shelterbelt Team. He and other volunteers help take care of the trees, shrubs and perennials there. This includes doing the necessary weeding, mulching, pruning and cleaning there.

It’s a short walk away from his home to the Shelterbelt.  Sometimes he and his wife even like to take a stroll there so they can enjoy the rustic, farm setting and he can show off his handiwork.

Randy also helps with the annual Friends of the Farm book sale – a big fundraiser – as well as the annual Mother’s Day Plant Sale and a short fun run through the Farm, both organized by the Friends.

He has the best of both worlds these days, with year-round friends in Ottawa and friends back at Golden Lake too. He still owns a cottage there and returns every summer.

Aging well, he reckons, should include friendships.

What better place to find them than by joining the Friends of the Central Experimental Farm?

Randy Thur is a lucky man, aging well indeed.


By Julianne Labreche

Photo courtesy of Randy Thur

April 2020 – Patricia Blackburn

The English Country Gardener

The English have always loved to garden. Friends of the Farm volunteer Patricia Blackburn, who grew up in Yorkshire, England, is no exception.

When she was a little girl, just after the Second World War, Patricia’s father tended a large allotment garden that provided the family with healthy food. She remembers learning how to grow Brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbages, cauliflower, beans, and other vegetables. There were fruit bushes too – strawberries, raspberries, currants and blackberries – as well as some small animals. She grew up caring for ducks, hens, pigs, and rabbits.

But it was the beautiful, fragrant roses that she remembers best. Patricia has always loved roses.

Years later, in 2016, after her own daughters grew up, another rose garden returned her to happier days. She was dealing with a terrible tragedy. Her husband had just passed away. Patricia knew changes were needed to improve her mental health and physical wellbeing.

One of her daughters discovered the numerous volunteer opportunities available at the Central Experimental Farm.

“I knew that I had to get out of the house,” Patricia remembers. “I’ve always liked gardening. My daughter did some research online and found the Farm.”

Other than a short stint volunteering in the Arboretum, her volunteer work has always been in the Heritage Rose Garden. She likes the continuity of returning there every summer with many of the same volunteers.

The Heritage Rose Garden is a beautiful spot in the Ornamental Gardens at the Farm, surrounded by four lattice entranceways. Over 220 roses are planted there, ranging from ramblers to shrubs. Included in the collection are some roses originally bred by William Saunders, the first director at the Farm, who was also, as it turns out, British-born.

Patricia works with others on the Heritage Rose Garden team every Friday morning to prepare the beds, weed, prune and, of course, deal with those pesky Japanese Beetles that munch their way through rose leaves, buds, and flowers.

Usually by Canada Day, this invasive species is beginning its move on the roses. Fortunately, Patricia and other members of her team are ready, removing them by hand, always a tedious job.

After all her years of working with roses, does she have any advice for gardeners?

“Every rose has its own way,” she says, thinking carefully about her reply. “It’s just a learning thing.”

Or maybe it’s just a polite English gardener’s way of saying there’s no one-fit solution when gardening season rolls around.


By Julianne Labreche

Photo by Polly McColl

March 2020 – Gretel Harmston

The Wanderer

Friends at the Central Experimental Farm have a nickname for Gretel Harmston. They call her ‘The Wanderer.’ 

Her restlessness as a volunteer comes from wanting to learn more about nature – especially ornamental plants – now that her adult children have left home. 

Volunteering with various teams at the Farm over the past decade has taught Gretel a great deal about lilacs and perennial plants. These days, however, it’s roses that consume her interest. That’s why she enjoys the Rose Team. 

Roses need a lot of love, Gretel explains.

Members of the Rose Team have taught her about weeding, fertilizing and pruning – including the need to wear long, sturdy gloves because of those pesky thorns. She gave up on a pair of short, yellow gardening gloves this past summer, grateful that her team had a medical kit complete with alcohol and Band-Aids, after multiple battles with thorns.

She has learned how the soil needs to be regularly turned with sheep manure to encourage vigorous roses.

Of course, she knows now how to deal with those pesky Japanese beetles too. The insects need to be picked off regularly by hand. Otherwise, these invasive pests can cause serious damage to roses and other plants. 

Gretel has learned too that roses need long hours of direct sunlight. Her roses at home slowly died off as trees and shrubs grew to create more shade. 

“There’s a lot of loving work that’s needed,” she says, laughing, describing the various tasks required in the rose garden.

She points out that there are two rose teams at the Farm. 

She works in the Explorer Rose Garden in the Ornamental Gardens, planted with the hardy roses developed by Felicitas Svejda, a plant breeder who began her work at the Farm in 1961. Svejda worked hard to breed tough roses designed to withstand Canada’s long, cold winters. 

Many gardens these days in different climatic zones across the country are planted with Svejda’s roses, and are named after famous explorers including John Cabot, Samuel de Champlain, William Baffin, Henry Hudson, and Martin Frobisher. Altogether, there are thirteen in the series. 

The other rose garden at the Farm is the restored Heritage Rose Garden, more formal in nature.

Gretel appreciates that many garden visitors stop to admire the roses in their full glory every summer, often stopping to thank her and the other volunteers.

The Farm is a place she has always loved. She thinks it keeps her healthy, physically fit and happy, especially as she ages. Through her volunteer work, her hope is to preserve it.

Gretel dreams that this farm in the middle of the city will continue to be a green space of tranquility as Ottawa expands.  

She’ll continue to do her part, this wandering volunteer who likes to pitch in and help with many activities at the Farm.

“We have to keep this place going and make sure it will be here for centuries to come.”


By Julianne Labreche

Photo by Polly McColl


February 2020 – Lorraine Boulay

A Walk in the Snow


     Every day since retiring, Lorraine Boulay tries to get outside for an hour-long walk around the Central Experimental Farm. No matter the season, there’s always something to see or hear. 

     In wintertime, there are the children playing, sliding down the hills on toboggans, or people taking their dogs for a walk in the snow. 

     In the summer, there are wild birds and forests and flowers. 

     No wonder, given her love of nature, that Lorraine volunteers her time there too. It’s also convenient, given she lives nearby and can easily bike there to work in the gardens or volunteer in different ways. 

    Since retiring in 2015, she continues to volunteer in the perennial beds at the Farm every summer, weeding with her teammates every Tuesday morning. It’s a large collection of over 200 species and cultivars in rotating bloom from early spring until late fall, full of fragrant, showy flowers. 

     Although she is the first to admit that she doesn’t know all the plant names and occasionally wishes that she did– tourists sometimes ask– she can pull weeds. That’s important, although she has the help of her team if there’s any uncertainty.  

     “I’m better at weeding than knowing the names of the plants,” Lorraine says, although she also has grown gardens of her own in the past, harvesting vegetables and enjoys making jams and preserves. 

     Being retired, she has no great ambitions to become a knowledgeable gardener. Her aspirations are limited. “I like the fresh air and being surrounded by the beauty,” she says. She also enjoys the social aspect, getting outside and spending time with others. 

     She does other volunteer work around the Farm as well. She helps with the book sale, a big fundraiser scheduled in late June this year, as well as races held on site to help raise money. She also enjoys working at the Victorian Tea, content to be a backroom worker who washes dishes. Being fluently bilingual, she can help other ways too, if needed.

     Lorraine’s life has changed since growing up in the Gaspé region of Quebec, then leaving behind her fishing village to become a soldier, a wife and a translator. Now, between travels and other activities, she has the pleasure of snowy trees and solitude at the Arboretum in winter, as well as flower gardens and the company of volunteers in summer. 

     “I am so lucky,” she reflects, after signing up for another season of volunteering at the Farm.


By Julianne Labreche

Photo by Polly McColl


January 2020 – Lynn Culhane

The Biker Who Bakes


     For the last four years of her career – rain or shine – Lynn Culhane biked to work in the summer. 

     Five days a week back then, those nearly hour-long bike rides took her straight through the Central Experimental Farm in the early morning. The air was fresh as she biked past leafy trees and greening farm fields. After work, she’d reverse the trek and do it again. 

     “Your mind just forgets about work,” she says, remembering those bike rides through the Farm. “You don’t take your work home with you at the end of the day.” 

     Lynn is an avid biker and an outdoor enthusiast, especially now that she’s retired after a busy 40-year banking career spent indoors. 

     These days, she still bikes to the Farm in the summer but that’s where her rides end. Her office days are long gone. For four years, she has helped as a volunteer with the Friends of the Farm, gardening with the Perennial Team. Sometimes, at the end of the season when the perennials beds are finished, she helps the Shelterbelt Team too. 

     According to Lynn, it’s a happy group of amateur gardeners that meets at the perennial beds every Tuesday morning from May until the end of the summer.  About fifteen volunteers gather weekly to garden for a few hours. They’re responsible for weeding, deadheading and sometimes splitting the many flowering plants and ornamental grasses that grow in profusion. 

     She shares a little team secret. They’re even happier when Lynn, a home baker as well as a biker, brings her homemade apple whiskey cake to share.  She has tried other recipes and offerings too but it’s that apple whiskey cake that seems to put everyone in a good mood. Many ask for the recipe. 

     In fact, a tradition has evolved that many members of the Perennial Team like to bake. Others bring muffins, granola bars, squares and cakes to share at break time as well. Who says gardening needs to be all work and no play? 

     After a morning break however, it’s back to work for these volunteers among the blossoming beds filled with iris, peonies, daisies, sedum, hibiscus and other much-loved garden favorites. Some annuals, including tall sunflowers, also burst onto the scene during the summer. 

     She notes that the staff deserves credit too. They share the workload; busily carting away the weeds and debris piled high by the volunteers, especially as summer draws to an end.

     “Those kids work really, really hard all summer long,” she says. 

     Then cold weather sets in and the team gathers to say goodbye for another season. 

     Lynn and her husband are left to cycle indoors, keeping fit by taking spin classes at a local gym. It’s a different kind of biking, for sure.

     Meanwhile, her summer friends at the Farm have no choice but to endure another long winter’s wait before that apple whiskey cake gets passed around again. 


By Julianne Labreche

Photo by Polly McColl


December 2019 – Christine Ljungkull

December 2019 - Christine Ljungkull

Treasures and Trash 

Chat with Christine Ljungkull about her experiences as a volunteer with the Friends of the Central Experimental Farm and you’ll soon get the sense that she seems to like surprises. 

Why else would she record the treasures and trash that she has uncovered on her hands and knees doing gardening with the Shelterbelt team of volunteers? She lists them off: shoes, pieces of jewelry, mittens, beer bottles, large holes dug by wildlife, ants that bite and even a vintage ice cream scoop. 

“I’m sure everyone on the team has their own list of surprises that they’ve found,” she says, laughing.

She also notes a few unexpected surprises along the nearby walking path at the Shelterbelt: chatty walkers with compliments for her team, lots of dogs on leash and once, a nun dressed in a habit and crucifix who went jogging by. Sometimes, surprises can be dangerous. Cyclists, for instance, come speeding down the pathways and people steering fast moving motorized wheelchair pose hazards. 

Who says that gardening is boring? 

Surprises are just part of the pleasure. Christine enjoys her volunteer work at the Farm for many reasons: the social part, working outdoors during the spring and summer months with her Shelterbelt team and also the flexibility of seasonal work that allows freedom to travel in the winter and spend time with family, including five children and nine grandchildren. 

She also enjoys the social part of the job, working outdoors during the spring and summer months with her team. 

She also believes that the Farm plays a vital role in the Ottawa community, providing quiet spaces where people can find peace in an urban setting.  She would like to see the space there expanded to include a national botanical garden on site someday, as there is a limit to how much work volunteers can do there to help, despite their enthusiasm for preserving and expanding the gardens. 

Volunteers at the Farm come with various levels of experience. Christine’s own skills are impressive. She lived in Quebec for years where she ran a small market garden, growing vegetables and ornamentals. 

When she moved to Ottawa with her husband, they bought a home with a good- sized property. There is always landscaping and garden maintenance needed. She is a member of the Manotick Horticultural Society too, helping to maintain community gardens. 

“It’s always more fun to pull weeds in someone else’s garden,” she notes. Perhaps that’s why she has her fingers in so many community gardening activities. 

Her role as a volunteer at the Farm extends beyond gardening. Christine is a “tea-maker-in-training” at the Victorian Tea organized every summer by hard-working volunteers as a fundraiser. She also helps to sort and organize many books donated every October for the annual book sale, another big fundraising event at the Farm. 

 Christine began her volunteer work as a Friend back in 2016 and has been at it ever since, showing no sign of stopping. She affirms over and over again that she really likes this volunteer work and plans to continue. 

“It’s a lot of fun,” she says, reflecting on her time as one of the Friends of the Farm.

No wonder. After all, you never know what kind of treasure might next be unearthed? 


Photo by Polly McColl


November 2019 – Julie Lalonde

Both Sides Now


     Like a line from that old Jodi Mitchell song, Julie Lalonde has seen the Central Experimental Farm from both sides, now. 

     One side happened during her career. For over thirty-five years, she worked with Agriculture Canada that operates the Farm. It was a desk job that often involved statistics gathering, working in the areas of swine, dairy and specialty crops.  She never had to get her hands dirty, despite it being an agriculture job. 

     The other side is now, in retirement, and very different. After leaving waged work behind, a good friend encouraged her to join the Friends of the Farm as a volunteer. She became a member of the Shelterbelt Team in 2017. The timing was right. She was looking for something relaxing, having just completed a stretch as primary caregiver for an aging parent. 

     She decided to join and give it a try. Since then, there has been no looking back. She enjoys the team immensely.

     “I remember the first day on the Shelterbelt Team,” Julie recollects. “The people were so welcoming.” 

     It wasn’t just friendly people. Everything about that first day was ideal, including getting dirty and planting some trees. 

     She liked the sense of instant gratification that comes with physical work. Who cares, really, that you’re on the ground digging in the dirt, weeding and watering? It’s the variety of tasks that makes volunteer work so interesting for her, plus working outdoors on a team. 

     Julie speaks highly of Polly McColl, her team’s leader, who has been volunteering with Friends of the Farm for years. “She always remembers your name and makes you feel like you’re an important part of the team,” she says.

     After the snow has melted, the Shelterbelt Team starts early in the spring. It goes well into fall when the trees need to be pruned and wrapped to prevent damage from ice, snow, wind and wildlife. 

     Julie tries to volunteer weekly while her team is active, starting early before it gets too hot and working into the late morning. 

     She enjoys the social part of volunteering so much, in fact, that she decided to help as well with the big, annual book sale organized by the Friends of the Farm. The books are collected in October, then sorted and categorized over the winter. 

     The irony is that she’s not much of a reader. Nor is she much of a gardener, Julie adds– even though working on the Shelterbelt Team has taught her some useful gardening skills to apply in her own garden at home.

     She is a dedicated volunteer, determined to take on a task and see it finished. 

     Besides, she’s having fun. Seeing the Farm from both sides now, Julie knows this side suits her just fine at this stage in life. 


By Julianne Labreche

Photo by Polly McColl

October 2019 – Sherry Eliot

A People Person

Sherry Eliot is the first to admit she’s no gardener. She doesn’t have much success with plants, even though she admires others with that talent.

“I am not the world’s best gardener, not at all,” she confesses.

So why does someone who’s not a gardener choose to spend weekends helping out with events at the Central Experimental Farm?

“It’s the people,” she quickly replies. “It’s a lovely group of ladies and gentlemen.”

Her interest in volunteering as a Friend of the Farm came back in 2016. Her family had moved here from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She wanted to connect, establish roots and share a sense of community.

Trouble was, she was also busy working full-time. So, Sherry helps out whenever possible, mainly on weekends.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to sign-on. Her daughter-in-law, a talented and avid gardener herself, first drew Sherry’s attention to volunteer opportunities after reading a local ad. The duo quickly agreed to attend an orientation session together.

Since then, Sherry has been active in many ways. She loves helping out at the annual plant sale, always held on Mother’s Day. Her job is to sell baked goods, an easy sell.

“Who doesn’t love a good cookie,” she laughs.

It’s also fun to people-watch, seeing who comes out for that big plant event. Despite the crowds, she’s starting to see familiar faces.

Sherry also assists out at the big book sale, organized by the Friends, held on Father’s Day weekend. She loves to read. She considers good planning and organization a major strength of this sale.

Then there’s the Victorian Tea. She likes to help there too. One year, she remembers, she worked as a volunteer and then sat down to join the Red Hat Society for tea. She wore two hats that day.

Despite having lived in Ottawa for just a few years, Sherry has learned to really enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the Central Experimental Farm. “I just can’t imagine Ottawa without it.”

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
August 2019 – Kathy McDougall

Fleeting Moments

If beauty is a fleeting moment, then Kathy McDougall likes nothing more than to seize those moments and embrace them. That’s why she decided to join the Peony Team at the Central Experimental Farm (CEF). When it comes to plants, peonies are about fleeting as fireworks– big bangs of explosive, showy colour and then, poof, the blooms are gone for another year.

Kathy is a big fan of peonies, despite their short bloom time. “That just makes us appreciate them even more,” she says. Besides, being an amateur gardener, peonies are simple to grow. They’re also easy to identify when the first shoots emerge in early spring. “It’s very easy to tell a peony from a weed,” she says, laughing.

Her love of peonies goes back a long way. As a child, her family often moved because her father was in the military. Her mom always dug up her prized peonies to take with them. That was when Kathy realized the hardy perennials were worth growing and nurturing.

It was another fleeting moment that prompted Kathy to join the Friends of the Farm Peony Team. Just before retiring in 2015, her husband showed her a small ad posted in the local newspaper. The Friends were looking for volunteers to join their gardening teams. Kathy had no immediate plans to volunteer so soon after retiring but she always loved gardening.  “It turned out to be a fantastic way to do something that I like to do and give back to the community,” she says.

Every Thursday morning during gardening season, Kathy joins the other Peony Team volunteers. She looks forward to these mornings with her new friends.  The team’s weekly work involves weeding, putting up the peony hoops to support the big blooms, deadheading and cutting back the plants in the fall.

In spring, they prepare the peony beds for June Blooms, the big garden tour held at the CEF every year. The collection of peonies at the Farm includes those bred by A. P. (Percy) Saunders (1869-1953), a son of CEF founder William Saunders. These days, the peony gardens contain more than 100 Saunders hybrids, one of the largest collections in North America.

Kathy feels at home at the Farm. She also feels lucky to have a farm in the middle of the city. She sent her children to summer camp there. In winter, when her children were young, they went sledding there. She even remembers going there herself as a little girl, recollecting the day that she and her friend made the bad mistake of jumping into the pool at the Macoun Memorial Garden.  “We got caught by our mothers,” she says.  “That was way worse than getting caught by a Farm worker.”

In retirement, Kathy is happy to both volunteer at the Farm and tend her own home garden. Naturally, she grows peonies at home too.  She grows other plants as well with big bursts of colour– hydrangea, hibiscus and crab apple trees, for example.  These, and other favorite plants, encircle a large portion of her backyard.As well as enjoying their fleeting beauty, plants have been her therapy over the years.  It’s a good escape from the challenges of the workaday world. “When you garden, you can leave a stressful desk job behind you for a while. Plants don’t talk back. It’s very rewarding.”

By Julianne Labreche

Photo by Polly McColl

July 2019 – Karen Scott

Sweet Memories of Peonies

 It’s interesting, the things that trigger childhood memories– a special flavor, a few lines of a song, an old photograph. For Karen Scott, that trigger is peonies. Whenever she sees them, warm memories flood back of her family farm in Vars, a rural community east of Ottawa. Over a dozen peony plants bloomed near the farmhouse there each spring, as well as lilacs. More specifically, she remembers her mom. The peonies at the farm always bloomed in late June, the same time as her mother’s birthday.

To this day, Karen continues to love those big, frilly flowers that provide such a short burst of showy color before their petals drop or get unceremoniously drenched in rain. That’s why it was such an easy decision for her to volunteer to join the Peony Team at the Central Experimental Farm (CEF) just before she retired from her desk job in September 2015.

Every spring since then, she heads out on her bike once a week to help at the Farm. The Peony Team is a particularly busy one in springtime, as there are over 600 peonies spread across twelve beds. Some are heritage and award-winning ones. They include 105 different peony cultivars introduced by A.P. Saunders, son of the first director of the CEF, Dr. William Saunders.

Karen has learned a lot about peonies since joining the team, including ideal spacing for these perennials that need cold winters to survive, and how to transplant them and trim them back in fall. She also enjoys the social aspect of gardening as part of a team and loves being outdoors as an amateur gardener: “It’s good for the soul to get your hands a little dirty. It’s also very rewarding when you see things come up the next year.”

Her passion for gardening extends beyond the Peony Team. She tends annual flowers around her own terrace home– impatiens, petunias and pansies. She also helps care for the gardens at St. Thomas the Apostle in Alta Vista where she worships and volunteers.

Fortunately for her church community, Peony Team leader Bill Wegman also grows peonies at home and has been able to donate some extras for planting at the church. Karen is grateful that she has benefited from both his knowledge of peonies as team leader as well as his generosity of spirit.

Beyond peonies, Karen has other fond memories of the Central Experimental Farm. She remembers driving her young daughter there years ago to participate in summer camp with farm animals. She recollects going to the Farm to toboggan down the hills on snowy days with her kids. She remembers showing the Farm to family visiting from out-of-province. When her grandson comes soon, she’ll take him there too.

“The peonies live on,” she laughs, remembering those ones from so long ago, plus the hundreds of peonies that she is surrounded by today in her work as a committed volunteer. So too do the memories.

By Julianne Labreche  

Photo by Polly McColl

June 2019- Pat Beechey

Pat Beechey

Tour Guide and Nature Lover Extraordinaire

Friends of the Farm volunteer Pat Beechey loves nature, including the complexity of wildlife in her own backyard. These days, she enjoys attracting bees and butterflies and hummingbirds to her gardens. Well, birds of all kinds, really. She speaks with pleasure about the pigeons that land for a splash in her heated winter birdbath.

The avid gardener also talks about the doves that arrive every day at dawn, the bird boxes that attract the swallows and the hummingbirds buzzing around the milkweed at the family cottage. Then, she speaks with awe and admiration about her love of another green space, an older, larger one – the Central Experimental Farm – where she volunteers.

“I just love that we have a big, central green space in the middle of the city,” Pat says. She’s proud of the Farm, happy to show it off and to share the heritage landscape. During the summer months, she’s a volunteer tour guide welcoming busloads of visitors to The Farm.

From the moment guests arrive and step off the bus, Pat is there to greet them, prepared with her well researched notes and interesting bits of history. She starts by taking them to a place where there once was a kitchen garden, reminding them that staff and their families actually lived onsite long ago at the Farm.

She shows them beds of heritage roses, including the Explorer series developed there by ornamental plant breeder Felicitas Svejda (1920-2016). She takes them on a walk among some of the over 800 lilac trees, including those developed on the Farm by Isabella Preston (1881-1965).

She moves on to the showy day lily, peony and iris beds and the newly- restored Macoun Memorial Garden. She takes visitors through the Rock Garden, once overgrown with weeds and invasive plants and recently restored by a team of Friends of the Farm volunteers working with Agriculture Canada. Pat would like to see even more restoration work done around the Farm; it’s such a historical showcase.

“You could easily spend a whole day there, guiding them around,” she says. However, most of her tours last about an hour.

She appreciates visitor questions and if she doesn’t know the answers, she’ll research to find them.  Pat also is modest. Beyond the courses and volunteer work in the community that have earned her the title of a ‘Master Gardener’, she continues to take horticulture courses– studying and learning about plants. She is knowledgeable; a garden pro when it comes to answering questions about ornamental plants, vegetables and trees.

She describes her love of nature as ‘a gardening bug’, remembering exactly when this most benign of ‘bugs’ started. It was the beautiful Ottawa summer of 1975. She and her family had just moved to a new home with a big backyard. That year, she started planting strawberries, asparagus, plum and apple trees and a vegetable garden. That was when her love of gardening began.

These days, even though she’s older and her back sometimes gives out, Pat still loves to tend her own gardens and is fascinated by their biodiversity. She continues to be keen to visit and show off the gardens at the Farm too, knowing that history teaches valuable lessons and historic sites, including gardens, are worth preserving for generations to come.

Text:  Julianne Labreche

Photo: Courtesy of Donna Pape

May 2019 – Julianne Labreche

Quiet Spaces

Quiet spaces are important in a fast-paced world. That’s why the Central Experimental Farm has always been my ‘go-to’ place. I worked professionally for many years in adult rehabilitation at The Ottawa Hospital, sometimes a stressful environment. At the end of the day, no matter the season or how nasty the weather, there was nothing better to rejuvenate the spirit than a long walk around the Arboretum with my dog.

It was at the Farm that I learned to appreciate the importance of creating wild spaces in my own garden, roaming through the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Nature does not need to be tamed; it needs to be nurtured. That’s why I focus on growing native and zone-friendly plants—trees, shrubs, herbs and flowers to sustain birds, bees, butterflies and other urban wildlife.  Truth be told, there’s barely a blade of grass left in my suburban space.

I like to keep busy so volunteer as a master gardener and a Friend. It was great fun wearing both hats, representing both volunteer groups when I coordinated the Master Gardener Lecture Series in 2017-18, held on-site at the Farm. Our speakers are knowledgeable and put so much time into these talks.

Nowadays, being retired—whatever that means—I enjoy walking and biking at the Farm or strolling through the barns with family to visit horses, cattle, pigs and goats. I also believe in giving back in retirement. That’s why, for a couple of years, I put on my trusty gardening gloves and helped volunteer teams in the Macoun Memorial Garden and the lilac beds in the Farm’s ornamental gardens. Back home, in my own kitchen, I rolled up my sleeves and baked tea biscuits for the Friends of the Farm Victorian Tea. It was so disappointing when rain cancelled that event last summer. I guess I’ll have to save my big flowery Victorian hat and string of fancy fake pearls for next year.

In the winter months, when the Farm is covered in deep snow, I like to write these volunteer profiles. Polly McColl, another master gardener and a volunteer extraordinaire with boundless energy and dedication, gives me a list of volunteers. One is profiled each month.  This month, my own name rolled up. Every volunteer has a different skill set and reason to volunteer. All share one passion, however—a love of the Central Experimental Farm. Like myself, many volunteers have spent years at the Farm enjoying its natural beauty and attending events on site with family or friends. It’s a special place in the heart of a big city.

So, I guess it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that I have mixed feelings about some big changes ahead at the Farm, including plans for the new Ottawa Hospital. I know that’s a hot topic and a new Civic campus in a central location is badly needed to provide first class, excellent care. I just wish that somewhere else, anywhere else, had been chosen instead. But that’s old news now. At least for now, until bulldozers start to break soil and cement trucks roll in, the Farm will remain a quiet space.

Text:  Julianne Labreche

Photo: Courtesy of Julianne Labreche

April 2019 – Jim Mackenzie

April 2019 – Jim Mackenzie

The Sign Man


Volunteers at the Central Experimental Farm call Jim Mackenzie ‘The Sign Man’. Whenever there’s a big fundraiser at the Farm, he’s usually the guy who posts the signs. People depend on him because even with modern-day high-tech GPS devices, apps and Google Maps, it’s likely to be Jim Mackenzie’s simple cardboard signs that lead folks to events organized by the Friends. Sometimes, simple is best.

“It isn’t steady work and the pay isn’t great, but I still enjoy it,” he chuckles. Jim has been volunteering with the Friends since 2015. Around that time, he reluctantly sold his own family farm in Buckingham, Quebec. His dad was a beef farmer and Jim grew up on that farm. When he finished high school, he grew tired of endless farm chores and left to go to university. Years later, he realized he missed his childhood home and wanted to return. So, for many years, he worked in Ottawa and returned to the family farm after work and on weekends.

He came to love the outdoor work. The soil fed his soul.

Time passed though. Life changes. Jim retired ten years ago from the federal government and now lives in a condo. These days, his ties to the land continue through his volunteer work with the Friends and also helping his own friends who still farm.

In 2015, he joined the Shelter Belt team. That got him outside, working with some dedicated volunteers whose focus was to maintain a shelterbelt of trees and shrubs along the western edge of the heritage landscape. Nowadays, trees such Colorado spruce, green ash, maple and walnut are helping to protect the fields from salt and soil erosion. Lilac, honeysuckle and serviceberry shrubs beautify the surroundings and help clean the air. “The roses were the worst though,” he remembers, describing his weeding, pruning and clipping jobs with the team. “Those thorns were nasty.”

In 2016, he was given a brand-new job. That’s when his reputation as The Sign Man got established. These days, he’s more or less on call. No matter if it’s the book sale, the Victorian Tea or another fundraising event, Jim is happy to turn up to help with signage and set-up. With all those signs he posts, no one is likely to get lost.

He readily admits that he likes this job assignment. After all, the big red barns of the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum are just across the street. The cows, sheep, horses and other animals that remind him of his own rural roots are there—content and well cared for at the Farm in the middle of the city. The hay is growing and the border collies are busy working, chasing away those darned geese. If you can’t take the farm out of a city boy, then you can bring the farm to him. It’s a lovely place to go, Jim muses. Especially when you can’t go home again.


By Julianne Labreche

 Photo by Polly McColl


March 2019 – Caroline O’Connor

March 2019 – Caroline O’Connor

In the Pink

If the mosquitoes aren’t too pesky, Caroline O’Connor loves to putter about in the garden. For years, when she lived in Hudson, Quebec, she spent long hours in her small, cottage-style garden filled with pink peonies, bleeding hearts and leafy foliage of differing shapes and textures. “I seem to be attracted to plants that move in the wind,” she says. “Pink, mauve and white are my favorite colors.”

Later, she joined the Hudson Garden Club. She learned to differentiate flowers from weeds. Her garden skills were honed when she was hired to work two summers for a local landscaping business. Rain or shine, she had a job to do. She was part of a hard-working team that helped to maintain some of the lovely old family properties around Hudson. Her gardening skills grew like wildflowers.

However, her life changed dramatically in the spring of 2016 when she moved to Ottawa. She rented an apartment with just a small balcony. Her garden was a thing of the past. It was then that she learned about the Friends of the Central Experimental Farm and decided right away to become one. A few months later, in June, she was out weeding with a new team in the perennial beds at the Farm, happy to be gardening again and meeting new friends.

She lives close enough to the Farm that she can sometimes bike to events there, a lovely ride on a warm spring or summer day that takes her along the meandering bike trail by the Ottawa River and through the dappled shade of the tree-lined Arboretum. “Those wonderful trees are quite spectacular,” she muses.

Truth is, whether tending the ornamental gardens or at the many events organized by the Friends, she’s tinkled pink when she volunteers at the Farm. Each year, she loves pulling the delicate old china cups and saucers with their varied floral designs out of the cardboard boxes where they’re stored, getting them matched and ready for service at the Victorian Tea.

She also enjoys helping out whenever she can with the Friends’ book sale and volunteering for Bug Day—a celebration of insect life organized by the Entomological Society of Ontario, held annually at the Farm and a big hit with kids of all ages. Even though her life is busy working part-time, she hopes someday to be able to spend even more time at the Farm. Volunteering brings her joy. Beyond the pleasure of enjoying the bucolic surroundings, she likes to feel that she is contributing her skills, giving back, learning and being part of a team.

Finally, she mentions in passing that her life is about to get even busier this year. Proudly, she announces that she’s expecting to become a grandmother for the first time soon, not just once but twice by year’s end. She can think of nothing better than to bring her family someday to the Farm to run and play and join in the many kid-friendly activities there. Pink or blue—girls or boys—it makes no matter, really.  She’s just happy to be a new granny able to spend time volunteering there and watching her grandchildren grow up.

 By Julianne Labreche

 Photo by Polly McColl

February 2019 – Jackie Terris

An Extra Pair of Hands


Many hands make light work, as the old saying goes. Wherever help is needed at the Central Experimental Farm, Jackie Terris is happy to assist. “Wherever they need an extra pair of hands, I’m willing to be there,” says this enthusiastic Friends of the Farm volunteer.

Maybe it’s because she finds the Farm such a calming place in the middle of the city that she makes the long weekly drive from her Kanata townhouse to volunteer. Or maybe it’s because gardening brings back fond memories her youth. She grew up in the seaside resort town of Brighton, England where her family had a garden. Or maybe it’s just because she enjoys the company of other volunteers. “They’re all such lovely people,” she says.

Whatever the reason, or combination of reasons, she’s thoroughly committed to her volunteer work. She retired about seven years ago from her waged work as a graphic artist at the Ottawa Citizen. Having always worked in the print trade, she was looking for something different. She heard about volunteer opportunities at the Farm from a former colleague and signed up in 2015. Since then, she has volunteered in a variety of ways.

Jackie is a big fan of the Victorian Tea. She always looks forward to that annual fundraiser organized by the Friends every summer where this English expat arranges and lays out plates for a proper British tea. She also helped with the Friend book sale for a couple of years.

But her real passion these days is working on the Hosta Team, caring for hundreds of these shade-loving perennials that grow profusely under the big trees at the Arboretum. Jackie had never heard of hostas until moving to Canada. “I never realized how many varieties there are until I started to work at the Farm,” she says. “They’re so easy to grow and so hardy.”

At the Arboretum, about 600 hostas thrive in the moist soil and dappled shade as part of a woodland garden. Every Wednesday, Jackie joins about six other volunteers to maintain them. Springtime is a busy season, mainly clearing out debris. In fall, there is deadheading to be done. This past summer was busier than usual as she and her team transplanted dozens of hostas to a nearby location.

Jackie also grows a few hostas in her own teacup-size garden at home, a garden she describes as “a visual garden, mainly with floral pretties.” Given her own garden is small, the Farm provides more room for her to satisfy her green thumb urges.

For a couple of years, she helped the Shelterbelt Team too, caring for the shrubs and trees that help to act as a windbreaker, especially come wintertime. There always was pruning to be done, weeding and mulching. But over time, working on two teams proved to be a bit taxing for her.

The veteran gardener admits feeling a little older these days. “I’m getting up there, getting a bit creaky,” she says, laughing. She has some arthritis in her hands but that doesn’t deter her from volunteering at the Farm. She’s determined to lend a hand or two—no matter a few aching bones—to lovingly maintain one of her favorite places.

Text by Julianne Lebreche

Photo by Polly McColl

January 2019 – Michel Girard

Fond Farm Memories


Michel Girard has fond memories of growing up on a dairy farm in Lac Saint-Jacques, a rural town in northern Quebec. His parents were farmers. His grandparents were too. Farming just seems to run in the family genes. So, it was an easy decision soon after his retirement in 2015 to become a volunteer at the Central Experimental Farm.

“I didn’t want to be a farmer but thought it was wonderful to have a farm in the middle of the city,” he says, remembering fondly the days when he lived just a short walk away from the Farm.

Michel’s first volunteer job was to help with a survey of existing trees in the Arboretum. Ironically, way back when he was a boy in grade eight, he was involved in a similar survey of trees around Lac Saint-Jacques as part of his school science project. “I remember thinking, this is amazing. This is like when I started my science career,” he recollects.

It was a smooth transition for him to move from working as a research scientist at Health Canada for thirty years to helping at the Farm as a volunteer. The work on the survey suited him well. As he completed the survey, he enjoyed learning about the diversity of trees at the Arboretum using a GPS device to track down their location and then help with their identification.

Nowadays, Michel enthusiastically continues to embrace life as a volunteer at The Farm. His tasks sometimes change. He helps out once or twice a week during the growing season, depending on the jobs required. This past summer, for instance, he helped with a project to dig up, split, move and transplant about sixty hosta plants.  Hostas have roots are like cement, so they’re tough and not easy to split. It was a big job for him and the other volunteers, all women.

The Hosta Gardens are located on a sloping hill in the Arboretum, nestled among cedar and cypress trees. Unfortunately however, the retaining walls had started to give way. Some of the plants needed to be moved to flat ground. The work needed to be done quickly. He and “my little ladies”, as he affectionately calls his fellow team members, got the job done right on schedule.

He continues to help as needed with other volunteer jobs at the Farm, such as setting up or taking down tables for the Victorian Tea, a fundraiser organized each year by Friends of the Farm.

“I do enjoy doing these things,” he says. “Mind you, I don’t enjoy it when it’s 35 degrees Celsius outside. I do think it’s worth it though. We need to keep our Farm intact.”

Wise words.  Especially coming from a retired scientist whose memories will always be back on the family farm.


Text by Julianne Lebreche

Photo by Polly McColl

December 2018 – Nancy Finn

Dirt Under Her Fingernails


Nancy Finn isn’t one to fuss with fancy polished fingernails. “My number one priority is always to get dirt under my fingernails,” she says, laughing.

Once a gardener, always a gardener, it seems. No wonder then that when she moved back to Ottawa in 2015, she knew right from the beginning that she was going to join one of the gardening teams with the Friends of the Farm.

Her love affair with the Farm started when she was a young girl. Back then, she lived not too far from the Central Experimental Farm. Early on, she came to appreciate having a farm in the middle of the city. Even though she moved away from Ottawa when she was twenty-two, she returned often to the city and never lost her appreciation for country spaces, especially when conveniently located so close to downtown.

For many years, she lived in Smiths Falls where she was able to create her own spacious perennial beds. They just kept growing and growing like Topsy over the years. “I kept going to the nurseries and the plant sales,” she remembers. “”Every time I went, of course, I bought more plants home. Still, it kept me sane and it still does.”

For many years, she worked as a dental assistant. When downsizing occurred at her workplace, the Rideau Regional Center– an institution for people with developmental disabilities that eventually closed– her position was eliminated. She did some serious thinking about her future and eventually decided to move back to Ottawa, in part to be closer to an aging aunt who needed her assistance. So, she moved into a condominium not too far from the Farm. She soon signed up to volunteer with the Day lily and Iris Team.

Over the course of that first summer as a volunteer, one day she met a volunteer working alone. The Wednesday morning Lilac Team was short of volunteers that summer. Nancy’s logic was that she was there to work and was willing to pitch in where most needed. So, she switched teams and didn’t look back.

“I’m enjoying this work. I’m here to stay,” Nancy says. Fortunately, after she volunteered for the Lilac Team, others did too. There are lots of lilacs at the Farm so helping hands are welcome. Now the beds get weeded at least twice a season and also mulched. That’s a far cry from 2016 when weeding barely got done.

She happily does other volunteer jobs as needed, such as helping out with the plant sale or collecting books for the Friends’ annual book sale.  At home, she also likes to pitch in with the community rooftop garden at her condominium. This past year, the herbs that she and others planted– chives, parsley, rosemary, dill, and thyme– were harvested and enjoyed by the residents.

She loves sharing her interest in gardening and meeting new friends at the Farm. “We all share the same interest,” she concludes. “Anyone who volunteers at the Farm is a person worth knowing.”

That sometimes includes friends with dirty fingernails too.

Text by Julianne Lebreche

Photo by Polly McColl

November 2018 – Rose Farley

Sharing the Farm with a Family from Syria

 As well as working as a volunteer with the Friends of the Central Experimental Farm, Rose Farley also volunteers with friends to help a recently arrived family from war-torn Syria. Although the family is settling into their new life in Ottawa, there is much to learn. During times when Rose is not helping them adjust to their new country, she sometimes enjoys sharing the beauty of the Arboretum. “They saw four weddings there the day that we visited,” she recollects. “They thought it was so beautiful.”

Having grown up in Ottawa, Rose has been a long-time visitor to the Farm for many years.  As a child, she remembers having picnics and going tobogganing there with family. As an adult, she walked there frequently with her two much-loved dogs­– Brodie, a Collie and Maddie, a Golden Doodle. In 2012, after retiring from a busy career in the federal public service, she decided to join the Friends and signed up as a volunteer.

For a few years, she worked as part of the Shelter Belt Team overseeing a strip of recently planted trees and shrubs along Merivale Road at the western edge of the Farm. She enjoyed working there, weeding and mulching with the other volunteers. Then she added to her volunteer duties, joining the Peony Team. These volunteers care for approximately 600 stunningly beautiful peonies that bloom every June at the Ornamental Gardens.

When arthritis in her hands and back made gardening too painful to continue, a positive attitude prevailed. She turned her interests instead to assisting with the Friends’ annual Victorian tea. She continues to help with that event– hulling strawberries, setting tables and filling lemon curd into small tarts for guests to enjoy.

She was disappointed when the tea, always a popular event as guests compete for the best Victorian garb and hats, got rained out this year. Fortunately, the sandwiches were delivered instead to a local food bank and the homemade baking was frozen and used instead at the Art in the Farm sale in mid-August.

“You feel like you’re doing something useful that’s contributing to the quality of life in Ottawa,” she says, explaining her rationale for her volunteering to help the Friends for over six years now. Even though she hasn’t been so active recently, she loves to help out whenever possible. She’s a big believer in giving back.

Text by Julianne Lebreche

Photo by Polly McColl

October 2018 – Rick Haas

Mr Jack-of-all-Trades

Richard Haas is a salt-of-the earth kind of guy. He’s the type of man that anyone would like for a friend­–handy, down-to-earth, always willing to lend a hand. He also dispenses quickly with formalities, preferring a more casual approach in conversation.  “Nobody calls me Richard,” he says. “Just call me Rick.”

So, no wonder that when his wife, Shari Haas, joined the Board of Friends of the Central Experimental Farm in 2015, Rick cheerfully signed onboard to volunteer too. Since then, he has gained the reputation of a sort of jack-of-all-trades. He’s there to assist whatever any handyman jobs need to be done.

It’s hard to compile the list of to-dos from his volunteer job jar– it’s just too long. He helps with the physical set-up for the spring lecture series carried out over four Tuesdays each spring in partnership with the Master Gardeners. He arranges stalls for the big plant sale held annually by the Friends on the Mother’s Day long weekend, then stays for the day and helps with cleanup too. He directs traffic for the Victorian Tea and Art on the Farm, with profits going to support the work of the Friends. He assists with drop offs for the big book sale held by the Friends. He’s on call for errands, whenever needed. The list goes on.

Apart from being married to an enthusiastic spouse on the Board, what spurs him to work so hard to help the Friends? “I like the Farm,” he says. “We went there with the kids for years.” His roots are in Saskatchewan and he’s used to farm life. His wife grew up on a dairy farm. He likes meeting folks at the Farm, talking about Canadian history, old farm tools and stories about growing up on a farm.

He’s also a modest man. “I’d like to give credit to the ladies who work so hard at the Farm.  They just keep doing it,” he says. He plans to continue helping the Friends too, even after he retires. Spring and fall, that is, whenever he’s not doing renovations on his cottage.

Text Credit: Julianne Labreche

Photo Credit: Polly McColl

September 2018 – Susan McGregor

September 2018 - Susan McGregor

The Simple Side to Gardening

Susan McGregor prefers a simple garden. No muss or fuss. That’s how she gardens in her own backyard. That’s also one reason why she enjoys volunteering weekly with the Macoun Memorial Garden Team at the Central Experimental Farm every year. “I like making things neat and tidy,” she says.

She also enjoys the social aspect of volunteering, being part of a core group of dedicated volunteer gardeners that return year after year from May until October.  “It’s a great group of people. You also get a good workout.” she says.

She laughs when she recounts the story of how her volunteer work with the Farm began back in 2014.  She had been a stay-at-home mom for many years. When her husband retired, she decided it would be fun to get out of the house to enjoy the freedom of the great outdoors. Now, she volunteers every Monday morning. Her husband volunteers too at the Farm on Fridays. They enjoy exchanging tips and other bits of information about their different teams.

She admits it’s sometimes hard work. Bending down to weed in the hot sun can sometimes be tiring. Then she laughs again, saying weeding is a great way to get rid of frustrations. When it gets too hot, she can always find some shady spot in the garden in the company of her garden friends. “We learn from each other,” she says. With her large team– as many as sixteen volunteers– there is lots of knowledge to share. “There is always someone who knows the name of a plant, or whether it’s a weed or not.”

William T. Macoun is remembered as an inspiration in the Canadian horticultural world. He headed the Horticulture Division at the Farm for 35 years, the recipient of many awards in his day for his knowledge and contributions. The Macoun Memorial Garden was opened on June 6, 1936 on the former site of his home there.

Nowadays, volunteers work dilligently to maintain the gardens.  “I chose well,” she says, thinking back on her decision to join the team.  She is committed to continue her volunteer efforts there with her team who are dedicated to preserving W.T Macoun’s legacy through this garden.

Text credit: Julianne Labreche

Photo credit: Denise Kennedy


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.


July 2018 – Dorothy Tol

A Gardener’s Love of Learning

One day, shortly after Dorothy Tol retired from the federal government, an Ottawa Citizen ad caught her eye. Volunteers were needed to help on gardening teams in the Central Experimental Farm’s ornamental gardens. She contacted the Friends of the Farm, attended a spring orientation session and suddenly a retirement plan started to grow.

Working with the Friends of the Farm is just a natural extension of Dorothy’s lifelong goal to be a good gardener. Since joining The Friends in 2015, she has acquired knowledge about many plants– including some nasty invasive weeds– by rotating through the different volunteer gardening teams.

First, she signed on for the lilac team, a Wednesday morning team of volunteers that cares for lilacs at The Farm’s ornamental gardens. Then, excited to learn more, she agreed to double duty and signed up for the perennial beds in the Macoun Memorial Garden too. These gardens, located in the northwestern corner of the ornamental gardens, commemorate the life and work of Dominion Horticulturalist W.T. Macoun who died in 1933.

“Everyone is so nice on the teams,” she says. “I’ve worked with some great leaders.”  Her vision is to eventually rotate through the teams and gain knowledge through some varied experiences. Recently, she said goodbye to the Macoun Memorial Garden team and joined the team in the newly created Shelterbelt. “My vision is to eventually move on to the peony beds, the daylilies, and then the hosta beds.”

Behind the scenes, Dorothy also helps with the Friends of the Farm Victorian tea, a fundraiser held every summer under the shade trees in the arboretum, located just across the road from the ornamental gardens.  One of her fondest memories is gathering wildflowers to organize into bouquets for the Victorian centerpieces that beautifully decorate the tables.

When Dorothy is not volunteering with The Friends, she enjoys creating beautiful containers for her own garden. With heavy clay soil at home, she has discovered that container gardening is easier. She hits the plant sales in early July, buying her plants then. Dorothy also belongs to a number of local horticultural groups. She enjoys exchanging tips with other gardeners.

When it comes to gardening, Dorothy embraces a good challenge. “I’m still trying to grow from seeds,” she confesses. “So far, I haven’t had much success.”

Julianne Labreche, July 2018. Photo by Polly McColl.


June 2018 – Cathy MacGregor

Watching for Blooms

Every spring, Cathy MacGregor joins three other volunteers with the Friends of the Central Experimental Farm to record bloom times of trees at the Arboretum. There are literally hundreds of trees that bloom there in springtime. Their recordings are useful to scientists at the Farm who follow the natural cycles of the trees, especially with the effects of climate change.

Call them ‘Citizen Scientists’ or just volunteers, but they’re working under the tutelage of scientists to record accurate data about the blooming time of trees there. Cathy hasn’t got a scientific background herself– she’s not a botanist, nor even an avid gardener– but she does have a curiosity to learn, received some training and hopes that the research helps to advance knowledge about local trees.

Besides, she adds, “I like being outside. I like learning. I’m not an accomplished gardener. I just have a townhouse. But you can commune with the trees at the Farm. There’s no squabbling. Everyone is in their ‘happy place’ at the Farm. It suits me well.”

Cathy has been volunteering with the Friends since 2009. For the past six years, her focus has been the Bloom Time Team. “I try not to take on any extra curricular activities in the spring,” she says. “I might need to visit the Farm as often as four times a week.” Over the years, she admits having developed some protectiveness towards her quadrant of the Arboretum with its crabapples, willows, birch, elders, catalpa, poplars and other native and non-native trees, caring for their well-being.

She admits her work is not always so easy. On a cold spring day, her hands get cold. Sometimes, it’s muddy and dirty. On a windy day, it’s hard to keep her papers from flying away. But timing is everything. She needs to record bud initiation in ‘her trees’. If she notices that the entire tree is in bloom, then she has missed that window of concise data collection.

She likes the fact that her work is flexible and that it is not difficult on her back or knees, unlike other gardening activities.  Other than wishing there were a few more volunteers to lend a hand, she enjoys the work immensely. Recording blooms, she adds, “is a nice change from my work. It’s a good decompression for me.”

Julianne Labreche, June 2018. Photo by Polly McColl.

May 2018 – Diane McClymont Peace

Peace in the Garden

Diane McClymont Peace first fell in love with the Central Experimental Farm long ago, back in the Seventies when she was in university and used to bike from her rented rooming house to Agriculture Canada where she had a summer job. “I was just blown away with the beauty and history of the area,” she says.

Nowadays, even though many years have passed, she is still in love with The Farm and happy to volunteer her time there. In the interim, she graduated from Queen’s University and Carleton, worked in the federal government, raised a family and acquired many horticultural and scientific skills that make her an invaluable volunteer. Soon after retiring, she enrolled in the Horticulture Industries Program at Algonquin College. One of the course requirements was to volunteer for a local organization and so naturally, she choose Friends of the Farm. She started her volunteer work as a Friend in the spring of 2013.

She began in the beautiful rose gardens, situated in the Ornamental Gardens at The Farm. Then, she agreed to help out at the Shelter Belt, planting and tending new trees and shrubs. Along the way, she also willingly agreed to provide talks and tours of the Arboretum. Her inspiration and two reference sources were Blooms: An Illustrated History of the Ornamental Gardens at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm by Richard Hinchcliff and For the Love of Trees: A Guide to the Trees of Ottawa’s Central Experimental Arboretum, co-authored by Hinchcliff and Richard Popadiouk. Her skills as a tour guide are helped too by the fact that she volunteers as a master gardener and has acquired a lot of knowledge about plants along the way.

Diane remains passionate about her love of gardening, and the importance of The Farm. At home, she continues to enjoy a large, country garden with a diversity of trees, shrubs and beautiful perennial beds. At The Farm, she also helps out at the Victorian Tea, the Friends’ Plant Sale and other one-day events. “I love the diversity of plants, the challenges, the opportunity to learn everyday, and to be physically and mentally fit.”

Julianne Labreche, May 2018. Photo by Polly McColl.




April 2018 – Jeannine Lewis

The Lady Who Loves Books

 When Jeannine Lewis moved from Montreal to Ottawa seven years ago, she was looking for opportunities to make new friends. Friends of the Farm helped her to find friends with shared interests.  Over time, as her network expanded, so too did her willingness to lend a hand and contribute her own valuable volunteer skills.  “I’ve enjoyed meeting The Friends and working with them as a volunteer. We didn’t know too many people when we came here,” she says.

For the first three years, she volunteered in the perennial gardens, situated in The Farm’s ornamental gardens. She also helped to sort books for the annual Friends of the Farm book sale.  In 2013, she was asked to be book sale coordinator. This year, for the sixth time, she’s coordinating the event again. It’s scheduled on June 16-17, during the Father’s Day weekend. Preparations for the book sale started last October when over 30,000 books were donated. Since then, she has been working with many hardworking volunteers to sort, alphabetize and store them.  She also helps keep a close eye out for more valuable, vintage books that bring higher prices.

Working with books just comes naturally to Jeannine, as she loves to read– especially, historical novels and biographies. Even before moving to Ottawa, she volunteered her time to help in book sales.

In addition, Jeannine also sits on the Board of Friends of the Farm as a member ‘at large’. With one year remaining, she has nearly completed two terms as a Board member ­­– a span of over six years. Her contributions have been significant.

Ironically, despite her years of volunteerism supporting The Farm, she has limited opportunities to garden herself because she lives in a condo.  So, she turns instead to outings and walks at The Farm, especially when one of her eight grandchildren spread across Canada and the United States– “my pride and joy”– come for a family visit.

Julianne Labreche, April 2018. Photo by Polly McColl.

March 2018 – Denise Kennedy

Volunteering With the Friends

Driving along Prince of Wales Drive on a cold February morning in 2006 with thoughts of life after retirement and plans to expand her own flower gardens fresh in her mind, Denise Kennedy spotted a sign for the FCEF, and, well, the rest is history.

When Denise initially joined the Friends, the Rose Team caught her attention. With Ottawa in the midst of a deep freeze, gardening was a distant dream. So, wanting to capitalize on an eager volunteer, then Office Manager Marsha Gutierrez asked Denise to answer phones one day a week.

It led to helping with many fundraising events, including turning the annual FCEF plant sale into a mini market place currently featuring 25 vendors. Denise accepted the challenge to be the FCEF bus tour manager when asked by then President Valerie Cousins in 2007, in addition to serving on the Board for six years and managing the Membership portfolio.

The first two trips were to the International Garden Show in Montreal with the Ontario Botanical Society. Soon Denise was organizing a four-day jaunt to the Niagara region. Other successful tours followed. To date, she has organized ten bus trips for the Friends. The trips sell themselves, attracting repeat customers and adding substantially to the Friends’ coffers.

In 2012, Denise accepted to lead the team in the Macoun Ornamental Garden. “I love our Monday mornings in the garden,” she says. “We have a great team and I enjoy the companionship. I love the continuity of working in the gardens and being out in nature again.”

Photo by Polly McColl.

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

Photo by Polly McColl

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.”

Photo by Polly McColl

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

Photo by Polly McColl

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

Photo by Polly McColl

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

Photo by Mary Ann Smythe

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

Photo (right) courtesy of Joan Butcher

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

Photo by Polly McColl

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”

Photo courtesy of Nancy McDonald

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.

April 2016

March 2016 – Marc LeBlond: Following His Parents’ Legacy of Community Service

Photo by Polly McColl

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”

Photo courtesy of Lise Anne James

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

Photo by Polly McColl

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

Photo by Polly McColl

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

Photo by Polly McColl

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

Photo by Polly McColl

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

Photo by Polly McColl

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

Photo by Mary Ann Smythe

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