A NATION OF GARDENERS © David Watts 07/06/2009
Canada is the world’s largest rock garden.
If the world’s countries were gardens, the Netherlands would be a tulip patch, and India would be a lily pond. China would be Bonsai, and Kenya , Savannah.
Egypt’s garden would be a sandbox, Brazil’s a hothouse. The United States would be a market garden and Italy a vineyard.
A rock garden is a good description of Canada: a half continent with one level patch—the prairies—and rest a rocky mass containing the world’s greatest reserves of fresh water in myriad lakes, mountain streams, melting permafrost and coastal rain forest.
In this forbidding space Canadians have carved out an incredible variety of gardens that flourish in a limited growing season.
With the exception of southwestern British Columbia and Ontario’s Niagara peninsula, the season runs less than a hundred days: from Victoria Day in May, when we safely put our gardens in, to Labour Day when we can expect first frost. Anything longer is a bonus.
Canada is the only country in the world that still observes Queen Victoria’s birthday. Our holiday has more to do with the start of summer than with things British.
Like those of the country that gave us the Queen, Canada’s gardens span the world. From London’s Cue Gardens to Glasgow’s Kibble Palace, to the English Country Garden in the song, the species that grow reflect the spread of Britain’s onetime Empire.
From Victoria’s Butchart Gardens to Ottawa’s Mackenzie King Estate, in the Botanic Gardens of the Universities of Alberta, BC and Laval, Québec, from Casa Loma, Toronto to Kingsbrae, New Brunswick, Canada’s gardens reflect the span of her immigrants.
Our horticulture mirrors our multicultural society. We have transplanted palms from the Pacific and caragana from Ukraine. We have imported bulbs from Europe and Bonsai from Asia. We have heather from the Highlands and edelweiss from the Alps.
And we have an incredible variety of wildflowers that grow on our prairies grasslands and in our mountain passes. These often defy our efforts to transplant them 1000 meters higher—or lower—in altitude or much more than a province away.
BC dogwood thrives in Pacific forests but not in Atlantic ones. The tiger lily, crocus and wild rose thrive grow profusely on the prairies but don’t take root in Eastern Canada.
Despite the regional limits of our natural species, the strains people plant in their gardens stretch across Canada in a 500 kilometer band north of the US border from coast to coast.
Our gardeners are nation builders as much as those who built our cross country railways. Indeed, the railway companies laid out gardens at their stations to welcome newcomers.
Explorers who landed here from both England and France adopted as their patron saint John the Baptizer, whose credo was “Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness”
Working with the land, Canada’s gardeners fulfill the mandate to Let there be Life.