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Creating a Public Garden*

by Grace Berg

Three and a half years have passed since the Saskatchewan Perennial Society decided to
pursue Robin Smith's plans for a meditation garden at the City’s Forestry Farm Park in
Saskatoon. Robin, a past president of the Society and landscape architect by profession,
had passed away before his dream could become a reality. I was asked to coordinate the
garden development based on Robin's original sketch. The success of the project depended
on the generous participation of many people over an extended period of time.

Our experience with public gardening began with meetings with the City of Saskatoon
clarifying responsibilities, restrictions and maintenance issues. The City agreed to contour
the garden site and supply trees, rocks, paths, topsoil and irrigation. The SPS would
provide the manual labour and supply shrubs, annuals, and perennials. When visions of
daisies and daffodils are dancing in your head, it is difficult to consider the more mundane
issues. A lengthy gestation period went by with little progress until agreements, resources,
and will power came together to begin this project. Patience was the first lesson.

Paths, berms, dry stream beds and ponds emerged through the artistry of a bobcat and
trucks maneuvering among the lilacs, caragana and an Ohio buckeye already on site.
Shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows followed as our weapons of choice. Willing volunteers,
dodging personal and family commitments, moved back breaking piles of rocks, gravel and
soil. Snow, rain, and other priorities sometimes slowed progress to a standstill. Our own
gardens also called for attention.

Our toughest lesson by far was persevering through the stages of pond building. Shovels
full of Sutherland clay piled up as we dug and re-dug the shelves and sloped bottom of the
pond. The plastic liner was installed, damaged, repaired, reinstalled and finally rimmed with
carefully chosen limestone and granite boulders. Young garden “visitors” had other ideas
about where those rocks belonged: the temptation to push them from the rim into the water
was obviously too great to resist. We consulted and stewed about possible solutions. A
bog garden seemed to be the best option - leaving those rocks which had “fallen” into the
pond, but repositioning them to form the inner edge of a bog. Another liner, containing
additional soil and peat moss, was installed, creating a (2 ft.) border of boggy soil around
the perimeter of the pond. Aquatic and bog plants became welcome additions to our
growing collection of species.

Generous offers of time, plants, pruning, photography, benches and arbor construction lifted
our spirits. Just at the point when we felt we couldn't move another shovel or hoe, someone
stepped in to lighten the load.

Thanks to the City Parks staff, two rock walls appeared over the winter, along with mature,
cedars and lilacs to enclose the open sides of the garden. An oak tree was also added.
Although damaged by porcupines over the winter, it seems well on the road to recovery.

The following spring, plantings of lilies, roses, ornamental grasses, bulbs and annuals
replaced the awesome weed production of the previous summer. Applying a mulch of
mushroom compost reduced the weed growth and boosted growth of the plants we wanted
to nourish. Close attention to weeding and watering ensured the establishment of carefully
chosen shrubs and perennials. Willing workers need to see results and the first year or two
can be rather frustrating as most of the action occurs below the surface.

Finally, in out third year of garden building, perennials like Joe-Pye-weed (Eupatorium
maculatum) and ornamental grasses like feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutifolia) have
reached (5 ft) in height and ground covers like lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) and lamium
(Lamium maculatum) have a spread of (4 to 5 ft). Low maintenance ground covers like
ajuga, perennial geraniums and thymes help anchor the borders and provide long term
foliage interest. Roses, grasses and coralbells have struggled and managed to survive
persistent peacock attacks. Hopefully, the peacocks are eating other garden pests as they
grace (or more accurately graze) our garden.

On July 18, 1998, the Saskatchewan Perennial Society hosted a garden party to officially
open the Meditation Garden and to celebrate the first decade of our Society. Guests within
the garden delighted in an ambiance of harp music, sunshine, and tea and cakes. There
was a quiet sense of pride and accomplishment. Our success was reflected in the eyes of
Robin’s family members who felt he was there in spirit.

Since its official opening, the Meditation Garden has been the scene of weddings and
family photo sessions, artists painting, individuals seeking a contemplative environment,
and novice gardeners asking, “What is this plant?” Our garden, the result of cooperation
between City staff and a volunteer horticultural organization, has come of age.

* First published in 'The Gardener for the Prairies' in 1999.