Creating a Public Garden

This Article was written by Grace Berg and was first published in

'The Gardener for the Prairies' in 1999.

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 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 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 the 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 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 up to lighten the load.

Thanks to the City Parks staff, two rock walls appeared over winter, along with mature, cedars and lilacs to enclose the open side 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 flourish. 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 our 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 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 pest 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 paintings, 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.