Forgotten Gardens

Reviewed by Bernadette Vangool for the Gardener for the Prairies, Winter 2008

Forgotten Gardens, Abandoned Landscapes & Remarkable Restorations by Shirley Harris, 2007

What do the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park, Indian Head Nursery Station and the CPR Nursery and Garden in Wolseley have in common? Shirley Harris discovered the answer while researching the importance of the CPR gardens. With this book she has provided the missing chapters in the written heritage of Wolseley and Saskatchewan.

These nurseries distributed trees and shrubs in the early 1900s, to be used in the planting of shelterbelts across the prairies. While the Forestry Farm's trees were destined for shelterbelts and homesteads, the CPR Nursery supplied its plant material, including trees, shrubs, perennials and seeds, to station agents and employees. Contests were held, much like today's Communities in Bloom, to encourage employees to plant and maintain railway station gardens and to clean up and beautify their right-of-way.

All company gardens were eligible to participate, except those cared for by paid gardeners. These initiatives resulted, by 1912, in the development of 1,500 gardens along the 'blooming right-of-way'. Gardens ranged from simple garden planters to small plots, and there were even some elaborate gardens encompassing several acres.

Besides these endeavours, the CPR also provided a free railway car to the Prairie Provincial Forestry Association, housing a traveling exhibit, which included slide shows and moving pictures, as well as personnel to lecture on the planting and pruning of trees, the benefits of shelterbelts and plans and designs for shelterbelts. To promote the west, artists and writers were given free passage on the trains in the late 1800s. Their landscape paintings and early photographs were used to entice new settlers to the prairies and the Rocky Mountains.

This book is an eclectic mixture of art, history, biography and horticultural history. It is peppered with black and white and colour photographs, anecdotal information and quotes documenting the southern Saskatchewan settler experience. It will serve as an excellent reference source for horticulturists with an interest in the cultural heritage of the Wolseley region and beyond. Many gardens are gone now, all that remains is a lonely tree, a few lilac bushes, a caragana hedge, reminders of a part of our heritage, lost and almost forgotten.