I’ve added another garden to my “must-visit” list for this summer. Deanna from Quinte Botanical Gardens, east of Toronto, has been telling me about the gardens that she and her husband, John, created.
Here is my Q+A with Deanna.
The photo on your website shows an attractive edible garden with arcs of colourful lettuce. Can you describe your edible garden?
We built an edible garden for several reasons: to show by example how many wonderful veggies (and fruits) there are that people can grow in our climate zone; to encourage more people to eat healthier; for the fun of “designing with lettuces”; we would like to build small-scale and/or vertical veggie gardens to help people who don’t have lots of room on their property but would like a veggie garden; we’re working on inviting health professionals to come speak about healthy eating habits and the benefits of veggies and herbs; methods of composting; a biggie is to teach children where food REALLY comes from (you should see their faces when they pluck a carrot from the ground – it’s hilarious and wonderful!); we hope to have fun events like asking local chefs to have a friendly competition in creating dishes with veggies plucked only from the veggie garden; we are also showing small quantities of actual farm crops to teach people about where our food comes from, a farm appreciation area; and due to the size of the veggie garden John and I grow lots of squash because it keeps on a shelf for a long period, so at harvest time we support the local food banks with a truckload of food.
What are some of the crops you grow in your edible garden?
Gosh, here’s a list: Arugula, Asparagus, Basil, Beets, Bush Beans, Carrots, Celeriac, Chard, Chives, Cilantro (purposely left to go to seed as it is a proven help to pollinators), Cucumber, Eggplant, Garlic, Ground Cherry, Kale, a large variety of Lettuce, Melons, Mint (kept separately), flowery “edibles” such as Nasturtiums, Onions, Oregano, Parsley, Peas, Peppers, Pole Beans, Potatoes, Radish, Raspberries, Rutabaga, Sage, Spinach, 5 types of Squash, Sweet Potatoes (although the bunnies clobber them), Tarragon, about 9 types of Tomatoes, Turnips, 2 types of Watermelons, and Zucchini.
What is your favourite edible crop?
That’s a hard one because all veggies in moderation are really good for you and eating a variety keeps people interested. But personally I would have to say Chard and Watermelons.
How did you and John get into edible gardening?
From our landscaping experience at helping people who didn’t think they could grow edibles, and when we first thought of building a botanical garden, the veggie garden was a priority in the plans. Also, John just loves growing anything from seed, and gets huge enjoyment and satisfaction from witnessing a tiny seed grow into something that feeds us. It’s incredible to watch! When we moved from Mississauga to the country we went from a tiny suburban 5’ x 5’ edible garden to an 80’ x 150’ edible garden – you’re looking at two kids in a candy store! ☺
What edible plants can visitors expect to see in the edible garden at different times of year?
Well, the earlier ones like Lettuce, Radish, etc. all the way through to the later ones like Squashes cover a timeline from mid June to late September, so there’s always something to see, touch and taste for people. We encourage all visitors to do this and they have a blast trying them all.
Tell me about the other gardens that you have at Quinte Botanical Gardens.
The QBG was designed by myself to create an area where there is wonderment, joy, peacefulness, fun, interesting tidbits of information about plants to learn about, the appreciation of beauty, the benefits of plants and how important they are to our world. With that in mind I wanted to ensure that each visitor would enjoy different themed gardens. Some of the gardens include: a Formal Knot Garden, with info on the historical uses of Boxwood; an authentic Oriental Garden where people learn about the purposes and differences of Japanese and Chinese garden designs; a White Garden which offers tranquility and elegance; a Bird, Bee, Butterfly Garden that encourages people to learn about pollinators, best plants, planting for different stages of butterfly needs, tons of bird activities, nature at it’s best, how to help critters, migration maps, etc.; a romantic Rose Garden with climbing roses, Clematis vines, lots of Lavender and colourful Wave Petunias (weddings are being booked here now); a special Dedication Garden to say “thank you” to soldiers, police and firefighters, who put their lives on the line keeping us safe (also we are 10 mins away from the CFB Trenton base so there are a lot of soldiers in the area, plus it is sentimental to me as I will never forget the experiences my parents had during the war and am grateful every day); a Natural Garden which displays Evergreens and Ornamental Grasses; a large Colour Wheel Garden, divided into 8 “pie” shapes, each designed to display monochromatic colours; a Fun and Fragrance Garden, where people enjoy tons of different plants with lots of colour and humour throughout; and others.
How long have you been building the gardens? What got you started creating the gardens?
While operating our landscaping business, we planned the QBG over 9 winters. Creating gardens for people at their homes is very satisfactory work. Each time we built a garden it made people immensely happy. They love their surroundings, they get outside more and enjoy the property, they appreciate plants more, garden expand the use of their land. We learned what a positive effect gardens have on people for a multitude of reasons and thought how wonderful it would be if we built botanical gardens for people to enjoy, so it became a long-term dream. The “why” we built them explanation can take about 3 pages long, so I’ll try to fit it into one short statement: GARDENS HELP PEOPLE.
When did you open to the public?
Digging started in 2016 and 95% of the gardens were completed by fall of 2017. We opened August 1, 2017 for a couple of months as a trial to see how we progressed and “get the bugs out.” And 2018 was our first full year open. Several people have asked how did we do this in such a short period of time as a project of this magnitude would usually take 5 to 10 years. But please remember that we have been landscaping for 9 years so it was just a question of building several gardens in one location, as opposed to several in different locations (for customers). Project management was huge but we’re used to it. Also, realistically, the QBG is not funded like the Montreal Botanical Gardens or the RBG, so investing in a large project over several years was not an option for us. This year we’re working on special presentations (for visitors), school trips as an educational venue for different class years, spreading the word about the QBG as much as possible, and possible tour packages. One of the events we hope to create is to hold a garden festival in support of local organizations and businesses related to the gardening and nature world. Other ideas popping up.