Society is 90 years old and shovel ready
GO Plant sale celebration
The Mount Hamilton Horticultural Society turns 90 this year and they’re throwing a plant sale.
On a brisk spring day, I go up to visit a work crew from the society. Jake Vanmil is wrestling a tree out of the ground, and Ica Smith ratchets overcrowded day lilies from a perennial border.
Since 1999, members of the society have been looking after the garden at Jason’s House, a residence for people with cerebral palsy operated by the March of Dimes.
Helen MacPherson, who has been a member for 30 years, works with a core group at Jason’s House on the Mountain five or six times a year.
“When I joined the society I didn’t know anything about gardening,” she says. “I’ve learned so much, but volunteering here is the most rewarding experience you could ask for.”
Residents can see the lovely garden from inside the house, or from the accessible path.
“The neighbours love it, and people drive here just to see it,” says Pam Rogers, community case coordinator at Jason’s House.
On this day, about 10 members of the horticultural society are moving plants, and edging and weeding. Vanmil, 92, is waiting for a chainsaw to stop so he can continue reefing the tree’s roots.
“I’ve been volunteering here as long as I can remember,” says Vanmil, who joined the society 50 years ago.
Among this group, commitment runs deep as the roots of a walnut tree. When the group formed in 1927, the Mountain beyond Concession Street belonged to farms and fields, and some of it was pretty messy. Citizens were fretting about vandalism, so the call went out for improvement and beautification.
In stepped the Mount Hamilton Horticultural Society — ready to weed, dig and plant. Tulips went in at the top of the Sherman Cut, scillas were planted on the Queen Street hill, petunias bloomed at the Mountain Library, and the Mount Hamilton Cemetery got a regular spring cleaning. While many clubs struggle to remain relevant, this group keeps growing.
“We currently have 130 members. In the last 2½ years we have attracted around 50 new members,” says Claire Kostyshyn, the society’s president.
Also working at Jason’s House is Brenda Taylor, a new society member who was persuaded to join by a neighbour.
“I didn’t know how to trim shrubs properly, or the correct way to pot up plants,” she says. “I’ve just learned so much from all the members.”
Over the dreary winter they line up excellent speakers for their monthly meetings, members bring in plants to swap, and in the spring Vanmil always has a new crop of geraniums, custom grown for the society.
Once the weather warms up, garden visits begin. The double bloodroot is much admired at Kay and Tad Suzuki’s, as is the artful pruning at Kostyshyn’s Japanese-inspired garden.
I was invited to visit the garden of Heather and Ron French this week to see the hellebores and primula.
“The garden is mature but we’ve made changes to add more privacy and use more plants that need less work,” says Heather French. “Peonies, sedums and oak leaf hydrangea are all long lived and pretty trouble free; the boxwood was grown by someone in the society.”
Membership in the Mount Hamilton Horticultural Society is a bargain at $13 a year. But the society needs to raise money for projects, for the plant and monetary donations they make, and bursaries for outstanding horticultural students at Mohawk College.
Their major fundraiser is the yearly plant sale. This year it’s Saturday, May 20, at Chedoke Presbyterian Church, 865 Mohawk Rd. W., starting at 9 a.m.
From members’ gardens expect to see hostas, day lilies, coneflower, phlox, ornamental grasses, annuals and vegetables.
A mixed bag turns up at the treasurer’s table, from tools to birdhouses to surprise plants. The connoisseur table holds delectable plants, a rare rose, a chocolate brown clematis, a gorgeous Japanese iris.
Keeping a club going and growing for 90 years is impressive, but Mount Hamilton isn’t the oldest, notes Kostyshyn.
“Brantford Horticultural Society has been around for 165 years. We have some catching up to do.”
Bill McPherson and other members of the Mount Hamilton Horticultural Society dig up plants at Jason’s House (a home for patients with cerebral palsy), to be sold at the society’s plant sale May 20. They are coming back later to redo the garden.
For pesky shady areas, the dainty epimedium is a surprisingly tough plant.
Windflowers cluster near a path in the Frenches’ garden, above, while primulas supply bright colour.
Society members Lorraine Stacey, centre, and Betty Park extract plants at Jason’s House for the May 20 sale.
When Heather French joined the society she was a novice gardener. Now, her years of learning are on display in her small backyard.