Thermometers were registering bitter temperatures last Thursday night but that didn’t deter more than 30 people from gathering to learn more about creating civic pride through gardening, as well as gardening with native plants, from guest speakers willing to lend their expertise.
Aileen Martin, Community Consultant with Prairie Central District for Sport, Culture and Recreation, welcomed the gardening enthusiasts pointing out there were participants from six different communities who had come to learn more about unique aspects of gardening in Saskatchewan and the role it can play in building civic pride. “We connect the dots for small communities,” she said, “by bringing different people and organizations together and helping them to see how they can work together.” One way in which this can occur is the popular Communities in Bloom program that Outlook takes part in.
Speaking on the topic was Andrew Exelby, representative of Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation which has coordinated the program in this province since 1997. He said Communities in Bloom has seen tremendous growth across the country, including in Saskatchewan where 35-40 communities take part each year in an initiative dedicated to celebrating community beautification. “We see the value of it in that it helps communities invest in their green spaces,” Exelby said, “and those green spaces make our people healthier, they make our communities better places to live, and they help our environment.”
Communities in Bloom encourages villages, town and cities of all sizes to commit to projects that improve the community in six key areas: Tidiness, Environmental Action, Heritage Conservation, Urban Forestry, Landscaped Areas and Floral Displays. Exelby said, “When you start looking at these six areas you can see that improvement in any one area will help improve your community overall.”
In Outlook, the Communities in Bloom group is a collaborative effort coordinated by Jordy Jones, Recreation Director, and supported by the Town of Outlook and volunteers. Exelby indicated this type of arrangement typically works well. “The strongest groups across the province are ones that have the support of elected officials as well as the support of volunteers. You need both of those to keep things going.”
The efforts of Outlook’s group were honored this year with the awarding of three blooms, putting Outlook in first place for communities with a population of 2001-3000. The feedback the group got indicated the efforts made at the 4-way stop impressed the judges a great deal. Exelby added, “First impressions are so important. High profile locations need to look good and there isn’t much more of a higher profile location than that 4-way stop. It shouts, ‘look at our community’ so you are to be commended for that green space.”
In addition to the establishment and improvement of green spaces, Communities in Bloom aims to get people working side by side. “Social interaction is really important,” Exelby stated. “A big goal of the program is to connect people. It’s easy to get isolated so we need to get people working together, people of all ages.”
Exelby reminded everyone it’s not just about working on a project today that matters, but also thinking about what is left behind for others. “Leaving a legacy is important to the program,” he said. “This is about what will be here in the future. Park spaces don’t come and go. They are things that last so we need to invest in them.”
After learning more about improving civic pride through gardening, attention was focused on gardening with plants native to Saskatchewan. Guest speaker Lyndon Penner, a successful gardener and designer with a vast knowledge of native species, delighted the audience as he passed along tremendous amounts of information and inspired all those in attendance. It is not surprising he is a highly sought after speaker and teacher at universities, colleges and horticultural societies since he is not only incredibly knowledgeable but also very humorous as he shares his love for all things gardening.
Penner’s passion for the topic is clearly evident as he speaks about respectfully and responsibly growing native plants from seeds and cuttings, and allowing your backyard garden to reflect what these plants do in nature. “A garden is a form of communication,” he remarked. “You should be saying something on purpose. Your garden should say something about you.”
Whether one is a veteran gardener or new to the activity, it was interesting to note the diversity of plants that are indigenous to this area. Amongst the many pictures he shared, some looked like they belonged in tropical locations, pointing to the great variety of plants that exist when we get out and take a look.
Penner said it might surprise some to learn that Saskatchewan not only has an official flower and tree, but an official grass as well. Called Needle and Thread, it holds it shape when it dries and retains a lovely golden color. “We are a grass-based ecosystem,” Penner remarked, “Grasses need to be celebrated. Needle and Thread catches the last of the setting sun and is quite beautiful.”
As he talked about the grasses, shrubs and flowers gardeners can be successful with, he stressed time and again the importance of patience. “All of these can grow,” he said, “but it is going to take several years for them to get established. This type of gardening isn’t for those who need instant gratification. But if you’re willing to be patient and allow nature to do its thing, the results can be spectacular.”
The Outlook & District Arts Council, who helped sponsor the night along with Broderick Garden Centre, the Town of Outlook, Prairie Central District, and Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation, invited everyone into the art gallery for refreshments and an opportunity to view the Arts Council’s latest exhibit “Selfies.” There was also the unique opportunity to see and take pictures of the impressive fruiting banana tree Oliver Green is growing.
Conversation surrounding gardening continued as the evening’s presenters were happy to answer questions inspired by the presentations. With so much passion in the room for gardening and an eagerness to put this new inspiration into practice, it is clear the growing season simply can’t come fast enough.