We were thrilled to have our York Blvd location participate as a sidewalk showcase in the Halton Region Master Gardeners' inaugural Garden Journeys Open Days event this past August. The event showcased dozens of native plant gardens across Hamilton. Organizers Allyn Walsh and Bev Wagar have shared their reflections below.
Garden Journeys Open Days, Hamilton’s new open-gardens event held over two weekends in mid-August, was a step into unknown territory. It wasn’t about tidy yards, curb appeal, or even pretty flowers. Garden Journeys instead aimed to promote native-plant gardening and to support ecological gardeners, veterans and novices alike. Organizers Allyn Walsh and Bev Wagar, both members of the Halton Region Master Gardeners, also wanted to help garden hosts and visitors expand their networks of friends and resources. With the enthusiastic approval of the other members, the two got to work.
Allyn and Bev hatched the idea for an “alternative” open-gardens event when they realized they both loved to show their gardens with like-minded enthusiasts. “I wanted to show that an ecologically functional front yard can be beautiful,” says Allyn. “And I wanted to encourage everyone to re-think their home landscapes. Changing the direction of a gardening journey can start with a single plant.”
“The dominant aesthetic of manicured lawns and lollipop shrubs simply must give way,” says Bev. “More than ever we need biodiversity on privately owned land, even small urban gardens, to help counter the alarming declines in global insect populations.”
Most of the fifty gardens listed were residential. Hosts, usually the gardener, were on hand during open hours to answer questions and give informal tours. “We asked a lot without really knowing what to expect. Hosts really went all-out and we’re grateful for their support” said Allyn. “Next year’s format will reflect our hosts’ feedback, especially around scheduling.”
With an average of three visitors per three-hour time slot, Bev and Allyn estimate a total of 600 visits were made during Garden Journeys Open Days. Nearly all hosts who responded to the followup questionnaire mentioned how much they enjoyed meeting other gardeners. “Visitors were engaged and interested in our story and I was grateful to hear other people's journeys and advice,” said Karen Lawrence on Lynndale Drive in Dundas. “The sharing of ideas and perspectives was wonderful. People were really interested to see how a pollinator/native garden works versus a 'traditional' garden”.
Steve Hill, another host from Dundas, liked “being able to share my garden with keen community members. It was amazing to have conversations with folks who have been gardening for decades, and those who are just getting started.”
Another host mentioned having visitors who’d travelled from Toronto and Simcoe to see these unusual Hamilton gardens. Several hosts mentioned they wanted more time to visit gardens. “I tried to do a whirlwind tour of five gardens in three hours” said Bev. “But it was just impossible to do a quick visit. There was always so much to talk about. So many great plants being used in interesting ways. Amazing innovation and creativity.”
Next year’s event will retain most of the innovations of 2023—the interactive online map, the in-person hosting, and the flexibility in open hours—but will aim to include gardens from Burlington as well. To read more about Garden Journeys Open Days or to get involved, visit https://haltonmastergardeners.com/garden-journeys-open-days/