Heritage Gardeners Keep the Gardens Growing

Fort Edmonton Park Garden


Suncor volunteers help harvest the potatoes

This summer, there was a lot of digging going on at Fort Edmonton Park. While modern excavators cut trenches through the Park streets to replace ageing utilities, a dozen heritage gardener volunteers worked alongside, old fashioned hoes and shovels in hand. With twenty-six gardens on site, there has been no shortage of work to keep these talented horticulturalists busy.

Maintaining the gardens, even while being closed for general admissions, has been a priority for Fort Edmonton Park. “We can’t go back to square one,” says Judy, Volunteer Supervisor. “The volunteers have worked so hard to create these gardens, and we need to honour that work by keeping them in good shape. If we left the gardens for even just one year, it would take five years to get them back. Not to mention that we have many irreplaceable heritage varieties growing on-site.”  As an experienced gardener and passionate volunteer advocate, Judy took the helm of the gardens this summer with the support of an experienced team of volunteers.

To ensure the plants were carefully cultivated and preserved, Judy and the gardener volunteers gathered in March to devise a plan. The work ahead included maintaining the soil, controlling weeds and caring for perennials, particularly the ones in the peony garden where excavation was scheduled for May. “Peonies should generally be transplanted in the fall, so it was a challenge to keep them safe,” says Judy.

Evelyn Ellerman (Pictured Left)

“Luckily, we were able to move the majority of the plants without losing any historic strains thanks to our skilled volunteers.” Evelyn Ellerman, a longtime volunteer gardener who loves “producing something beautiful for others to enjoy,” was a vital part of the planning. “Most of us have been working on the Fort’s gardens for some years, and we have ideas about how to improve them.”

Volunteers were especially keen to maintain the long-standing relationship with Edmonton’s Food Bank. Each year, the Little Potato Company donates seed potatoes to the Park, which are cultivated over the summer by the volunteers and harvested in the fall to donate to the Food Bank. By planting potatoes in the large Fort field, the soil was maintained, and over 1900kg of potatoes were donated to the Food Bank to help feed Edmontonians in need. Weeding, hilling and digging potatoes may be back-breaking work, but the pride volunteers felt made it worthwhile. Evelyn shares, “even pulling chest-high canola plants out of the potatoes for a whole morning was still fun because of the camaraderie with the other gardeners and the benefit to the Food Bank.”

The last five years saw nearly 6000 volunteer hours donated to the gardens. The gardens are an essential part of the visitor experience as they demonstrate the significance of agriculture to Edmonton’s story. “It’s important for everyone to understand where food comes from before it arrives on grocery store shelves,” says volunteer gardener, Beverly Roy.

More volunteers harvesting

The Fort Edmonton Park gardens have now been harvested and prepared for the winter, but another season awaits next summer before the significant planting required for reopening in 2021. Volunteers are instrumental to the success of the gardens through both labour and knowledge. Whether an avid gardener or someone just wanting to learn, we welcome gardeners of all abilities and knowledge levels to join the volunteer gardener team. Sign up here or contact Judy at volunteer@fortedmontonpark.ca to find out more.