History of EHS Gardens at the Muttart
The EHS has a long history of volunteering at various outdoor sites on the grounds of the Muttart Conservatory. Over the years all planting and maintenance was done by volunteers, resulting in thousands of hours dedicated to enhancing the beauty of Edmonton’s river valley. One of the earliest projects was a perennial bed approximately 75 ft. long and 12 ft. wide, planted with a variety of hardy perennials and shrubs that provided summer long bloom. Over the years the EHS has participated in growing trials of AAS selections of annuals and planted two beds of hardy roses. The EHS no longer participates in annual growing trials and one of the beds has been planted with native perennials by the Edmonton Native Plant Group while the shrub rose bed has been planted with a variety of grasses by the City. In 2007 the EHS planted four new perennial and shrub beds as a tribute to the EHS Centennial in 2009. These colour-themed beds were located in the Henrietta Muir Edwards Park close to the river and footbridge. Over the ensuing years thousands of local residents and visitors have enjoyed the colourful plantings.
Moving the Gardens
Around 2012, the City of Edmonton announced plans for LRT Valley Line expansion that included crossing the river close to the existing footbridge and continuing through the Muttart grounds to a station near the existing greenhouses. This meant the destruction of the Centennial Garden and the perennial bed due to staging and construction needs. The City agreed to replace the EHS beds with equivalent square footage in a public space and the EHS was committed to those beds being in a high profile location with safe, easy access for volunteers and access to water. Thus began a two year process to find a mutually suitable location for the new beds and determine the final size and shape which was approved early in 2015. The planting design would include some of the existing plants and an assortment of hardy, newer varieties that would provide a long season of colour and texture with a minimum of maintenance such as pruning and staking. The design team of Maggie Easton, Britta Johnson and our talented landscape designer Maggie Nielsen spent many hours discussing plant choices before Maggie Neilson put it all down on paper in a stunning, cohesive design which was submitted to the City for approval.
The City Gardeners had hoped to move and replant the existing plants in late summer of 2015, but numerous soil tests were done throughout the summer and the digging of the new beds was delayed until late fall. Since we were worried about access to Henrietta Muir Edwards Park in the spring, our intrepid group dug and potted up about 300 perennials, hauled them by truck and car, dug trenches in Elsie’s vegetable garden and sunk the pots into their winter home. The public and EHS members were invited to come and dig up remaining plants for a donation and many more plants found new homes. Numerous lists were written throughout the winter, inventories of existing plants and lists of new ones to purchase and then early in spring 2016 we met with three local nurseries to place orders. Mill Creek Nursery was selected for all the trees and shrubs, Greenland Garden Centre for the roses and some perennials and Salisbury Greenhouses to supply the balance of the perennials.
Planting the New Garden
The early spring of 2016 allowed the new beds to be dug to a depth of 1 meter and filled with precious triple mix. They were ready in record time. In early May the overwintering pots in Elsie’s garden were uncovered, lifted and sorted into groups by species. The survival rate was very high and the plants were already starting to grow. On May 13, 2016, several volunteers armed with plans, stakes, and measuring tapes got busy laying out the location of trees and shrubs before a truck load of 65 plants was delivered and the rest of the 23 volunteers arrived to start planting. Over the next several weeks, the remaining rescued perennials and 35 new trees and shrubs arrived, and about 300 new perennials were picked up and planted by our amazing City Gardeners.
How Did It Grow?
The City Gardeners were busy almost every Tuesday throughout the summer with maintenance duties such as regular watering and weeding the prolific crop of weeds that sprouted from the new soil. Every week there was new growth and new flowers to be seen. Thanks to the wonderful soil, cooler summer temperatures, and an abundance of moisture, the plants grew very well and by the end of the summer, it looked like a 2-3 year old garden. Martagon lilies, daisies, echinachea, hydrangeas, sedums and day lilies as well as the spectacular roses all bloomed in their first season. In September approximately 1000 hardy bulbs such as scillas, alliums, grape hyacinths, snow crocus, squills and botanical tulips were planted. Then the City delivered three truckloads of mulch that had to be moved and spread to a depth of several inches over all the beds.
So how do the numbers stack up for this project? Four years of planning and implementing, thousands of volunteer hours and about 100 trees, shrubs and roses, 600 perennials and 1000 bulbs were planted. We would like to thank the City for their participation, Maggie Neilson for designing the plans, Mill Creek Nursery, Salisbury Greenhouses and Greenland Garden Centre for the great plants and the dedicated, hard-working City Gardener volunteers who helped to make this project a reality.
2017 and Onwards
On June 17, 2017, EHS and the City of Edmonton held a Garden Day party to introduce the new garden officially.
The City Gardeners: Muttart team continues to maintain and enhance the beds throughout the growing season.
By Britta Johnson, Program Lead for the EHS City Gardeners: Muttart