If you didn’t know the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa was the first research station to be established by an Act of Parliament in 1886, the stunning display of more than 600 peonies, including those developed by prolific CEF hybridizer A.P. Saunders, would shout out their heritage with their blousy blooms, stocky stems and hardy disposition.
If you didn’t know that Isabella Preston came to the CEF in 1920 with a mission to breed ornamental plants, the rows of Preston lilacs, with their modestly bowed purple, pink and white blossoms, would whisper of their Awards of Merit.
If you didn’t know of Dr. Felicitas Svejda’s 30-decade-long plant breeding work starting in the 1960s, the hardy Explorer roses that grow in the Farm’s Heritage Rose Garden would speak of their renown, with names like ‘John Cabot’, ‘William Baffin’ and ‘Champlain’.
And, if you didn’t know that James Fletcher planted the first 200 trees and shrubs in the Dominion Arboretum, the Bebb’s oak (Quercus x bebbiana), planted in 1908, would gladly expound about its extraordinary longevity.
Although horticultural history is at the heart of the Central Experimental Farm, today’s visitors take pleasure in the spectacular displays, which are being updated and renovated all the time. “A garden doesn’t stand still,” says Sharon Saunders, who has worked as lead gardener here for 10 years. That’s why trees are regularly pruned to reveal lost vistas, new varieties of annuals are trialled and tested, and more beds are created to show off ornamental grasses.
On the sunny summer’s day when I toured the CEF, the eight acres of the ornamental garden and the 86 acres of the Dominion Arboretum were humming with visitors. They were riding their bicycles along the paths of the arboretum, they skirted the iris and daylily beds with baby strollers and walkers, and they spread out picnics under the shade of the Rosybloom crabapple trees.
The activities don’t stop there. The Friends of the Farm volunteer group organizes lectures, tours of the gardens, afternoon teas and art exhibitions throughout the season. Whether you’re from out of town or in town, this is a great place to visit.
At the Central Experimental Farm, Jeremy DiZazzo talks about the perennial border in this video filmed by Lorraine Flanigan.