If the ornamental wrought-iron gates aren’t enough of a clue that this is a historic garden, then the serpentine “broderie”-patterned annual beds that snake through the lawns might give it away. But what will clinch it for sure, are the 32 carpet beds surrounding the beautifully restored Victorian bandstand that sits at the heart of the Halifax Public Gardens, Canada’s first public garden.
I had been looking forward to my visit for weeks, enticed by promises from gardeners Helen MacLean and Tracy Jessen that they were bound and determined to “Maritime Garden-ate” me! Well, you could have blown me over with a tiny puff from a sou’wester when I arrived and was presented with my very own a bright yellow slicker. I was ready to dig in!
One of the first things I learned about the garden was that it was devastated by Hurricane Juan in 2003, and that out of that destruction came a restoration that opened up vistas, refurbished the historic structures and breathed new life into the much-loved gardens. By its many frequent visitors, the garden is regarded as a “retreat”; for visitors to the hospital across the street it’s an “outdoor waiting room”; to the hundreds of school grads dressed for the prom, it provides a beautiful photo-op; and to the residents of the condominiums that encircle the gardens, it’s their backyard.
Keeping the gardens ship-shape is a lot of hard work, but judging by the camaraderie among the gardeners—and the banter with the regular visitors — everyone has a lot of fun. More than a little ingenuity goes into the making of the gardens, too. Gardener Glenn Wilson is known for his “Glenn-ventions” like the ladder system that makes short work of planting the carpet beds. And the beds are updated with innovative designs that reflect and recall the Victorian passion for novelty, colour and exuberance.
Watch video to see Glenn plants “words” in one of the flower beds.
If you can’t make it to the gardens yourself today, visit it through the eyes of six people who work there.
They share their favourite spots in the video:
- Supervisor Bev MacPhail
- Gardener Tracy Jessen
- Gardener Helen Maclean
- Seasonal gardener Laurie Niven
- Gardener Glenn Wilson
- Student gardener Rebecca Sinclair