An idea and a community make a botanical garden through sweat equity and persistence.
Over 30 years ago, a small group of people in Silver Springs wanted to see more trees and more gardens in this new community built along the Bow River. Their problem was how to work with the multiple interested parties to be able to plant more trees and gardens. They initially just wanted to plant trees. Approaching the City of Calgary was not an easy task for the group, finding who to talk to who could give permission, working with other members of the community, partnering with the local counsellor and doing a little midnight tree planting finally resulted in permission to plant on a number of sites in the community. This initial idea resulted in 2000 trees planted in the community by volunteers
The group was keen to keep on with the greening of the community. Here were our environmental stewards well ahead of their time. In their brainstorming they conceived the idea of an urban forest. At the same time City of Calgary Parks was looking to corporate funding to enhance the Parks of Calgary. Another idea of creating a forest to commemorate births (We already had a program to plant a tree on the death of someone) was conceived. One of the members of the initial group was an employee of BP who took the idea forward. This was the initial idea that started the Birthplace Forests Partnership eventually creating urban forests in Calgary from 2001 to 2010. Silver Springs was a site for the forests in 2002 after consultation and wonderful support from our Community Association.
Now we had a beautiful urban forest in our community and our idea people partnered with the Community Association to form a group to determine what would be done to help the community have the most benefit from this urban forest. Based on input from a public consultation in Silver Springs a vision for the new Birthplace Forest site was established with an emphasis on gardens. Simultaneously, some of our intrepid neighbours had been planting gardens near the sound wall which separated Silver Springs from Crowchild Trail and was contiguous with the urban forest. Initially the City of Calgary parks people not being aware of the value of this were regularly whipper snippering the fledgling plants. The groups informed the City Parks and then took action. The initial garden was put in where the fruit trees are now. The City was unhappy with the site but agreed to support the idea of a garden and helped the group to build another one where the current Oval garden now sits. This solution met everyone’s needs, the garden had begun, an agreement with the City for ongoing relationship was signed and over many years more gardens were built. Support from the province through Alberta Lotteries, Community Spirit Grants and later Community Facilities Enhancement Program were a welcome source of funding.
The garden grew in popularity and individuals were increasingly volunteering financial support, sweat equity and word of mouth spread of the beauty of the gardens.
These gardens now exist with 19 separate gardens over 1.5 kilometers of length. The Rose garden has many unique specimens and is a repository for rare rose plants. The Rose Society has supported this garden with their deep knowledge of roses. The Crevice garden is a partnership with the Calgary Rock and Alpine Society. It is the only public crevice garden in the city and is a true joint venture of knowledge and labor with CRAG’s. One garden is a tribute to Shakespeare and his writing, one is an Old English Garden where the initial posts for the gate of the farm entrance used to be. Other gardens are specific to their environment, A low H2O garden on a hot, wind swept area, a Shade Garden nestled at the edge of the forest canopy.
Most summer days see groups of volunteers working to plant, weed, water and otherwise tend the garden. They all wear identifying t shirts or badges and are most happy to take a breather to speak with the visitors.
All of this was done without ongoing taxpayer support. Just an idea, a willing community and sweat equity.
The Botanical Garden group has defined its work with the following statements:
Our vision is to create – A destination park and botanical gardens featuring plants that grow in our unique climate
Our mission is to create a welcoming outdoor space with unique gardens that inspire, educate and provide enjoyment for all.
Our gardens are evidence of the work that we do. They are open year-round 24/7 for the enjoyment of anyone who wants to come. We believe that we are creating a space to vitalize the body, mind and spirit. We live in harmony with our dog owning friends as the park is also an off leash area. In the summer of course the plants and flowers are growing and in bloom from April to October. In December the gardens are decorated for Christmas.
Many people come to the gardens daily, some for specific activities as the garden supports regular tours of others interested in gardens. We support the local schools for their units on plants and provide on the ground experiences. We also have activities like weekly outdoor yoga in the summer and a pumpkin walk in October. Always available is a labyrinth for meditation practices or just for finding out how to get to the middle. (At its peak it is a carpet of blue Mother of Thyme). More and more people come to use the garden as a location for photos, a site for painting or other pursuits. The site is used by the Master Gardeners of Alberta as a site for their “Woody Plant Identification” course.
Our most treasured guests are the worker bees who continue to come and make the garden the beautiful place that it is. We have over 60 regular volunteers who plant, weed and water. All gardens and hardscape is designed and built by the volunteers. Our volunteers tell us that they come in part for the camaraderie and in part for the learning.
Recently we have built a website with a nearly completed data base which will identify all the plants in the garden and provide all visitors with the botanical description of the plant along with its preferences for environment to grow.
The garden is built and maintained by volunteers. We have no paid staff. Our work is accomplished by taking good ideas and applying the energy of our volunteers as well as outreach partnerships.
Building on the current Physical Garden we have several initiatives that are in various stages of completion
• Taking our database public on the website. The basic database is nearly complete, and the LoH20 Garden is available on the website. Soon the whole garden will be completed and viewable to the public. We are developing a method to keep the database up to date, with comments on the viability of various plants and what grows well in various environments.
• Partnership with the City of Calgary Parks to develop ‘Naturalization Areas’ One of these will be in the understory of the forest, and one in an area of grasslands. They will be accompanied by public educational signs to help us all understand the importance of this initiative
• Enhancing through improved pathways, access to the garden. We have improved access at the West end with an area which is safe for wheelchairs and walkers.
• A rose strategy to support the growing of roses and a method to ensure that we safeguard our rare plants and their genetic base
• We have a plan to review our gardens with one garden receiving a more major review each year
• Maintain and enhance our current partnerships with the Master Gardeners of Alberta, Calgary Horticultural Society, Community Association of Silver Springs, and of course, Calgary Parks, CRAG’s and the nearby Church of Latter-Day Saints.
Our programs will continue to provide a welcoming outdoor space. We are expanding our tours and educational programs for the users of the garden and we are working on establishing a long-term sustainability plan.
We require ongoing support in the following ways:
Financial Support: – This will be recognized
1. Unrestricted Donations
2. Adopt a garden. This is a longer-term commitment.
$1000.00 for a larger garden annually
$500.00 for a smaller garden annually
3. Purchase a park bench or a picnic table – one-time cost for 10 years with recognition
Park bench $3000.00
Picnic Table $3500.00
4. Sponsor a Fruit Tree – One-time donation of $250.00
5. Purchase an engraved brick for our bricked entrance
$125.00 per brick – will maintain for the life of the brick
1. To work in the Garden
2. To maintain our tours, website, and other communication activities.
3. To work with our fund-raising group