Published in the Toronto Star, March 5, 2016
It is late winter and the gardening season can seem a long way off, unless you are connected with a network of like-minded people. People who share your interest (perhaps ‘passion’!) for the outdoors: plants, song birds, butterflies and a mix of community involvement and friendship. If this appeals to you and you have not been introduced to the Ontario Horticultural Society, then allow me.
I have been aware of the OHA for many years, but I have had the advantage of working in the horticultural industry my whole life, where their core messages and values are everywhere.
To help make the introduction I have reached out to some friends in the O. H. A.: Nancy Serrick and Malcolm Geast are very active in the organisation.
What IS the OHA?
It is a collection of over 280 Garden Clubs and Horticultural Societies (the two terms are used interchangeably) across Ontario. Many are located within the 416 and GTA. They are organised under an act of provincial parliament and are overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
What are the benefits of joining the O.H .A. or any local horticultural club that is a member of the umbrella organisation?
1. Education. As Nancy put it, “Learning about all aspects of what Mother Nature has to offer.” That is one big ticket!
2. Beautification. Malcolm adds, “We work in our communities to enhance landscapes and gardens in public spaces.”
3. Friendship. They both chime in, “We meet other like-minded people and develop wonderful relationships.”
Who should join?
“Any people who are interested in their community and in learning about horticulture, gardening (which are much the same thing), the environment and want to have fun. (que Cindy Lauper, “Girls just want to have fun!”)
I called my friend Denis Flanagan, membership services manager for Landscape Ontario and the industry liaison to the OHA. Denis, why do you think the OHA is important? “I think that the concept of the OHA is equal in importance to any segment of the landscape industry. Each horticultural society brings together volunteers who work in communities to make them more beautiful, connect people of all ages, welcome newcomers to Canada and encourage people to garden, with no other agenda. I love these people!”
A visit to the OHA website tells the story of an active and dynamic organisation that is committed to giving to local communities and to its member organisations. To join, all you have to do is sign up at your local Garden Club or Hort Society. You will find a complete list of member organisations at www.gardenontario.org.
As they say on their home page, “Do you love gardening? Are concerned about Ontario’s environment? Whether you are a new gardener looking for support or an experienced one who is willing to share what you know, there is a place for you in OHA. Even gardeners who have moved from homes into apartments and no longer actively garden are most welcome as volunteers.”
People join service organizations for their own personal reasons. But I think that it is instructive to note that the people that I talked to about joining the OHA came back with this: the regular meetings of their local club offer great opportunities to hear guest speakers and to meet community-minded people. The cost of joining a local club varies between $10 and $20 annually.
Diane Ward, District Officer for Stouffville Garden Club said, “I enjoy the rewards of meeting nice people, to do physical work in public gardens around town and engaging with local youth.” She saves her greatest enthusiasm for the opportunities that she has to connect with kids through local schools. “I am finding a much greater appreciation for the community in which kids live than we realize. At one event kids picked veggies, washed, cut and ate the fresh salad. 30 kids eating salad together was a miracle!”
I note that the OHA provides grants to deserving clubs that cover the gamut from $250 to set up a ‘seedy Saturday’ seed exchange to reduced rates on insurance for community gardens. They have also done a great job of honoring those who have served in various roles in the OHA with 9 separate awards, some of which have been earned by deserving recipients since the inception of the organization in 1906.
Even with a pedigree that goes back more than a hundred years, this organisation has changed with the times. Today its focus is on food gardening and the environment: reflecting the emphasis on gardening by the incoming generation of gardeners.
If you are interested I urge you to ‘go for it’. You will discover that gardening is anything but a solitary past time, enjoyed exclusively by senior people in their senior years. Nancy ends our conversation with this: “We are not private clubs and welcome newcomers always.”
Details at www.gardenontario.org or visit their booth at Canada Blooms.