If you stopped one of the droves of people walking about Old Town on Saturday and asked them what they were doing, chances are they would have said they were part of the Shaw Guild Garden Tour.
More than 860 people attended the Garden Tour this weekend, which for the first time featured only gardens in Old Town so people could walk among the locations.
All the money raised will go toward the Shaw Festival’s production of “A Christmas Carol” this winter, said Jo Ann Ely on behalf of the Shaw Guild.
“We are planning on walking between all the garden’s today,” Michelle Myers said as she perused some flowers in an immaculate garden on Bay Berry Lane.
Myers was on the tour with some friends. She said an Aperol spritz at an Old Town restaurant might be needed between gardens.
But the garden tour wasn’t all about appreciating the lovely foliage for Myers – she was there to gather some ideas as well.
“I’m redoing some gardening at home as well as at our business in St. Catharines. So, I’m looking for inspiration,” she said.
“I’m gonna take pictures of the things that I think maybe could fit somewhere and it’s just a beautiful day, a gorgeous day to be walking about Niagara-on-the-Lake,” she said.
Myers is an American by birth but married a Canadian and now lives in St. Catharines.
New to the garden tour this year was the inclusion of artists at each property.
Winnie Tam was one of them and was painting the very garden she was standing in. Tam focused on a Japanese maple tree and its surrounding foliage for her piece.
“Tender Arts Niagara is my sister’s company. I am a part-time hobbyist and they said, ‘We need a volunteer for the Shaw Festival.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ ” said Tam.
Tender Arts Niagara is a new art initiative out of St. Catharines.
“We’re just starting out. It’s a group of us trying to start up more of a community mind for our artists. We’re holding some workshops in the fall,” she said.
“But in all honesty it’s just that we wanted to give back to the community. All of us have our full-time jobs but it’s kind of nice to do something fun.”
Tam is a home gardener herself and said it was a real pleasure for her to be able to combine her artistic and horticultural passions during the event.
She works as an occupational therapist and said there is an important link between therapy, gardening and art.
“Actually a few patients of mine are just starting to do some watercolours and I think it’s a good idea. It takes them out of the rehab mode,” she said.
Getting to share an artistic and natural space with strangers throughout the day was special, she said.
“This is kind of inspiring to see all the gardens and talk about colours. I think it’s a good experience.”
Adele Campbell was painting a close-up of a butterfly’s wings in another garden.
“I am a bug fan, obviously, and I love gardens so this just happens to coincide with my passion for gardening and for painting,” Campbell said.
“I love painting bugs and butterflies and insects in general. The colours are so vibrant,” she said.
After painting the initial form of the butterfly’s wings with a brush, Campbell then used a pallet knife to give the wings texture to invoke the many layers and qualities of the bug, she said.
More than 100 volunteers contributed their time to make the garden tour a success and many of them do it for one simple reason: they love gardens.
“I just love flowers and I love to just get lost in gardening. That’s what I do,” said volunteer and master gardener Yvonne Causer.
“I belong to the Garden Club of Niagara and they were seeking more volunteers. So I came along to support the Shaw and see all the lovely gardens as well. This one is particularly lovely,” said Norma De Meel, another volunteer.
Also unique to the garden tour this year was the focused inclusion of gardens created and maintained entirely by the homeowner instead of a professional service. The Garden at 23 Bay Berry Lane was one of them.
De Meel liked that the owners had a variety of plants in their garden.
“What is so beautiful about this garden is that they blended more common plants with more unusual plants,” De Meel said.
She was particularly enamoured with a lions head Japanese maple in the front garden, a fairly unique tree to see, which was planted beside a ninebark, a more common plant, she said.