Horticultural Society celebrates diamond anniversary

By Willa Wick in Community, Places, Events, & History

1952 was a good year – and so was the party 60 years later. The decorating was right out of a home style magazine with bright colors, poufy tissue paper balls, and glitzy diamonds and sequins. There was everything among the 50s memorabilia except gaudy plastic flowers ….but this was a horticultural event and that’s not allowed.
The Harriston and District Horticultural Society, while celebrating its diamond anniversary last month, reflected on changes that have taken place over 60 years. But not only has Harriston experienced changes, delving into the history of the Ontario Horticultural Association unearths some surprising facts.
The tilling of land for a garden to grow vegetables for food was a necessity for the pioneers, and then as time and space would allow, little plots around the house were planted with flowers seeds carried from their native land.
Just as clothing styles change every year, flower shades come and go, and each year there’s a ‘hot’ new color just like in dresses.
Horticultural societies across the province, the Dominion, and throughout the world have one mandate in common – civic beautification, sharing, and promoting the education of horticulture.
Harriston is located in what is known as District 7 of the OHA (Ontario Horticultural Association). Within District 7 are the societies of Harriston, Clifford, Maryborough, Mt. Forest, Grand Valley, Shelburne, Orangeville, Hillsburg, Erin, Elora/Salem, Guelph Township, Guelph City, Arthur and Fergus,
These groups get together twice a year for District Meetings and that represents a great sharing of ideas, successes, topic/speaker information, and as well, meeting new contacts for both work related duties and general friendship.
That same mission held true for the recent anniversary celebrations when representatives from most societies were registered among the 106 attendees. Charter members, Marion Remus of Palmerston and Verna Wilkin of Harriston were recognized as honored guests. Unfortunately another lady whose name was also on the 1952 membership list, Shirley MacKenzie, was unable to attend.
Although 60 years seems like a long time for an organization, it is only midway in the stream. The Toronto Society is recognized as the oldest Horticultural Society in Ontario. It was organized in 1834. Five acres of land were donated for gardens, and when designed and planted they were officially opened by the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) and are now known as the city’s Allan Gardens.
Kingston was the site of the first Botanical Garden in Canada on land that is now part of Queen’s University. The beginning of this horticultural endeavor was the result of an amazing mixture of seeds, many rare and exotic plants, a great assortment of carnations, 70 varieties of geraniums and 60 of roses …. all of these received from New York. Now that’s horticulture sharing!
In the early days any society was always affiliated with the Fruit Growers and the Agricultural Societies. Even though groups had existed as early as 1834, the Ontario Horticultural Association wasn’t officially formed until 1906.
In 1909 Vacant Lot Gardening was advocated, and done as vegetable gardens to share with the unfortunate. That was particularly important during the war and depression years. Those same type gardens today, under the name of Community Gardens, are not just for the poor but rather anyone who wants to grow their own healthy vegetables.
Going one step farther is Guerilla Gardening where a group of fun loving enthusiasts armed with the tools of the trade descend on an unused eyesore in a town or city. Under cover of darkness, and in a few hours, they transform the ugly sight into a scenic flower bed. All that’s left identifying the troop is a sign that reads “Please Water Me”.
Right from the earliest of times Horticultural Societies have cleaned up and maintained pioneer cemeteries and railway stations, introduced school gardens, and in general not only tried to keep their community attractive but encouraged the youth to do the same. Most societies now provide bursaries to students from a local Secondary School who will be continuing their studies in a horticultural related field.
Even the First World War did not dampen enthusiasm and it was cited that gardening was better than calisthenics, outdoor exercise was an antidote to frail health, and that getting back to earth was the most effectual way of dealing with the white plague (Tuberculosis).
Over the years Horticultural Societies have lobbied with the government for improvements to various facets of life. A continual struggle, even as early as 1908, shows the societies opposed to the defacement of the countryside by lines of billboards. This was referred to as the Bill Board Battle.
There was even a movement in 1919 to rid the country of marauding cats, most of which were half or wholly wild and preying on native birds. To curtail their numbers it was recommended that owners should pay a tax or at least license their cats the same as with dogs.
Through the efforts of Horticultural Societies the White Trillium was adopted as the floral emblem for the Province of Ontario by an act of Parliament in 1937.
The Harriston and District Society had an early start in the 1920s but official records cannot be located. After a lengthy hiatus a new society was formed in 1952, and it was honoring those 60 years of service that was celebrated in September. Two charter members still attend most monthly meetings, and several with 50+ years are still active. There was a great reunion at this party.
Harriston’s Dorelene Anderson is Director for District 7 and during her few words remarked on how proud she was of her home society for all the support she has been given during her years of office. She congratulated President Diane Ireland-Kelly and her crew for the wonderful anniversary get-together which brought so many from other societies as guests.
Gorrie native James Graham, 1st Vice President of the O.H.A., brought provincial congratulations. Always an entertaining and informative speaker, Graham told how he had been helping the members of Tilbury. They wanted something different for their streetscaping and he told them how Harriston’s bridge boxes always had ‘wow’ power and “this year for heaven’s sake, they had Zea mays corn (purple striped) in the centre of a sea of fuchsia wave petunias”. Tilbury picked right up on that idea, and since they’re in a great farming belt, decided that next year they would do corn, wheat, cabbages and other vegetables along with flowers for their big planters.
And that’s another way one area shares with, and learns from, another.
Gardening is an obsession, and it certainly helps to keep Ontario beautiful.