Cambridge Horticultural Societies plant the seeds of education and fellowship

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‘You don’t have to be an experienced gardener, this is for people who just want to learn and have a good time’

It’s an act of public beautification, but the roots of the Cambridge Horticultural Societies are to help educate and bring together people who share a love for gardening.

In the area there are three horticultural societies; the Galt Horticultural Society, the Preston Horticultural Society and GardenHespeler. All three have their roots between 1878 and 1900, sharing a similar mandate to encourage the interest and improvement of horticulture.

“I always think the mission is to educate people about gardening, and however we get that message out, we try to help, we try to support and we focus on the community,” said said Liz Stacey, president of the Galt Horticultural Society.

To help educate people about gardening, the three societies hold various events throughout the season. These events can range from guest speakers and workshops to plant sales, which the Preston Horticultural Society hosts on May 28.

Members also have the opportunity to travel to different locations to explore and learn about gardening topics. The cost of a membership varies between $10 and $15.

“We are proud of this area we live in and we can certainly maintain it. We don’t always need the City of Cambridge to maintain things,” said Maria Gillespie, chair of the Preston Horticultural Society, which maintains the flowerbeds in Gore. Park, between Concession Road and King Street.

While life is different from over a hundred years ago, GardenHespeler president Sherry Couchman said there are ways horticultural companies can stay relevant. She cites an example from her horticultural society, where she runs workshops for people who grow plants while living in an apartment.

“We try to share seeds and plants and try to share wealth if someone has access to something that we may not have,” said Couchman, whose company has flower beds in Bergey. Hill of Franklin Street.

“It’s really an opportunity to have a connection and see what’s going on and see what’s available in an urban setting.”

Apart from education, these companies can support other organizations. The Preston and Galt companies have both started growing vegetables and produce to donate to the Cambridge Food Bank.

“We have a lot of community groups, like neighborhood societies, asking for our help to come in and maybe run workshops on how to plant, or ask for seeds, or clean up a garden,” Stacey told about how his horticultural society is involved in the community.

“We have a lot of seniors who can no longer take care of their gardens, we have volunteers who will come to help them, usually it’s by donation.”

With the three organizations based on similar beliefs and being part of the same ruling district, all societies try to work together.

“We have access to other speakers, and if you can’t keep our meeting date, we try to record the meetings so people can still get the information, so we offer (meetings) and try to working together to make some people, whether it’s a garden tour or a workshop, try to promote the societies and we can all learn from the information shared,” Couchman said.

Sharing information between the three companies and with the community also helps build relationships between new and experienced gardeners.

“I think people got into the gardening craze with COVID,” Gillespie said. “As a gardener, we like to share our plants, we like to share ideas on how to grow things.”

The Preston Horticultural Society and GardenHespeler both note an increase in membership throughout the pandemic, with 54 members and 30 members respectively.

Despite the growth of these two organizations, the Galt Horticultural Society remains one of the largest horticultural societies in the region with over 250 members. Stacey notes that it may have something to do with the one-acre property on Grand Street, called Ferguson’s Cottage, that the company maintains.

“It’s really nice to walk around and have fun, and sit, and we have benches where you can sit and eat your lunch and maybe drink coffee,” Stacey said of the property.

Since 2022 has been designated as the Year of the Garden, each company has been gearing up to plant and maintain displays of red and white flowers, while also offering in-person events. To help support their gardens, the three organizations say they welcome new volunteers and members of all ages.

“It’s very important. There’s no way two or three people can manage a one-acre garden,” Stacey said of the volunteers, adding that the society holds a corn peeling at the end of the season to thank its volunteers.

“You don’t have to be an experienced gardener, this is for people who just want to learn and have a good time,” Couchman said.

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