The Beginnings of the Gardens
The history of the Summerland Gardens goes back almost a hundred years. In 1916, when Agriculture Canada laid out the ornamental gardens around its two-year-old experimental laboratory just south of Summerland, the Kettle Valley Railway link to the coast had just been completed. Roads, at best, were rough tracks. Immigrants were coming to the Okanagan by rail and lake sternwheeler ship. Irrigation systems were being built because any agriculture more intensive than ranching had to have water.
The governments of the day decided that some English/Eastern Canadian culture was needed to smooth the rough edges on the frontier – trees to line the streets of the new towns, public parks with beautiful flowers and shrubs, and gardening information for the new homeowners. The Research Station was the place to look into all this, and so it did. The staff laid out a garden demonstration area, planted trees and shrubs and flowers. Some did well, some did not. Over time, the area developed into an English style garden covering about 15 acres (6 hectares), and became very popular with locals and tourists.
Agriculture Canada research directions have changed. In Summerland, the station increased its concentration on tree fruits and food processing; the ornamental horticulture program was reduced and finally in the ‘80s phased out. The gardens languished under minimal maintenance. In 1991, a local group of citizens formed the Friends of the Research Station Gardens Society (FOG). They formed a partnership with Agriculture Canada to maintain the gardens and to raise funds to develop them into a showpiece of gardening possibilities and options in the Okanagan Valley for both local residents and visitors from elsewhere. Once again, the original purpose of the gardens when they were started in 1916 was restored.
Thanks to generous donors and hard work from society members and our garden crew, much has been accomplished and the gardens continue to be a spectacular showcase in the Okanagan.
In 2011, the Friends of Summerland Ornamental Gardens celebrated its 20th Anniversary with a Commemorative Tea Party in honour of the bygone days when Sunday picnics on the lawn were popular family outings.
On May 29th, 2016, the Friends celebrated their 25th Anniversary with a special Tea Party which will lead into the 100 Seasons in the Sun celebration taking place July 16 and 17th.