Bust out your summer shoes and pillbox hats, the Shaw Guild Garden Tour returns on June 11 in a new walkable format.
"This year we thought we would try to have it just in Old Town,” garden tour convener Jane Catcher said in an interview Tuesday.
Normally, the garden tour is set up across the entire municipality, but Catcher said she specifically wanted to have a tour this year that was accessible entirely by foot, which is not possible if gardens were hosted in St. Davids, Queenston and Virgil.
“I wanted to try to have it so that some of the gardens were close enough together that I could have guests walk from one garden to another,” she said.
Another reason for making the tour focused in the Old Town this year is to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Shaw Festival.
“The Shaw Guild was formed back in 1974 and it was formulated to really support and promote the festival,” Catcher said.
The first garden tour was held in 2005 and this year marks the 16th iteration of the event, as it was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Last year the tour was held in the fall to navigate concerns around the pandemic but Catcher is happy to have it return to the spring for 2022, she said.
“We always sort of consider the Shaw Guild Garden Tour to be the kickoff to the season,” she said.
She said one important aspect the guild considers when choosing which weekend to host the event is knowing what other festivals and events are scheduled in town.
“We have a great relationship with the Strawberry Festival, for example, and we never have (the garden tour) the same weekend as the Strawberry Festival,” she said.
Another change this year is the types of gardens on display.
“We have a very nice blend of gardens this year. Not just, you know, professionally manicured hardscape gardens,” said Catcher.
“We have gardens that were planted and created by our homeowners and they then grew into what I'm going to call a real labour of love.”
That labour of love was a central aspect to Catcher's garden tour philosophy this year.
“One garden in particular on Regent Street is a true labour of love for the homeowner. He even so much has tried his hand at making his own mulch," she said.
“There's just a real story for him to share with patrons and our guests as they come and learn about flowers and gardening.”
Catcher was enthusiastic as she talked about how personally attached many homeowners are to their gardens and landscapes.
“One little story this year is in one of these huge windstorms that we've had, a 100-year-old tree came down. And (the homeowner) said, ‘I feel like we’ve had a loss in the family.’ She was very, very taken aback by the loss of this tree,” Catcher said.
It’s not just a labour of love for the garden hosts. Catcher gives credit to the team of eight people who work with her to organize the tour. She said they start planning the day after the previous tour ends.
“Many a leader has said this but I couldn’t do it without them. I truly could not,” she said.
On top of that, it takes a staggering 110 volunteers on the day of the tour to ensure it all goes smoothly.
“Everything from a cashier to a greeter to people within the gardens that then help with wayfinding,” she said.
Catcher said so many volunteers are needed that two of her team members, Kim Mustill and Susan MacDonald, solely focus on finding volunteers leading up to the tour.
“One other person that needs a pat on the back is Cheryl Morris,” Catcher said.
“Cheryl has done many things for the Shaw and the Shaw Guild. One of the things that she does for the garden tour, for instance, is she puts together what we refer to as the brochure.”
The brochure has evolved into what Catcher calls the Garden Magazine, which is given out to everyone who purchases a ticket to the tour.
Also new this year is that each garden is going to be accompanied by some sort of special event, ranging from musicians performing to painters creating art while guests enjoy the gardens.
“And all of our musicians and artists have given us, gratis, their time,” she said.
The Shaw Guild Garden Tour is on June 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are available in advance through the guild and Eventbrite for $30.
Participating gardens this year are at 270 Niagara Blvd., 217 Butler St., 282 Nassau St., 188 Prideaux St., 27 Delater St., 277 Regent St., and at 23 and 25 Bayberry Lane.
Tickets will also be available for purchase on the day of the tour at any of the eight hosting gardens for $30, cash only.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report