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Horticultural Society continues to blossom throughout pandemic (17 photos)

In-person meetings, events have been replaced by virtual engagement, including video garden tours

The Sault Ste. Marie Horticultural Society (SSMHS) has been there for gardeners, nurturing the local scene for more than 90 years.

It’s a group of volunteers – dedicated to beautifying and keeping the community green – who love to grow things, learn about gardening, and share knowledge with others.

One of these volunteers, Andrea Aubertin, (in the interest of transparency, also my niece) has been recording and posting popular virtual garden tours through the summer on behalf of the SSMHS. She joined the horticultural society in 2018 and recently took on the membership chair position when Suzanne Hanna became ill.

Membership with the SSMHS currently stands at approximately 191 individuals. The group maintains a couple of Facebook pages – their main page and the greenhouse page.

Meetings are generally held the first Monday of every month. However, COVID restrictions forced schedule adjustments and new ways of engaging. There have been no in-person meetings since the onset of the pandemic.

Programs, meetings and events are now being delivered virtually through online platforms, including email, Zoom meetings, virtual garden tours, online plant sales, and a significant increase in social media activity.

The annual Seedy Saturday event was replaced for the time being with A Very Seedy Exchange which allowed a monitored number of people by appointment to enter United Baptist Church basement to select the seeds they were interested in. The usual guest speakers, vendors, and kids activities were dropped from the agenda.

An online plant sale also took place this year which was something new for the group since their plant sales normally happen in person. This provided a safe environment for everyone involved and funds raised through the sale went directly to the society. Plants sold included those grown by the Greenhouse Committee and donated by local gardeners.

A partnership with the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site and means the SSMHS is permitted to use the Canal Site’s greenhouse. In exchange the horticultural society provides plants for the site’s gardens.

A recent dedication ceremony saw the Forest Heights Community Gardens renamed to the Suzanne Hanna Memorial Community Garden in recognition of her dedication to gardening and sustainability in our community.

While the group hopes to return to in-person gatherings and events once health and safety protocols allow, it’s likely that the online platform will likely remain an integral aspect of programming moving forward due to its popularity.

“Like the rest of the world after the pandemic started, we were lost as to where to go from here. We are a society that loves to gather together, socialize and learn from each other,” Andrea explains. “We found it difficult to navigate in a world that relies on technology. But we did a really great job at finding other means of providing education, support and social interaction in a time that was very isolating.”

“The virtual garden tours are one of the ways we were able to accomplish this! For me, I enjoyed being surprised by all the beautiful gardens that I was able to explore, I never knew what was in someone's backyard until I walked around the corner!” she said. “Every gardener has their own style they enjoy and their own landscape they have to work with and that's what makes gardening so fun. There is no template you have to follow because it is your space to enjoy.

“I also enjoyed learning about new plants that I have never heard of or seen before and in turn I was hopefully able to teach others as well. For the gardener I think they enjoyed showing their space to others. I think most gardeners enjoy sharing their education because they want others to enjoy gardening as well.

“I had many people come up to me and say how much they really enjoyed the tours and how its so great for the gardening community,” Andrea continued. “For the viewers I think it’s a great way to see gardens that you would not normally see. People can learn about new plants, different styles of gardening, as well as ways to overcome challenges that are similar to their gardens.

“I have completed 30 garden tours this summer and hope to do more next year. And I'm looking forward to seeing some of these same gardens earlier in the season as well,” she said.

Anyone interested can watch the garden tour videos on the Sault Ste. Marie Horticultural Society Facebook page.

Those interested in having a garden featured is invited to reach out to the SSMHS via the website to make arrangements.