News

Whistling Gardens a labour of love

By Carol Steedman

“If you build it, they will come,” is a known saying, and Whistling Gardens near Wilsonville certainly exemplifies that.
Co-owners, Darren and Wanda Heimbecker, followed a longtime dream of Darren’s, to build a world-class botanical garden.
Darren grew up in Paris, Ontario, where both sets of grandparents had an avid interest in gardening. His Oma and Opa, Jack and Marion Klosz, took care of the public gardens there and Marion’s interest in horticulture started Darren at a young age to enjoy learning about various plants.
In 2007 Darren and Wanda opened as a garden centre and nursery at their farm located at 698 Concession #3 Wilsonville. Then they started to develop almost 20 acres of land with a vision of separately purposed gardens. Much of it was wet land, and some of the gardens now are below the water table. As land was excavated to create a waterfowl pond, the soil was used to sculpt a base for the six gardens. All of the trees on the property, except those in the conifer garden, were planted in 2010 and the corn and soy bean fields were cleared to build a bird aviary.
As the open fields were developed into a formal garden, a peony garden, a cactus collection and more, neighbours donated piles of rocks collected from their fields. A local business donated the stone needed to build the water fountain amphitheatre, and the Norfolk county community took an interest in this unique botanical garden taking shape.
On May 26, 2012, Whistling Gardens officially opened, and it has become the largest public independently-owned botanical garden in North America. Currently it has six main gardens with over 4,000 different plants. The conifer collection attracts visitors from around the world to see 2,500 species, hybrids and cultivars. The peony garden has over 1,100 peonies and well-known national and international peony experts have visited and donated plants to the collection.
Darren talked of plans and more to come. He keeps very busy with maintaining the grounds, adding to the displays and conducting tours. Wanda has a job apart from the business but is involved in tours and all aspects of Whistling Gardens as well. Since their funding comes entirely from money raised in admissions, the garden centre and donations, rather than any government sources, the growth and management of Whistling Gardens depends upon careful planning by the Heimbeckers.
Their vision’s rapid development and worldwide interest has even surprised them. Wanda mentioned that Whistling Gardens will be featured in the Winter 2017 Fine Gardening magazine, based in the United States. Other interesting information and awards are mentioned on their website.
Weddings and special events are carefully staged, and letters of appreciation appear on the Whistling Gardens website, praising the Heimbeckers for their attention to detail.
Individuals, families and groups are encouraged to stroll the grounds, join garden tours or participate in fun-filled events. Though there is a concession stand with cold beverages and light snacks, people are encouraged to bring picnic lunches to enjoy on the grounds.
Check their website at www.whistlinggardens.ca for details to the mostly accessible grounds.
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On Aug. 11 from 10 a.m. to noon, Whistling Gardens will host a wonderful program for families of all ages to learn more about the significance of bees and other insects that help in the garden and are essential to our food system. “Perfect Pollinators in the Garden” will be led by Tara Carpenter as she explains their importance through fun activities such as a scavenger hunt and learning about a bee watering bowl.
To register, please send e-mail to loveterrafirma@gmail.com, or call 519-771-0023.
Check vanessasbees.com for ten tips to save the bees and plan to attend the outdoor event
on Friday.