A Westfield Revival: The Gillian Glasshouse

Written for Westfield Heritage Village Blog, July 2014

It has certainly been a busy spring for Westfield with so many new buildings being renovated and opened, and I am absolutely thrilled to let you know that the Gillian Glasshouse is finally up and running!

Most people have walked by the Gillian House with a brief glance into the backyard, only to notice a relatively untouched glasshouse. In times past this Victorian inspired glasshouse would otherwise be over flowing with annuals, fruits, vegetables, nuts, market flowers and orchids, all of which would use for cooking, medicine and decorating. As a nature interpreter and botanist at Royal Botanical Gardens Canada, it only seemed natural to indulge in my love of heritage interpretation and take on the task of reviving the glasshouse and filling it with heritage plants.

So, after a few painstakingly cold days scrubbing with cold water back mid-April (I was going for an authentic experience) I fixed the glass panes, pulled up and swept away the bugs and dead weeds, and had the carpentry shop prepare transplant trays for the 30+ perennials and annuals that will be started this season.

 The glasshouse is aptly named as it is made with panes of glass making it possible to grow essential, colourful, warmth loving fruit and vegetables, even in this climate, such as tomatoes and chillies!

Now when you venture into the Gillian backyard you are welcomed by horehound for coughs, wild strawberries for jam and native Echinacea.  Market cabbages from Denmark and tomatoes that date back to 1910, 1902 and 1898 are just some of the vegetables you may encounter.

 I have tried to theme plants that pre-date the Gillian House (c. 1912) to give visitors an idea of the fruits, vegetables and herbs one could find in an Edwardian garden.

You’ll also notice that many of the herbs and native flowers will continue to grow and overwinter for next year’s gardens. With enough planning, I hope to get seeds started mid-March so we can offer unique heritage vegetables for the spring Westfield Plant Sale.

Brandon, who often volunteers in the print shop, has also been assisting with transplanting and watering on weekends and has certainly out done himself. His handiwork at the forge has revived a couple of tired secateurs to their former glory, and has also crafted a handy transplanting trowel!

A special thanks also goes to the Westfield staff who have taken time during their day to make sure the plants get watered. This is the most important task as we currently hand water all the crops and we all really appreciate your help!

So, next time you are visiting Westfield, be sure to stop by the Gillian Glasshouse and have a look for yourself and imagine yourself 100 years back; the vegetables and herbs we are growing today are the same as you’d find growing in gardens of rural Ontario in 1912.

We are looking for a few volunteers to help with weekend watering, donations of clean clay pots and heritage seeds (pre-1912). If you’d like to help out with this project please email alyson.prokop@gmail.com.

Happy Gardening!

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