Master Gardeners in Action – Secret Garden Project

Front: Wendy Bridgen MG, Agnes Tamoto MG, Igor Kaftan MG, Anne Marie Bell MG Back: Donna Gillis Intern, Bev Coutts MG, Ricardo, St. Andrew’s volunteer, Gosia Barrette Intern, Sharyn Wood Intern

Master Gardeners in Action – Secret Garden Project
St. Andrew’ s Rectory National Heritage Centre, 374 River Road, St. Andrew’s, Manitoba

By Agnes Tamoto, Master Gardener

On the grounds of the St. Andrew’s Heritage Centre there is a charming little secret garden. This garden was established sometime in the 1980’s. It was during that decade that Parks Canada took ownership of the St Andrew’s site and renovated the rectory. The ministers of St. Andrew’s Church continued to reside on the upper level of the rectory and used the garden as their own private space until 2010. The rectory houses a museum with recently updated exhibits as well as a small gift shop. The St. Andrew’s Rectory staff organize many events including children centred activities and garden related workshops.

The existing garden has a circular design with mature plantings that includes an Arnold red Tartarian honeysuckle, hawthorn, dogwoods, common lilacs, as well as a mature American elm. Along with the shrubs, there are scattered plantings of native Solomon seal, iris and daylilies. Some invasive species were also planted which include ox-eye daisy and lily of the valley. Over the coming seasons we hope to replace these invasive species.

As the volunteer Garden Manager at the St. Andrew’s Rectory, I was asked to renovate this garden which until the last few years had not been open to tourists that visit the grounds. Local daycares have been bringing children to play on the rectory grounds and are now visiting the secret garden to play and learn about the plants and animals that live in the garden.

A call for help on this project, sent to the MMGA membership in the fall of 2021, was answered by several master gardeners and interns. Our committee members are Igor Kaftan MG, Anne Marie Bell MG, Bev Coutts MG, Gosia Barrette Intern and Sharyn Wood Intern. We first met in September 2021 to develop a plan for renovating the garden. First order of business was to create more garden beds. A work party was organized on October 25, 2021. A group of nine volunteers moved 8 yards of soil and 10 yards of mulch.

Over the winter the committee met several times on Zoom to discuss plant selection and sourcing plants. As the garden is predominately shaded and has many mature shrubs, it was decided to go with a woodland garden theme. We are including both native and non-native species in our plantings. Working with a modest budget we purchased six different species of native plants. These included giant hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), tall coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), tall bluebell (Mertensia paniculata), Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) and Asters (Symphyotrichum spp) as well as purple oat grass (Schizachne purpurascens). Hosta and Persicaria were purchased at the Selkirk Horticultural Society’s annual plant sale and from the Manitoba Master Gardeners Association’s plant sale.

At our first planting party held in May, we were able to plant 36 plugs of native plants along with hosta and wild columbine. We planted some coleus and impatiens for visual interest. Over the summer we have received donations of ferns, hosta, Persicaria, Astrantia, Ajuga and Lamium. We took advantage of some end of season sales at garden centres and were able to purchase and plant several Cimicifuga, Brunnera and Ligularia.

Photo courtesy of St. Andrew’s Rectory

Another planting party is planned for early September. We expect to add some big bluestem (Andropgon geradii), Echinacea and Heliopsis at the entrance of the garden which receives approximately six hours of sunlight.

Photo courtesy – St. Andrew’s Rectory
Photo – courtesy St. Andrew’s Rectory

Along with the secret garden there is a vegetable garden and garden border surrounding the rectory building. These gardens are planted and maintained by the summer students hired as interpreters by the RM of St. Andrews under our mentorship. They are an enthusiastic group of young people learning to love gardening.

With the challenges of limited budgets and sourcing plants, this project will take a few seasons to complete. It will take a few years for the native plants to establish themselves and reach their full potential. Our hope is that The Secret Garden will become a destination spot for tourists visiting from afar and for members of the community. We will enjoy watching it grow over the years.

To read more on the St. Andrew’s National Heritage Centre, please visit

Photos by Agnes Tamoto except where otherwise noted