You have to pity Victoria Bick and her staff. It’s an unseasonably scorching day in late May. The midday sun is a harsh mistress. But, there they are, working in the restored kitchen garden of Dundurn Castle. They move about in long skirts, long sleeves, bonnets and layers of clothes, weeding, hoeing and harvesting their hearts out. The combined sweat could water two rows of rhubarb. Which is good, because otherwise – just watering cans, filled from a central fountain.
On top of all that they have to fight bugs with no pesticides, feed dozens of rows of flowers, fruits and vegetables with only manure and can use only the heritage plants and gardening tools available in 1850’s Hamilton. Why? Because the garden is on a historic site once owned by Sir Allan Napier MacNab. Hence the sweaty dresses.
But the staff, smaller than the eight to ten full-time gardeners toiling here in Sir Allan Napier MacNab’s time, work wonders. They provide enough food for castle tours, birthday parties, guest sampling, special events and even the Neighbour to Neighbour Centre that use crates of produce each season. That’s more remarkable given that none of the staff, including Ms Bick herself, came to the garden with a formal horticultural background. “Most people come into this job having a huge passion for growing food, teaching people how to grow food … the end result is you have an incredible space filled with a ton of varieties you won’t find anywhere else,” she says.