When I was growing up, a favourite family activity — extended family including grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, and lots of friends — was to go to the Summerland Experimental Station (or “The Farm” as the older folks called it) for a big group picnic. The children would have a wonderful time running down the many paths, playing hide and seek among the bushes and under the huge weeping willow trees with branches hanging to the ground, and of course rolling over and over and over down the long, long sloping lawn. The young adults would meander among the gardens, while the oldest folks would sit under the shade of the beautiful trees and admire the gardens. Then we’d all gather together around the many picnic tables and have great picnic lunches.
As I was a “July baby” we also celebrated many of my birthdays at the Station, along with my cousin Kathy, whose birthday was one week before mine. And our family had a special connection to “The Farm” as my grandfather, John Mott, had worked as a gardener there, and helped develop some rose varieties that later became widely known. Also, my mom often told us of how, when she was young, they would walk to the Station from Summerland, following the railway track, and walk across the railway trestle — a very long trek from their home down on Sully Road across from the old Summerland Hospital.
The Summerland Experimental Station was also a great place for groups of people to gather for events like Sunday School picnics, and for school classes to go for field trips. I remember, in grade 7 (spring 1968) our adventurous young teacher, Mr. Seymour, taking us on our very first school field trip all the way from Rutland to the Summerland Experimental Station (now known as the Pacific Agri-Food Research Center) and then on to the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory south of Penticton. At the Station, we all got to eat apples grown there — new varieties not yet commercially available — and we got to see the “cow with a glass stomach.” All very exciting!
Today, the beautiful garden and lawn sections of the Experimental Station are kept up by a group of enthusiastic volunteers, and are known as the Summerland Ornamental Gardens. They are open to the public most days, and are free to visit, though donations to their upkeep are of course welcomed — and most worth it. My sister and I went up to the Station the other day and enjoyed the combination of xeriscape gardens and traditional gardens, and the many memories from our childhood which they brought back. Please enjoy the following slide show, which features the gardens today, and snapshots from as far back as sixty or more years ago!