The Prince Edward County Horticultural Society is based at Picton, but embraces all parts of the island county in the Bay Of Quinte. It all began in 1869, predating the organization of the Ontario Horticultural Society which took place in 1906. A pamphlet on our society was published in 1875 and reprinted in the local newspaper, stating that membership fees were $1.00/year, that flower shows were held on Dominion Day and in September. The roll listed 104 members. Also, the club secretary was quoted as saying he “beg to inform my floral friends that I’m expecting from Paris, France, a superior collection of gladiolus of new varieties raised by the celebrated grower M. Bouchel”. And he stated that “no idea can be formed of the extreme beauty of these new varieties”. From 1875 to 1919 the society thrived and sought constantly to import all kinds of seeds from Europe. The society became dormant in 1919 with a roll of only 60 members.
The present society was reformed in 1955 under the direction of Philip Dodds with 119 members which grew to nearly 600 members by 1973. Emphasis over the years has been on civic plantings including a town park and beautification of the fire hall, police station, War Memorial, planters on the streets, and window boxes at the library. In rural areas there have been plantings at churches, schools and parks. As a result the village of Cherry Valley became known as the “Petunia Capital” of Prince Edward. Tree planting and preservation were and are the main objectives. Between 1955 and 1973, 85,000 tree seedlings were distributed; many large trees and shrubs were planted; there was a Spray The Elms campaign; and a large bulletin was circulated province-wide in an effort to save trees from being “butchered” by utilities crews. Clean-up and paint-up campaigns were established with support of The Picton Gazette. The society made its presence felt at the Picton Fall Fair every year with a booth and the Fall Flower Show.
In 1981, Harold Bartman became president and the first year book was produced and an annual August Flower Show was added to the society’s calendar. Horticultural Therapy with the aged was adopted and the group taught about houseplants, terrariums, dish gardens and seeds under light. This program was a huge success. During this time the society met monthly at the Salvation Army Hall. A bulb campaign that year garnered a bumper crop of sales and $1,000 for the club’s coffers. The society held a dinner dance at the Legion Hall in November and in December had a float in the Santa Claus Parade pulled by Henry Gray’s truck.
In 1986 with a membership of 118, a home beautification competition was held. The cost of membership was $2.00/year and bequest of $1,000 was received from the estate of the late Jack Turpin. The county was a hot spot for the invasion of Gypsy Moths and the society undertook a campaign to promote spraying for the pest that was defoliating hardwood trees and killing many beautiful mature specimens. This year’s August Flower Show became Flowerama’86 with exhibitors entering 600 items. It was touted as the best flower show between Montreal and Toronto.
In June 1987 a 150th Birthday party and parade was held for Picton. The Prince Edward County Horticultural Society entered a float and Joyce Althouse demonstrated the making of bonnets for the party. The group also planted a raised bed at the Canadian Tire store to mark the town’s 150 years.
The Master Gardeners’ Programme began in our group in 1993 and continues to be a great influence in the county. This programme trains dedicated individuals who want to learn more about horticulture through the University of Guelph and pass on their knowledge to their fellow gardeners. One of the highlights of this year was the presentation to Winny Rightmyer of a life membership. This was awarded in honour of her outstanding contributions to our Society. A Prince Edward County Horticultural Society Scholarship was set up to promote interest in horticulture and offered to an outstanding student at Guelph University or Kemptville. Several of our members took part in the Tree Atlas project sponsored by the University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The purpose was to identify, label and count the varieties of trees contained in a 10sq.km. area of the county.
In 1998 and 1999 our Annual June Flower Show was held in Bloomfield as part of Bloomfield’s Flag & Flower Day. This replaced the August event. In 1999, Winnie Rightmyer, Eleanor and Jack Hicks were honoured by the Ontario Government at Queen’s University for outstanding volunteer efforts. Eleanor and Jack Hicks have tirelessly given of their time in the restoring and maintaining of the heritage gardens at Macaulay Park. Winnie Rightmyer was honoured for her long-standing efforts on the Prince Edward County Horticultural Society Board of Directors.
The Prince Edward County Green Trust was set up to eventually provide funds for the Societies located in the County. Grants from governmental agencies are subject to the whims of the party in power. Rico Antognini and John Murray were the driving force in guiding this registered charity through the governmental red tape.
In 2001 and 2002 our society dressed a Christmas tree to be auctioned off with the proceeds going to Camp Trillium at the annual Festival of Lights. This began another annual effort in support of our community.
Over the years, our group has been dedicated to building and maintaining a really fine library for our members to use. Withdrawals from the library are done on an honour system. It is a treasure trove of information.
Membership has fluctuated over the years but the Prince Edward County Horticultural Society is still flourishing today and we plan to keep growing and being involved in our community.