Student work flourishes in Cuddy Gardens

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: THEAMCUDDYGARDEN.BLOGSPOT.CA
Students from Fanshawes Horticulture Technician program are responsible for maintaining the beautiful Cuddy Gardens during their summer co-op placement.

Tucked away in the little town of Strathroy, just off Highway 402, is a hidden paradise. Many people might not know where this garden is — with a small sign out front, it is easy to miss — but once you're there, you might not want to leave.

This lush oasis, Cuddy Gardens, has a strong Fanshawe connection: it's tended to by the College's Horticulture Technician students.

Cuddy Farms was constructed in 1950, when owner A.M. Cuddy bought the 100-acre farm and 1,500 turkeys. Through his hard work and innovative ideas to change the industry, Cuddy eventually grew his farm into the world's largest producer of fertilized turkey eggs. To this day, the hatchery ships eggs and poults (a young turkey being raised for food) across the world from its 35 Strathroy-area farms.

Cuddy had always taken a keen interest in horticulture and landscape design. In 1991, Cuddy decided that his property should be used to showcase horticulture and landscaping projects to the public, and so he started developing the garden. He hired Michael Pascoe, a recent graduate from the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture, to help him design and build his vision of the gardens.

The construction of Cuddy Gardens took five years to complete and was one of the first all-organic gardens with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides used. Cuddy Gardens became well known being the first gardens in Canada to be rewarded for its exemplary use of perennials and shrubs.

When Cuddy passed away in 2006, his wife Patricia donated the gardens and the house to Fanshawe, and the Horticulture program now manages the grounds. “The Horticulture Technician program is now in its 10th year here at Fanshawe, and we have 80 students between first and second year,” said Jack Parker, professor of the Horticulture Technician program. “What makes our program unique is that we create real experiences for our co-op students by doing real projects.”

The Co-op students definitely get their hands dirty, with part of their curriculum being the development and maintenance of the gardens. Students in the program are assigned weekly practicals where they do routine care such as maintaining the flower nursery, cutting grass, and completing construction projects within the garden.

“The arbors, fences, and the rock barriers are all built by students here in the program,” said Nate Mckim, a recent graduate of the program. “Hardscape projects, operating equipment, plant control, plant production, the micro-nursery, greenhouse control are things we are responsible for as part of our co-op.”

“Because we do real projects, there are real risks involved, so we enforce high levels of safety protocol,” stated Parker, “but that's what distinguishes us from other colleges; instead of doing a mock up on a model or a small scale, we actually do real, practical work that they do in the job field.”

With summer now here, a new batch of students have taken over the responsibilities of Cuddy Gardens as part of their summer co-op placement. Right now the students are learning how to use the equipment and cleaning up the gardens to get it ready for showings this summer. With upcoming events such as the Open Gardens tours throughout the summer, students are starting their co-op by trimming and pruning the plants and flowers to get them in top-top shape.

Cuddy Gardens has one of the largest collections of plants and Magnolia trees in Ontario, so a lot of work is needed to upkeep and maintain this fine collection. Over 2,000 species are displayed in the dry, rock, woodland, perennial, rose and aquatic gardens. Several plants found in the Garden are on the endangered species list, which makes Cuddy Gardens a real sight to see.

If you're interested checking out this the beautiful collection, come out to the guided tours of the grounds at Cuddy Gardens at 28443 Centre Road in Strathroy on June 1 and 2 or August 1 — for event details, go to www.fanshawec.ca/opengarden. For more information, check out theamcuddygarden.blogspot.ca.