“I bet you expected a younger student.”
Steve Stanish stood and held out his hand, he certainly wasn’t a fresh-faced kid two years out of high school. Instead the 59-year-old looked a bit weather-beaten, wearing well-used clothes, a baseball cap on his head, and a grin a mile wide.
The Algonquin College horticulture student was hired to work at Inge-Va, the old historical building on Craig Street in Perth. The grounds were worked two years ago by another Algonquin student, and mapping of the area was begun.
Last year there was no student so this year, inventory, unearthing old plants, planting new ones of the kinds that were there many years ago, surveying and photographing will begin again to make the grounds flourish.
This is a three-pronged approach to bringing a fresh, updated look to the building and property. The partnership between the Perth, Algonquin College’s Horticultural Industries program, and Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) will allow Stanish to work until September. By that time he hopes to have a master plan of what he accomplished this summer and what could be done in the years to come to enhance the property and make it even more of a destination building.
Chris Hahn, dean of the Perth Campus, also has a hope. He is that OHT will make funds available to hire a student to work at Inge-Va each summer.
Stanish could be the person for Hahn to pin his hopes on. He’s keen, mature, knowledgeable and has a design and art history background which, combined with horticulture, makes a potent mix. Stanish is also familiar with the Perth area and has a car to get himself back and forth.
“This was one of the more unique co-ops offered,” Hahn says.
Steve Neumann, co-coordinator of the horticulture program in Ottawa, explains there were 65 co-op placements available for his students this year; he adds he likes to see students pursuing what they want to do.
Hahn says not only is it cost effective but it’s a four-win situation – the town, the college, the student, and Ontario Heritage Trust.
Earlier in May, Stanish met with OHT, landlord of the property and building, and together they laid out what they wanted to see. He’s started developing a plan.
“Some of the roses could be at least 150-years-old,” he says, a little in awe. Stanish works in concert with OHT, contacting them on a regular basis, keeping them informed of his progress. “There are some super obvious problems,” Stanish points out, and in the past year the wilderness has been creeping in. That’s where he’ll start.
Once this is underway, he’ll get to the “hidden things,” he says, almost rubbing his hands in glee. What’s there, what’s been hiding for years and years, what’s waiting to be unearthed, what’s been overrun and is just looking for a little TLC.
There was possibly a vegetable garden in the back, old hollyhocks, there are tulips and hydrangeas. Everything needs to be trimmed and cleaned.
What will the grounds look like when all is finished? Stanish has old photos and hopes the grounds will have a similar look.
Neumann explains, “Some varieties of plants are just not available anymore. They weren’t strong enough to survive.”
And like two favourites – Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book The Secret Garden and Enid Bagnold’s play The Chalk Garden – Inge-Va’s garden has a chance for rebirth and re-use in a small town that has been its home forever.
Inge-Va was built in 1824 for Perth’s first Anglican Minister, Rev. Major Michael Harris. Rev. Harris laid out the gardens and paths that surround the house. Subsequent tenants included Thomas Mabon Radenhurst who planted the black locusts, and Ella and Cyril Inderwick who created gardens and the circular driveway in the 1930.
This article was first published in the June edition of Hometown. Check out our digital version to read more.