While on a recent trip to northern Alberta, I finally insisted on a pit stop to the George Pegg Botanical Garden outside of Glenevis (near Sangudo, just west of Edmonton) – I have wanted to tour the site forEVER, having driven by the sign on Highway 43 at least a dozen times a year for the past fifteen years. Once my husband and I ceased our ramblings in the bush (we get lost easily, it’s how we roll), we came upon a very pleasant volunteer from the local historical society and the preserved homestead and garden itself.
So, who was George Pegg and why is his garden so important? Born in 1910, Pegg’s family moved from Toronto to Red Deer in search of a place to farm; they eventually settled in Glenevis, where Pegg’s father became the first settler to plant alfalfa in the area. Encouraged by his parents and siblings, George developed a passionate interest in horticulture and birding (and meteorology) that lasted his lifetime. Over the years, George cultivated a massive variety of plants and trees on the family property, including species such as Korean goldenbell, Tartarian maple and gasplant that cannot usually survive in Zone 2 gardens. Part of the reason these plants have survived is due to the massive natural windbreak planted by the Peggs, consisting of large stands of spruce and tamarack, creating a sheltered microclimate to protect the more tender species in the garden. Widely travelled throughout Canada and the United States in pursuit of work, George continually quested to identify and observe as many species of plants and birds as he could, wherever he ended up. He and his family kept excellent records of the migration patterns of as many bird species as they could; in later years, George began to collect specimens of various wild plants to create his own herbarium. Anything that he could not identify, he would take to the University of Alberta to consult with professor Ezra H. Moss, whose 1959 publication Flora of Alberta included at least one hundred provincial species that George Pegg had brought to his attention, plants that had not previously been known.
The second house on the homestead, which was built in 1929, still stands – in excellent condition – and Pegg’s belongings are still pretty much intact. He lived simply in his family home until his death in 1980, refusing to install electricity and power and using only a wood stove for heat. The outbuildings are still in good shape as well, although they are not part of the tour. The extensive garden is a bit rambling, lacking any formal design principles (which is absolutely lovely). It is breathtaking in its scope, featuring a huge array of species, including a designated rose bed containing various cultivars that were in full bloom when we visited. The historical society has done an excellent job placing identifying markers near the plants, as well as all of the maintenance expected. A footbridge has also been constructed to cross a lowland area containing bog plants. It’s really a delight to see all of these species thriving together in one place and should serve as proof to gardeners that, with a little creativity and experimentation, hardiness zones don’t mean nuthin’. Truly inspirational!