The gardens at Lougheed House nurture knowledge and inspiration

Those who visit the Lougheed House gardens may not appreciate the thought and planning that goes into making them look as beautiful as they do.

Jane Reksten is Lougheed House’s Garden and Volunteer Consultant, taking care of the gardens while on sabbatical from her job as the Manager of the botanic gardens and greenhouses at Olds College this year, and her passion is in education, communication and interpretation — in other words making gardening accessible.

During a time when we are encouraged to stay close to home it’s easy to see why more people are looking to gardening to pass the time. For those who are looking for ideas on what to plant, Lougheed House is a goldmine of inspiration.

Reksten’s vision for the grounds this year is about simplicity and colour, transitioning some of their annual planting to perennials.

“(Perennials) are a little bit more sustainable, you don’t have to plant them every year, and they take less water,” says Reksten, adding that they still want to impress. “We are a bit of a show garden and we want to reflect the history of the house, so we are still definitely putting in some show.”

The result is a garden varied in colour but with emphasis on purples and oranges. Hidden among all of the flowers, however, there is something that may come as a surprise: a decorative edible garden featuring herbs, edible flowers and some vegetables in a traditional bedding-out pattern which, like most of what you find in these gardens, are easily grown here in Calgary — even for those living in the inner city with just a balcony or a small patch of yard. 

“It just illustrates that it’s very possible to grow edibles here in the inner city,” explains Reksten, listing off the types of edibles that are being grown in the gardens. “Parsley, lavender, sage, calendula, artichoke, pansies … tomatoes – we’ve planted corn at the back, strawberries in the planter.”

Reksten realizes that people may be tempted to sample some of the gardens, but her hope is that people use courtesy and taste rather than harvest.

The displays in the gardens offer up a wide variety of flowers that can be found at any garden centre, if they’re not too picked-over these days. Canna lilies, hollyhocks, prickly pear cactus, marigolds, petunias, sage, peonies and more, are all being grown strategically in stages. “We’ll look to do more succession planting,” Reksten says, “so all of the irises are blooming right now, and when they’re done things like the sage should take over, so you kind of aim for all-season bloom. So for people who want to come down and take a look, come multiple times because it’s going to be different … through to September and October.” 

The Lougheed House kitchen has its own restricted growing area at the back, featuring herbs and tomatoes. If you think you’re late to the party with regards to planting your tomatoes, Reksten says you can plant them any time, as they grow quite quickly. “Some of the tomato plants we put in were in little pots, so they’ve been started at different times in the season. That means that your tomato harvest is staggered, so you don’t get them all at once.”

Another helpful tip she offers up if you are thinking of trying your hand at some inner-city gardening, is to remember to fertilize your soil. “That’s one thing that people often forget. There’s a couple of big tips for containers: one of them is never use soil from the ground, it’s too heavy and won’t drain, so you have to use a potting soil or potting mix. Potting mix has no nutrients so you have to feed (your plants).”

Gardening in the city also comes with other hazards: squirrels. The only thing that Reksten says will keep them away is by placing things such as hair clippings, vacuum cleaner debris or anything that smells of human or animal in your containers or garden.

The Lougheed House gardens are open to the public and talks are in the works about holding evening tours of the house and the grounds, as well as possible workshops. (We’re) looking to create more connections with the community by showcasing things like what we grow in our garden,” explains Reksten, “what we can show you that will be successful for a balcony or a backyard.”

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and continues to work within the Calgary arts & culture scene to promote the city’s numerous and varied events. Contact her at