Garden showcases area’s habitat

During the late 1980s Okanagan College instructor and naturalist Ruth St John was concerned about the disappearing natural habitat in the immediate environs of Penticton, but unlike some people who worry about things but take no action, Ruth got busy.

During the late 1980s Okanagan College instructor and naturalist Ruth St John was concerned about the disappearing natural habitat in the immediate environs of Penticton, but unlike some people who worry about things but take no action, Ruth got busy.

As a result of her vision, dedication and plain hard work the South Okanagan Habitat Garden sprang into being on the campus of Okanagan College.  Actually “sprang into being” is not quite right — it grew slowly as labours of love often do.  And before it was officially opened Ruth was involved in a tragic and fatal accident on the Okanagan River.  Her friends at OC and at the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club, however, kept her dream alive, and in May 2000 the garden was officially opened after 10 years of hard work.

The Penticton area has some very nice gardens open to the public including of course the Summerland Ornamental Gardens, the Penticton Rose Garden and Linden Gardens in Kaleden.

In concept, the Habitat Garden is different from all of these other gardens — it is meant to recreate habitat types found in the South Okanagan. Only plants native to the South Okanagan are planted in the Habitat Garden — some of which are very rare. The western blue flag iris Iris missouriensis was last found in the wild in the South Okanagan in 1988 in the marshes along Highway 97 where Red Wing Resort is now located.  Specimens were obtained from a nursery and planted in the Habitat Garden in 1998 where they first bloomed in spring of 2000.  Other plants include “chocolate tips”, lupine, sage buttercup and arrowleaf balsam root. The very rare grass, blue gramma, more common in the Kootenays, mysteriously appeared one year but unfortunately has not persisted. Interpretative signs on site help visitors enjoy the garden.

Somehow in the hustle and bustle of life we managed to overlook the 20th anniversary of the Habitat Garden in 2010.  Such things occasionally happen in volunteer organizations. So to help celebrate the garden’s 21st anniversary, OC and the Naturalists’ Club invite you to stop by and see a small piece of South Okanagan habitats here in the city.  The garden is at its most colourful in the spring but is a true replica of our local habitats year round.

Driving along Highway 97 through Penticton you are bound to see irrigation underway on the Penticton Golf & Country Club grounds and you may even have thought to yourself that seems like a lot of expensive water being sprayed about just so some folks can chase a ball around a nice green course.  But not so — the water being used on the PG&CC course is all waste effluent from the Penticton waste treatment plant.  Not only does this save on the use of clean, treated water but the waste water soaks through the soil so it gets further “treatment” by the soil before it percolates into the Okanagan River. A win for the city, a win for the golf club and a win for the environment.

Check out the Meadowlark Festival at for a multitude of great things to do over the May long weekend.

The South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club will hold its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. May 26 at the Seniors’ Drop-in Centre at 2965 South Main Street. The speaker for May is noted author and photographer Glenn Bartley of Victoria. All are welcome.




Robert Handfield is the past-president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club.


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