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Memorial garden blossoms for beloved NC champion

A new English-style garden has taken root at Niagara College to honour the memory of Saundra Patterson – the College’s long-time ‘first lady.’

Saundra, who passed away on January 27, 2021, was the devoted partner of long-time NC President Dan Patterson (now President Emeritus). She is remembered as a champion for NC who supported the College and its students at every opportunity.

To honour Saundra’s memory and her love for gardening, the Saundra Patterson Memorial Garden was created at the Daniel J. Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The garden was designed and built by students and faculty from NC’s School of Environment and Horticulture and staff from the Teaching Greenhouse with whom Saundra forged a special connection with over the years.

“The faculty, staff and students have created a world class teaching garden – it is blossoming into a beautiful place of reflection, a unique gathering space, and a showcase that represents all the very best of a college learning environment.” – Dan Patterson, NC President Emeritus

At an event held on October 3 at the garden site, members of the NC community gathered with special guests and donors to mark the official unveiling and dedication of the new outdoor space.

“Saundra Patterson was a truly remarkable woman whose love of horticulture and commitment to Niagara College, our students, and their success left an indelible mark on our community,” said NC President Sean Kennedy. “On behalf of the College, it brings me great joy to officially dedicate this truly one-of-a-kind garden to Saundra to honour her legacy on campus.”

President Emeritus Patterson, who thanked everyone who had a hand in the project, was moved by the “magnificent garden” in honour of his late wife, who inspired a ‘living lab’ on campus.

“One of the quotes in this memorial garden is about ‘gardening being a grand teacher,’” said Patterson, referring to a favourite quote of Saundra’s from late British horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll. “The faculty, staff and students have created a world class teaching garden – it is blossoming into a beautiful place of reflection, a unique gathering space, and a showcase that represents all the very best of a college learning environment.”

College President Sean Kennedy and President Emeritus Dan Patterson celebrate the unveiling and dedication of the Saundra Patterson Memorial Garden on October 3.

A labour of love for the School of Environment and Horticulture and Teaching Greenhouse

At the October 3 event, faculty members Carrie Zimmerman and Dena Gavin shared details about the School of Environment and Horticulture’s and Teaching Greenhouse’s involvement in the Saundra Patterson Memorial Garden – calling it a labour of love for one of their biggest supporters.

As a special applied learning project, more than 150 students participated in the creation of the garden, including Amanda Saulnier, a second year Greenhouse Technician student from New Brunswick who spoke at the event on behalf of her classmates.

“It’s been a fantastic learning experience for me and my fellow Horticulture students to create Saundra’s memorial garden,” said Saulnier, who had the opportunity to work on the garden from the very beginning of the project.

Saulnier noted that her work involved a variety of tasks such as “digging and prepping the garden beds, framing up and laying down hardscapes, aligning a surprisingly heavy fountain, right through to planting this wonderfully chosen array of plant life we see here today,” she explained.

Also at the root of the project is Alice Lee, a graduate of NC’s Landscape Design program (2021) who designed the memorial garden in 2021 as part of a class assignment.

NC President Emeritus Dan Patterson stands in the Saundra Patterson Memorial Garden with alumna Alice Lee (left) and student Amanda Saulnier (right) who worked on the garden project.

Key elements of the English-style garden include decorative urns with seasonal flowers and plantings and a large water fountain. Pink and white-coloured blooms – representing Saundra’s favourite shades – as well as evergreens, are planted throughout the structured gardens while special features such as decorative panels and cobblestone pavers add interest to the space. The elegant space is meant for the College community to enjoy for a short stroll or to relax and take a seat at one of its featured benches or tables.

Lee, who is originally from Korea, attended the Oct. 3 dedication to celebrate the opening of the space that she designed. “I feel so lucky to be a part of this project. The experience motivates me to continue forward with my work as a landscape designer,” she said.

“The Niagara College faculty, staff and students have made so many people proud with this project, and I know that Saundra is shouting ‘Bravo!’ from above,” said Patterson.

The memorial garden will continue to provide applied learning experiences for students as they lend their green thumbs to maintaining the space for years to come.

It has also planted the seed for future projects of a similar scope according to Greenhouse Manager Matt Orr. “This project is a stepping stone to create other design-focused gardens on campus to bring the botanical garden feel to the College,” said Orr.

Community support flourishes in honour of Saundra Patterson

The Saundra Patterson Memorial Garden was completely funded through the generosity of community donors, who contributed a total of $89,000 to the garden project and to support students through the Saundra Patterson Horticultural Bursary.

A total of $50,000 was raised specifically for the garden, while an additional $39,000 was raised for the Saundra Patterson Horticultural Bursary supporting NC horticulture students. A tireless supporter of student learning, Saundra established this endowed Horticultural Bursary Fund in 2006, which has provided financial assistance to 46 students since its inception. Thanks to this most recent support, more students will benefit for years to come.

Donor Bonnie Rose – a close friend of the Pattersons who has held senior executive positions at Niagara College and served two terms on its Board of Governors – attended the Oct. 3 dedication to see how the garden has come to life as a living testament to honour Saundra’s memory on campus.

“Knowing all the love Saundra poured into the college and the students, I know this is the perfect memorial,” said Rose. “Saundra will always be here at the heart of [the campus], helping people come together, feel better and learn.”

Saundra Patterson’s family and close friends gather at the memorial garden at the Daniel J. Patterson Campus on October 3.