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Mary Saruwatari and her Friendship Garden

Posted on July 15, 2020 by Taber Times

Submitted by Communities in Bloom

This week in our presentation of gardeners in Taber over the age of 90 years, we are featuring Mary (Okamoto) Saruwatari, the seventh in a family of eight children of George and Miso Okamoto.

The bombing of Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941, had a huge impact on the Japanese citizens living in British Columbia. In 1942, George and Miso Okamoto and their family was evacuated from their home in Victoria to the Manning Pool relocation centre in Hastings Park, Vancouver.

They had to leave all their possessions behind and were only allowed to take one suitcase and a few personal belongings.

Their stay at the centre was not long as they were able to make the move to Alberta to join Mary’s brother, Sam, who had evacuated earlier.

What an astonishing surprise it must have been for the family as they travelled from Calgary to Taber to see the wide-open prairie landscape. On arrival, a farmer south of town offered them housing and a job to help in the sugar beet fields with the hoeing and harvesting.

Happy that most of the family was together again, they graciously accepted the challenges of their new way of life on the prairies and in the town of Taber.

In 1967, Mary and her husband, Tak Saruwatari, purchased a new home in Taber. It was here that Mary was able to pursue her keen interest and love of gardening which she had acquired from her father. George was a carpenter and a hobby gardener. His acute interest in flowers, fruit, and vegetables always kept him striving to experiment and develop new varieties. Consequently, Mary had a good teacher.

As the landscaping of the yard began, the flower bed in front of the house took shape. One of the shrubs planted was a Gold Coast Pfitzer juniper which Mary meticulously shaped into a bonsai form.

Today, that huge juniper still graces the entry to the home and is surrounded by perennials and Lily of the Valley. In the backyard, several trees (pussy willows, weeping birch, pine ) were planted to provide shade and protection from the wind.

There was, for many years, a garden space. In the centre of the backyard is a majestic blue spruce; Mary planted it as a seedling many years ago. Like the juniper in the front, Mary also pruned the spruce into a three-tiered bonsai shape. The perimeter of the yard is planted with an astonishing variety of perennials.

Mary calls this her “Friendship Garden” as it is filled with flowers and plants given to her over the years by her family and many friends. One of the many unusual flowers planted is black tulips that have been blooming faithfully every spring.

When you enter Mary’s backyard and hear the birds, see the mass of flowers and plants, you get a warm feeling of peaceful calm. Her yard is truly a piece of heaven, a gentle reminder of the family home in Victoria that she had to leave so many years ago.

Mary, at the age of 94, still enjoys tending to her yard with some help from kind friends and neighbours. Thank you, Mary, for what you and your family have done to enrich our community in so many ways.

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