Sara Williams, one of the most highly respected and best-known horticulturists on the Prairies, was inducted into the Saskatchewan Agriculture Hall of Fame last summer. The annual award is presented to people who have made significant contributions to agriculture, farming and the rural way of life. The Saskatchewan Perennial Society, the Saskatoon Horticultural Society, and the University of Saskatchewan Centre for Continuing and Distance Education nominated Williams for the award.
“I was first exposed to gardening from my dad when we lived in Washington, D.C., where I grew up,” Williams says. “He always had a large vegetable garden and regarded the garden as a place of peace and quiet.
“I think people first garden when they have their own soil. My first garden was in Tanzania where I was teaching as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1960s. I started a garden on the school grounds.”
Williams graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in English and history. She also took a course in applied botany as part of a science requirement, but horticulture wasn’t an area for women at that time.
Williams came to Canada in 1973, and received her bachelor of science in agriculture and later a master’s degree in science in agriculture extension from the University of Saskatchewan.
In 1989 she was the horticulture specialist with the Extension Division at the university. Williams started the Master Gardener Program, founded The Saskatchewan Gardener magazine, and was involved in developing, and writing material for the Prairie Horticulture Certificate.
“I thoroughly enjoyed all those years travelling to small communities across the province conducting workshops. That has been a real important part of my life. It made me feel involved in rural Saskatchewan. Chatting with people over coffee or lunch, I frequently heard about school and hospital closures and what that meant for off-farm workers. I think this award gives credence to my being a part of the Saskatchewan rural community,” she adds.
Williams is the author or co-author of many gardening books and is currently working on her 10th one. She has also been conducting garden tours through the University of Saskatchewan Continuing Education program.
For about 30 years Williams has been involved with the Canadian Harambee Education Society (CHES), a volunteer project in Tanzania. This organization provides scholarships to girls for their secondary education, and Williams has raised sufficient funds to construct the Sara Williams Hostel which has four dormitories, each accommodating 25 girls.
“The girls also have a garden that’s about four acres in size and they have purchased an additional 10 acres. They can now feed themselves and make some money for the hostel,” Williams says.
When she’s not writing or teaching, Williams enjoys maintaining her five-acre garden south of Saskatoon. “I love growing vegetables and canning, freezing and processing my own food.
“The peacefulness, the solitude of gardening is a good balance for when I’m working with people,” she adds.