Events at Whistling Gardens
Darren Heimbecker
Owner, Botanical Garden Creator/Designer
Whistling Gardens

Darren Heimbecker worked at a nursery as a propagator, shipper and field manager for 18 years before purchasing a 56 acre farm in Wilsonville, Ontario just south of Brantford. In 2006, Whistling Gardens Nursery and Garden Centre was first established, attracting plant collectors from across Canada and the United States.

May 26th 2012 marked the official grand opening of “Canada’s Newest Horticultural Playground” as the botanical gardens features 20 landscaped lush acres. Guests explore classical

garden styles, some of which are inspired by the old Renaissance gardens of Europe including the Palace of Versailles. Most gardens are surrounded by natural man made plantings, streams, ponds, and cascades, as well as cottage garden strolls. His conifer collection is the largest public collection in the world, revealing 2,500 different species and cultivars. A donated peony collection features over 1,000+ varieties and is considered to be the largest collection in North America! In total there are some 4,500 different plants in Ontario’s only privately operated Botanical Garden.

Other gardens include a Rock/Alpine garden nearly 1 acre in size, perennial, informal gardens, and Canada’s only all stone computerized musical fountain amphitheatre which introduces 100 dancing water jets. The bird aviary is home to many unusual exotic species of birds. As new projects are introduced, expansion continues, which includes a 2,000 sq. ft walk-in outdoor free flight aviary in development.

Since its inception, Whistling Gardens has received national and municipal award recognition as the recipient of Canada's Best New Garden Experience Award presented at the Canadian and International Garden Tourism Awards. The gardens are also recipient of the inaugural Sustainable Tourism Ambassador of the Year Award from the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation in partnership with Norfolk County. Honourable mentions include: voted one of the 10 Amazing Places of Norfolk County, along with receiving a Readers Choice Award as Best Local Tourist Attraction and Best Wedding Facility.

Discovery continues as the W-Network featured the gardens as the perfect wedding venue on “Say Yes To The Dress Canada”. New articles and listings in Today’s Parent Magazine, England and abroad are recognizing the plant collections or botanical gardens as Canada’s Top 10 Botanical Gardens or as one of the Top 10 Conifer Gardens of the World. The American Peony Society, has now included the gardens on their International Garden Destination Map along with several endorsements by Canadian garden media, and the Canadian Garden Council. Watch us grow!


Wanda Heimbecker
Co-owner, Communications and Business Development
Whistling Gardens

Wanda Heimbecker is recognized as a highly motivated, reputable, business professional with over twenty years of award winning success in marketing, public and media relations, communications, program facilitation and financial management within the government, philanthropic and corporate sectors. As a regional manager of a labour relations association by day, Wanda also co-manages her family owned tourism destination business Whistling Gardens along with her part-time consulting company WMD Consultants.

Inspired by creativity, integrity and determination, she shares her husband’s authentic passion in transforming their century farmland, from cornfield into a botanical garden. The vision for their “labour of love” was first introduced while they were dating, "I still laugh today; my instincts continue to keep me captivated to dare to dream and to have the privilege to be on this remarkable journey requiring many sacrifices and endless days. The rewards can’t be measured when you are attracting like minded fellow nature enthusiasts who see the value of your work or offer you their trust as we host their most intimate life celebrations. Our life’s energy and resources will continue to be dedicated into building our unique garden sanctuary requiring the talents of many diverse collaborators and partners – it’s truly a team."

Building Whistling Gardens continues to present Wanda with opportunities of discovery through botanical preservation, and education while offering respite and celebration. Tremendous industry support offers her encouragement as memorable moments welcomed prestigious guests as His Honour, the Lieutenant Governor graced the gardens for their Peony Collection unveiling. Her collaborative achievements continue to be recognized by peers as a co-recipient of numerous national and municipal awards in the areas of: Garden Tourism, Sustainable Tourism, New Tourism Idea, Youth Television Programming and Youth Mentorship. She’s an active youth entrepreneur mentor and has co-authored a sales/mentoring education book “Sales Guru’s Speakout” reaching international distribution which is now translated into to several languages.

As a humanitarian, animal and nature lover at heart, Wanda believes in eternal growth and volunteerism, noting over 50 community/leadership volunteer appointments to date while actively serving on the Norfolk County Tourism Economic Development Advisory Board. "May I leave things a little sweeter and brighter while embracing the gift of each day and new encounter".


Introducing Jenaro – Our Horticultural Team

Make sure to say "Hola" as Jenaro returns to join our team this season! The beauty you experience is a direct result of his commitment, appreciation and connection with nature as a talented professional farmer and builder. Jenaro is a farmer who grows vegetables including broccoli, fruit and Nopal (a type of edible cactus) in rural San Juan Xochiaca, south west of Mexico City. We are proud to have such a dedicated family man, and grandfather as a member of our team. Jenaro's love of music, playing guitar and singing joins our peaceful serenade, especially during his regular Sunday church service. He is a proud father of three college-university educated professionals, with two children living in the United States and one residing in Mexico.

We are grateful to the F.A.R.M.S Program, which provides an opportunity for us to build a global cultural team. In agriculture, specific skills and work ethic are essential due to changing weather conditions. As a result of seasonal employment opportunities, families can thrive (due to the high cost of education, healthcare and low wages), provide higher education, and improve the quality of life while contributing to the local economy.

PHOTO: (Left to right) Darren Heimbecker – Whistling Gardens Owner, and Jenaro


Introducing Amanda Malaga
Whistling Gardens
Guest Relations

Upon your arrival, a friendly smile and a warm greeting await you.... In fact, you might just feel like you've met a long lost friend ready to help in any situation! Amanda's authentic, wholehearted nature will make you feel at ease and right at home, a great way to start your garden visit.

Her extensive 18-year management career in hospitality, business administration, import/export brokerage, transportation, award-winning community service and the visual arts are a perfect compliment to our dynamic team and diverse programming. As a Paris resident and Thompson College graduate, certifications in Smart Serve, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), First Aid, Customer Service, Tourism Marketing, Photography and numerous visual arts and office computer software programs provide support assistance to our team and visitors in every department.

Amanda’s experience managing national campaigns, special events, training, supervising and motivating staff, purchasing, inventory management, quality control and implementing customer service excellence initiatives will all be utilized each day throughout our garden centre and botanical gardens operations.

As an entrepreneur and award-winning photographer for the past 12 years, Amanda is our Family Photo Day host... no one knows the gardens better! Her photography credits can be seen on most Whistling Gardens promotional collateral, and specializations include; family and individual portraits, weddings, sporting events, local newspapers and national commercial product campaigns.

"I enjoy helping others and love the outdoors, photography, spending time with my family and am eager to take on a challenge. Showing people a different view is one of the main reasons why I love photography so much."


Introducing Karen Irvin
Whistling Gardens
Guest Services Assistant - Volunteer

Karen brings her sense of humanity, compassion and service excellence to our team, resulting from her 30-year career as a health care aid specializing in senior care, and assisting clients with specialty and accessibility needs.

As a child and life-long Brant County resident, Karen discovered her passion for gardening by helping her parents care for the Township of Paris public gardens. Her appreciation for nature and rural living was reinforced through regular visits to the family farms in Bright and Drumbo Ontario.

She has maintained her certifications in Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), First Aid and Customer Service preparing her for any situation.

As a mother of four and wife to husband Wayne, their investment of goodwill and time can be seen throughout Whistling Gardens. We are grateful for their donation of "Ma and Pa" our two ring-necked doves, the building of polyhouses, painting and construction of utility buildings, and the picnic area.

Karen's interest in people, natural willingness to help others and creative pursuits such as knitting, sewing, and an interest in wellness programming makes her a perfect compliment to our growing team!


Introducing Donna Hussey
Whistling Gardens
Guest Services Assistant - Volunteer

Donna Hussey is the newest volunteer member of the Whistling Gardens team!

Donna’s love of gardening began at an early age as she spent countless hours in her grandparent’s flower and vegetable gardens. Hostas are Donna’s passion. She has over 250 in her collection along with many perennials.

Donna is the Ontario Horticultural Association’s District Director for District Six, a Carolinian District. She enjoys working with 21 societies and is the Past President of the Delhi & District Horticultural Society, a member of three local horticultural societies, a member of the Ontario Hosta Society and is the Co-Chair of the Delhi Community Policing Committee.

Donna and her husband, Wayne, have lived in Delhi for 22 years where Donna grew up. Their son, Joel, is furthering his education in the Graphic Design Animation field at Seneca York College.


Introducing Dianne Elliott
Whistling Gardens
Guest Services Assistant - Volunteer

Welcome Dianne, your passion and knowledge is contagious!

As a former member of the Norfolk County Master Gardeners for 10 years and a member of Delhi and Simcoe Horticultural Societies, Dianne brings a wealth of knowledge to our team! Her creativity knows no limits as she "dabbles" in making concrete creations and hypertufa planters. It's a natural fit, Dianne's been sharing her passion for gardening through presentations and tours for years, and loves to answer questions and educate people when able. She enjoys working with youth and is cultivating her little grandchildren to respect, enjoy and work in nature.

"I am an enthusiastic gardener with numerous plant collections, love rock gardens and have created several. I am an active volunteer in numerous venues, Whistling Gardens is an amazing creation and I am honoured to be a volunteer in this work of art."


Introducing Marie Striukas
Whistling Gardens
Certified Celebration & Wedding Coordinator

"I believe I was always destined to become a certified wedding and event planner."

As a certified planner by The Wedding Planners Institute of Canada governed by a strict code of professional ethics, Marie brings her innovative and undeniable signature style into our gardens and to your next celebration!

Her extensive fifteen-year career in window, retail merchandising, display, interior design and as a bridal consultant has resulted in the creation of Designing Dreams: www.designingdreams.ca

Additional certifications include 14 Stories GWI, the Wedding Decorator's Inc., with specializations and programming in "hands on" wedding decor and floral design composition. Event credits include The World Ovarian Cancer Day Reception, Lieutenant Governor General of Ontario’s Canadian Peonies Collection Reveal and numerous client engagement, wedding, anniversary and birthday celebrations.

No detail is too small, as providing clients, brides, their families and wedding parties with services ranging from gown selection, fittings, alterations, tuxedo rentals, invitation selection, decor, planning, logistics, legal, licensing and more!

"Ever since I can remember, I have enjoyed exploring my creative side. I love dance, music, theatre, literature, art, design, architecture, sewing and fashion. It has been such a natural extension of myself and I love that I am able to have a career that allows me to incorporate my creativity, attention to detail, organizational skills and passion for all things wedding and more. What could be better than the challenge of creating unique, beautiful memories for wonderful clients that will last a lifetime? Their smiles say it all!"


Introducing Sherry Smith
Whistling Gardens
In-House Photographer

"I feel blessed to be able to do what I love. The truth is I'm an open book…. Silly, fun, compassionate, accepting, creative, happy, honest, optimistic, dramatic, shy… emotional! I love to make art from real life. That's why I photograph the things I do. I get the chance to connect with people on an emotional level. I work hard and try to ensure my clients have not only an amazing experience with my studio but LOVE the visual 'story' I have to show them."

Sherry photographed her first Wedding over 10 years ago and continues to be inspired by documenting life, love, connection, emotion and happiness. Her creative eye has been capturing the transformation and expansion of our botanical gardens for several years as she helps us tell our story through her spectacular images found throughout website and promotional materials. As a hired professional photographer for your next garden celebration, Sherry’s knowledge of our gardens offers clients a very unique opportunity to capture their candid, special moments in a relaxed blissful natural environment.

The Whistling Gardens team is very grateful for the generous creative partnership with Sherry Smith Photography as our visual storyteller and in-house photographer.

Clients wishing to explore hiring Sherry can view her portfolio of work at www.sherrysmithphotography.ca or https://www.facebook.com/SherrySmithPhotography.ca

Phone: 519.771.1725
Email: sherry@sherrysmithphotography.ca


Introducing Bill Meems
Whistling Gardens
In-House Photographer

Bill Meems (that's me) specializes in creating beautiful and unique photography. I was born a photographer, it just took me 30 years to realize it. I offer a range of photographic services, and I love to work in and around the Norfolk County area, but I am happy to travel when the perfect images extend beyond my home turf. My work represents a creative passion, and unique perspective and I believe that great photography is often the result of a team effort between photographer and client. Check out my website to discover the results of my previous team efforts: meemsphoto.com

Capturing the beauty of the botanical gardens throughout the seasons requires the time and talents of so many nature lovers. On behalf of our Whistling Gardens team, we welcome Bill to our growing sanctuary as he will help to capture our story and the beauty unfolding.

Website: www.meemsphoto.com
Studio Location: 101 Queensway East, Simcoe, ON N3Y 4M5
Contact Phone Number: 226-567-2462
Facebook: www.facebook.com/meemsphoto/
Instagram: @billmeemsphotography


Introducing Jonah Atkins
Whistling Gardens
Horticulture Team – Grounds Maintenance / Celebration Assistant

Jonah’s passion for music, photography and the great outdoors helped him discover our botanical gardens this season as his first choice for summer employment. "I love to be out in the sun in the summertime, which makes Whistling Gardens all the more enjoyable to work at. In my spare time I'm either playing guitar, recording music, or taking pictures. I hope to someday make one of those into more than just a hobby!"

We are thrilled to welcome Jonah, who truly represents our next generation of creative nature stewards to our seasonal team.


Introducing Lynda Van Dewaal
Whistling Gardens
Guest Services Assistant - Volunteer

Lynda was born and raised on her family's farm in Northern Ontario which was the original homesteaded of her great grandfather. While embracing a natural lifestyle, Lynda also discovered she was greatly influenced by the commitment to their land management. This fused her interest in gardening at a very early age.

"My mother and both grandmothers had beautiful flower and vegetable gardens - roses and delphiniums remind me of one grandmother and lupins remind me of the other. I also spent summers helping my grandmother pick strawberries, raspberries, red currants and to weed flower beds."

After a dedicated 28 year career in finance, specializing in mortgage management, she spent a majority of time securing loan transactions for clients, "helping them make their dreams come true." Throughout her career and during her busy family life of raising 7 children (6 boys and 1 girl), with a few new home ownership moves along the way, gardening was always important. "At times a stress reliever...those poor weeds, other times a place to relax and smell the roses, a place to enjoy the beauty around me, the clouds, the wind in the trees, the birds singing and the rainbow of color in the flowers."

She discovered many different types of perennial and large flower gardens including vegetable gardens and their eco-friendly values and benefits to attract butterflies, and hummingbirds long before trends became popular. "I live each day to its fullest. Life has handed our family a fair share of tragedies however this has made our family strong, compassionate and able to appreciate the little things," Lynda shares as a cancer survivor of (16yrs) and dedicated volunteer with the Relay For Life selling luminaries.

When her family recently moved to a new home in a new subdivision in Port Dover with no grass or gardens, she first discovered Whistling Gardens during the garden's humble inception in 2012 and watched a dream become reality. "Volunteering allows me to be able to enjoy some gardening while helping guests enjoy their garden visit."

We are absolutely thrilled to have Lynda's caring nature, zest for life, optimistic attitude and genuine interest to help others as a member of our Whistling Gardens team!


Introducing Debbie Gibbons
Whistling Gardens
Guest Services Assistant - Volunteer

Growing up on a small farm between Hartford and Bealton, she's no stranger to hard work, an essential ingredient when living a farmer's life.

After many years away from the countryside, she returned with her husband to purchase a farm near Wilsonville. Their farm operation yields leased harvest crops while incorporating their love of horses. This is when she discovered Whistling Gardens. It was soon after; one of their saddle horses escorted a garden bride to her wedding ceremony. "Meeting Darren and Wanda and learning of their vision and passion for this property makes you want to be a small part of making this dream a reality."

"It was immediately clear to Debbie, she knew the value of the work to create and maintain the gardens. She expressed how meaningful it was to establish a public sanctuary for respite and celebration. She's a true country girl and shares our sense of giving back to our community," the Heimbeckers. Although Debbie will admit her thumb's not green, her friends will attest to this she laughs....but she's a team contributor and loves being busy and helping others. "Just to have the pleasure to have peace in the gardens while helping makes it time well spent."

Welcome to our Whistling Gardens team, it's a true joy to attract your energy and kindness!


Introducing Tara Carpenter
Whistling Gardens
Children, Seniors & Family Outdoor Educator/Celebration Assistant

Tara Carpenter has had a love of nature and the outdoors from an early age thanks to growing up on a Norfolk County farm and regularly engaging in wildness camping trips with her family as a child. Having travelled many parts of the world for 17 years extended Tara's knowledge of the natural world and her love for this earth we call home. The most memorable experience of her travels was being a deck hand on a sailing ship exploring the Great Barrier Reef in Australia for 6 years. Now being a mother to a very active, creative, and outdoor loving six year old has inspired Tara to encourage other parents and their families to get outdoors. She is a recent graduate of the Adventure Expeditions and Interpretive Leadership Diploma program at Fanshawe College, Simcoe Campus. During this time she not only received honours but also multiple awards showcasing her leadership achievements and passion for environmental stewardship. She also sits on the Board of Directors of the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation. Tara holds certificates in: Wilderness First Responder, Cross Country Skiing, Working on Ice, Introduction to Ice Rescue, Health and Safety, and White Water Rescue Technician. Now Tara's dream of inspiring others to feel the same adoration of nature has come true by being part of the Whistling Gardens Team!

"My dream is to instill in others the love, passion and respect I possess for nature. I believe that the benefits of engaging our youth in the great outdoors are immeasurable. I hope to inspire both children and their families to engage regularly in the natural world."


Introducing Nancy Sherman
Whistling Gardens
Celebration & Wedding Designer

Since 2003, Nancy's company Creative Country Designs www.creativecountrydesigns.ca has offered awarding winning signature style to area brides, corporate events and celebrations. She brings a delicate and unique compliment to every client's vision, "I love talking to brides about their wedding; they are my inspiration."

As a Delhi resident, loving wife and mother, her family's farm, a local agriculture producer, brings the beauty of a natural lifestyle to her doorstep while raising her daughters. Her passion for planning the perfect event quickly sprouted, so did her reputation, as Spiderman, Princess and Butterfly Garden themed children's birthday parties soon led to weddings and corporate events. Her signature style has graced several themed health care, seasonal events noting impressed clients Ferrero Canada and Handbags for Hospice to name a few.

In 2016, Nancy received a Norfolk Reader's Choice Award which reinforces what has come so naturally, "I have an overactive imagination that kicks into high gear when faced with a challenge. I am so lucky to have such a great support team, my friends and especially family."

We feel lucky too, to have discovered Nancy Sherman's creativity as we have welcomed her talents to our gardens for several years. Our team is pleased to welcome her to our hospitality/design team to ensure every guest's celebration is beyond their imagination!


Introducing Keaton Peddle
Whistling Gardens
Horticulture Intern Student

I am currently enrolled at Niagara Parks School of Horticulture. During the summer students are immersed in practical learning. We are very fortunate to maintain the 100-acre Niagara Parks Botanical Garden, learning through hands on experience. During the winter students are engaged in a multi-dimensional curriculum on a variety of horticultural topics in which every course is mandatory. This intensive 3-year program is very broad based. Going to this school 11 months a year has benefited me immensely, allowing me to grow as a horticulturalist in ways I never imagined. I am very grateful to my teachers and peers that help me become less ignorant each day.

While studying social sciences with interest in social justice at the University of Victoria I started doing landscaping on the side. I have always wanted to have a positive impact on the world. I think it can be difficult to find meaningful and moral path in an economic world. As my passion for plants grew in this new temperate environment I began taking biology courses. I loved being outside and I also loved taking photos in nature, especially macro shots close up to plants. I have always been drawn to plants and their intricate beauty. After analyzing my photos I soon realized that I was almost exclusively photographing plants, nothing could compare. Eventually I took a ten-month course to become a Horticulture Technician in British Columbia. Soon after I started my own landscape company doing general garden maintenance and basic hardscaping. I would do this for just over 2 years before coming out to the Niagara Parks for more schooling.

I have always had a great appreciation for art. During a summer vacation I was lucky enough to go to New York for a few days. I must have been 21 years old at the Metropolitan Museum of Art standing in front of one of Claude Monet's Water Lilies Series paintings. It was spectacular from wall to wall. Everyone in the room was just awestruck by a tranquil bliss, floating. I realized that the mesmerizing beauty of nature is something that most people can share, it is incredibly valuable and in a place like New York something far too many people are deprived of. This was my gateway to connect with others… plants! However different the various viewers may be no matter what culture or nationality they could appreciate the beauty of plants. I had always cherished plants but I think that I knew at this moment I wanted to commit my life to horticulture. Whether it is depicted in artwork, displayed in a vase, garden bed or within the natural landscape we can all appreciate horticulture. I felt empowered. With all these crazy things going on in the world this was a value we could share. I thought if a garden can inspire all of this widespread understanding then that is what I want to do with my life. Create an inspirational garden and share it with others. I aspire to create my own garden space in which myself and other like-minded individuals can express ourselves with horticulture and art. I would especially like to create a destination to nurture horticulturalists but also artists.

We are proud to welcome Keaton to our horticultural team this season. His academic studies, and authentic appreciation for artistry will spark many delightful memories in the making this summer.


Introducing Vanessa Stewart
Whistling Gardens Beekeeper

It started with a curiosity for beekeeping, and then the discovery of how bees and other pollinators are at the heart of biodiversity, ecosystem health, and our own food production. Since first stepping foot in an apiary, Vanessa has been astonished by the intricacies and behaviours of honey bee colonies, as well as, their ability to create an incredibly zen working environment that leaves you feeling like you’re the happiest person in the world.

After mentoring from other beekeepers, courses, and studying countless books, blogs, and video archives, Vanessa found opportunity and a true sense of community in Norfolk County where she first arrived to study at college. Seeking a job worth living for and entrepreneurial creativity, Vanessa's Bees was born. It is now her goal to work along side honey bees, and benefit all pollinators where she can, by sharing with the public the importance of these tiny creatures and all that they do for us.

Vanessa, alongside Landscape Designer Cam Beck, have a dream to create native pollinator gardens in communities around Ontario and a portion of Vanessa’s Bees profits will go towards making this come true.

"Our Whistling Gardens team have been searching for our perfect pollinator partner for three years. Vanessa vision, core values and charming personality are a welcome addition to our nature educators, she's really creating a buzz in the gardens"


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