By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: July 4, 2015
SHERRY Ballard talks about flowers in a way a mother would talk about a child’s endearing habit or a close friend would share a personal story or lovers coo to each other. “You like that,” she says holding a yellow rose up to a visitor at her Mamquam Road home, “isn’t she beautiful, isn’t she gorgeous.”
Look at this, she says, using a tender touch to bring another rose up to her face: “She is a different kind of a beauty.” Her hands wake another one from what seems like a deep stupor but it stoops when it’s left alone. “This guy is very wimpy,” she says, smiling.
Ballard is part of the Squamish Gardners Club and it’s that time of the year when club members admiringly watch their land become a palette where nature deposits various hues. Of course, lending nature the hand brushes are the garden club members who dig, plant, water and then wait, in many cases for years, for their hard work and desire to flower.
There are flowers so beautiful in the Ballard gardens they make time stop, but Ballard is already on her next quest. Will blue poppies bloom in her garden? It’s a challenge she took last year when the gardeners club invited Bill Terry to speak. A resident of Sunshine Coast, Terry has written In Blue Heaven: Encounters with the Blue Poppy, in which he tells
the story of the blue poppy and shows how an avid and persistent gardener can grow this plant.
Ballard planted the seed in October in a milk carton, cutting slits for vents and tending to the plant in winter and planting another batch in February. The plant did sprout but that was just the beginning. After having spent the winter in a greenhouse under the glow of a fluorescent light, they now sit in the shade in her garden making her wonder if they will survive the unusual heat. If they do survive all the care, she may see them bloom in 2017.
“It’ a just a trial for me but the challenge is that they are too hot, too cold, or too wet. I’m babying them as best as I can but I can tell you in September if I can recommend them or not,” she says.
But she is not giving up and all this effort is worth the wait.
“Those blue flowers are really beautiful and I want to see them bloom in my garden and I want to know I can do it. I like to keep doing something new and challenging or I get bored quite easily,” she says. It’s highly unlikely the invasive species of boredom will encroach on her because along with the blue poppies, she is also working on getting two other flowers bloom: disbud chrysanthemum and honey warts.
The idea to grow chrysanthemum came from her friend, Marian Fairweather, after she wondered why no one grew them here when everyone did in England. “It won’t take the cold and you have to dig up the roots and protect it for winter and then you start again with the seeds, so no, it’s not easy,” she says.
But there is help and it comes from far away England in the shape of BBC Gardener’s World, a plush magazine brimming with ideas on flowers and other plants. Ballard’s Christmas gift from her son was a subscription to the magazine. She has old issues going back to 1999, and she doesn’t like to part with one until you promise to bring it back. She got her love for flowers from her mother, Selma Green, who ran a flower shop in Port Alberni. Sherry was charged with watering and delivering the flowers and that inspired in her a lifelong love for flowers and gardening.
Next on her list of flowers to grow is fuscia, an exotic flower with striking two-tone colours. She is still planning on attending the Fuscia garden show in the VanDusen Botanical Garden even though her husband, Frank Ballard, isn’t too keen on her next adventure.
When Sue Smyth sits on her porch to enjoy a glass of wine every evening, she can also enjoy an intoxicating blend of colours that grace her garden in the front yard of her Garibaldi Estate home. But these days, she likes to look up at her ceiling as much she likes to look out. For slowly laying claim to it is a flower she’s hoping to grow for the last two years: Passion Flower plant, a climbing vine with a soothing mishmash of white and purple streaks and sweet fruit. It can take up to four years to bloom. Smyth planted it three years ago and waits every summer for it to show its true colours but nothing so far.
“I know the flowers will be beautiful. Every year I wait for them, and I often say if you don’t flower this year then I’m going to prune you,” she says, smiling. Like Ballard, Smyth is also driven by the challenge of growing a flower that people told her would be tough to grow in Squamish because of our long wet winters. But determined to see it bloom, Smyth got a special box lined with styrofoam to keep the soil warm.
The plant has now made its way to the ceiling, and Sue hopes it would surprise her with flowers this time around next year. But she knows it will take patience and determination which she has lots of when it comes to gardening. “Sometimes I’m up until 10 at night working in my garden. I don’t like to go away on vacations in summer because of it,” she says. Last summer, she went to Sweden and England where she helped the people she stayed with grow their garden.
Rhodos, azaleas, hosta, and Hydrangea are some of the flowers that are easy to grow in Squamish, Smyth says, but anything beyond that requires commitment and a sense of challenge. Smyth has also been planting another flower not common for these parts, a flower she says she just can’t resist: dahlia. Not a lot of people take it up because it’s quite a bit of work since you have to dig them out in the fall in rainy wet conditions. Under the dahlias, however, grow small carrot-like tubes that she gives away to others for free. “I give hundreds of tubes away for free. I don’t charge because I want to spread the love of Dahlias,” she says.
Monica Barabonoff is also growing something unique in her garden: a vegetable that also moonlights as a flower. The sunchoke, also known as the Jerusalem artichoke, is a species of sunflower that is used as a root vegetable in salads or soups.
“I grew it last year, cooked it, and I just loved its taste. A lot of people grow it as a flower but don’t realise that it’s something that they can actually consume,” she says.
It’s, however, an invasive species and Monica suggests that people who want to grow it should dedicate a specific portion of their garden to the plant. Besides harvesting and grilling the turnips, Monica makes good use of another herb abundant in her garden: a rosemary plant that has grown unusually large to almost six feet. “We use it as an herb and for floral arrangements, but it’s so plentiful, I have given a lot of it away,” she says.
Barabonoff started growing sunchokes after her friend and Squamish Farmers Market manager, Carolyn Morris, told her about the plant. Morris says she loves experimenting in the garden and she started planting sunchokes after she was gifted a few by Carolyn Harriet, the author of the Zero-Mile Diet: A Year-Round Guide to Growing Organic Food. Morris has since been gifting sunchokes to family and friends and feels this relatively unique food is fast growing in popularity. “It’s a new trend that is coming up and the part of the appeal is that you can even harvest them in November and February when there isn’t much available to grow,” she says.
Besides growing the regular zuccini, kale, cucumbers beets, carrots, squash and tomatoes, Morris is also experimenting with some new edibles this year. She is growing horseradish, Taro roots, yams and peanuts. She bought more horse radish and Taro than she could eat but rather than composting them, she ended up planting them in her garden. She is also experimenting with growing peanuts and rutabaga, a turnip-like root that is eaten as a vegetable.
“I’m also devoted to self-sustainability so if there is something I enjoy, I want to produce it myself. Of course, I’m also curious and want to experiment,” she says. Results of curiosity are in full bloom in Carol Anderson’s Garibaldi Highland home, where butterflies flutter as they compete with bumblebees and humming birds to look for their ideal flower. The roses in the garden, big blooms with a mellow soothing smell, are delightfully overwhelming. What makes them even more special are their names: a yellow rose to an outsider is known to Carol as a Julia Child, and the sharply bright red rose is a Desmond Tutu. When Anderson moved here from Ontario, she wanted to grow roses but the ones she planted would fall off as they developed black splotches on leaves and fell off before they could fully bloom. The long and wet winter wouldn’t allow them to bloom to their full potential, she was told. But that problem was solved with some help from Brad Jalbert, a rose hybridizer and grower based out of Langley, who was invited by the Gardners’ Club for a lecture about roses. In a phone interview, Jalbert said his nursery bred roses that are more resistant to disease and rainfall and more suited to the West Coast weather. Those roses will withstand the rain better, bloom better and last longer, all of which she found to be true. Besides experimenting with roses, she has also been successful in growing clematis and is now hoping to grown rhododendrons. Like any other flower or plant, it will take patience and work but like any other gardener, She is willing to wait because the end result always justifies the efforts.
“I actually don’t find gardening to be work, because my garden for me is a relaxing and calming place where I can enjoy the flowers and the butterflies and the buzz of bumblebees,” Anderson says.