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Gardeners in Powell River get creative during COVID times

Garden visits always stimulate ideas and also help in identifying my own mystery plants. ~ Powell River Garden Club president Lesley Mosely

I became a serious gardener when my husband George and I moved into our Wildwood home, a dream that finally became a reality after years of longing to move here.

Suddenly we were caretakers of close to an acre with a garden comprised of a mix of beautiful landscaping and overgrown, weed-choked areas that promised to be a source of hard work and joy. For the first year I still worked in Burnaby, coming home for the weekends impatient to get outside to see what new wonders were emerging through the soil, to rip out miles of morning glory roots, to hack back the blackberries

I couldn’t visit local nurseries without bringing home anything that caught my eye. Many plants gave up waiting for me to transplant them, resulting in guilt-ridden discoveries of sadly neglected, dried up victims that I couldn’t revive. I was trying to do too much with the little time I actually had. At the same time, I also had to figure out how to keep deer out and how to deal with bears.

Like many others, joining the Powell River Garden Club has helped me to slowly get to know and control my garden. This club is a wonderful source of valuable information and expertise, with a host of fantastic speakers and presenters, and members who are happy to share their successes and failures. The garden club has provided mentorship to new, and inspiration and advice to all levels of gardeners for over 50 years. I learned much about all aspects of growing healthy plants: the what, why, when, where and how to plant, how to create and maintain healthy soil, fertilizing, dealing with pests and composting techniques.

Garden visits always stimulate ideas and also help in identifying my own mystery plants. Facebook is also a great tool for reaching sources of expert advice. By focusing on the basics, my garden has started to take shape.

Along came COVID

And then along came COVID-19 and everything came to a screeching halt. Our last live meeting was held in February over a year ago, and the opportunity to get together and socialize has been sorely missed by all. Then, to everyone’s dismay, the garden club’s popular annual plant sale was cancelled due to COVID restrictions.

Our meetings resumed last September via Zoom after a generous amount of essential technical support from Powell River Public Library’s Mark Merlino, for which we are certainly grateful.

Once we sorted out the many hitches and glitches and became more confident using Zoom, it proved to be a viable alternative to live gathering. Happily, our program committee has scheduled speakers and presenters from out of town, and their virtual presentations have been very well received by the membership. The plant sale committee has been working hard ironing out the details and making the necessary contacts to determine the best way to hold an online plant sale this May. Stay tuned!

Gardening started to play a more significant role for staying healthy and hopeful. Garden soil and seed sales increased dramatically with the creation and expansion of new gardens and outdoor projects. Since we could not travel last year, we decided it was a good time to work on our plan to become more self-sufficient.

First, a few chickens for eggs and they are great for rototilling weedy areas; not so great when they decide to dig up your plants to make dirt baths. Then a commando of five ducks that vacuum up slugs and snails.

I contacted garden club members to ask if they had comments about gardening in times of COVID over the last year that they might like to include in this article.

Paul Miniato

Paul Miniato gives a hilarious account of his experience declaring war on weeds. When the pandemic first hit, he and his wife decided to tackle all the home and yard jobs they’d been putting off. After creating an extensive list of tasks, they filled their basement with supplies which, once they realized their available energy was not going to suffice, patiently mocked them. After some rethought, he decided to focus on the 30,000 dandelions in their lawn.

“I’ve been trying to overseed my scruffy lawn with bee-friendly flowers for a while now. Living on a well, we don’t water our lawns, so, it’s critical to get the seed out at just the right time to take advantage of the spring and fall rains,” says Paul. “But usually, we’re off travelling somewhere and miss the seeding dates. Travel: remember that? Not this year.

“I’m no fan of pesticides, so I came up with the perfect pandemic plan,” continues Paul. “I bought a large package of English lawn daisies – contains about 30,000 seeds – and dug out my manual weed-pulling tool. I was going to pull out every dandelion by hand, planting a daisy seed in each new hole. After replacing about 100 dandelions, I threw in the trowel and hand-scattered the rest of the daisy seeds. ‘You’re going to have to win this battle without my help!’ I yelled, ‘Good luck!’ Already, a few brave daisies are in full bloom; 29,975 to come. Fingers crossed!”

With the lawn taken care of, Paul is now working on incorporating bats and mason bees into his garden.

“Our new gardener had made these impressive bat houses – more like bat apartments – and also knew of a source for a mason bee house,” he says. “I’m hoping the bees will find their flowers, and being diurnal, will escape the notice of the nocturnal bats. But for the moment, the bats are in the neighbour’s barn and the bees are hibernating in the fridge, awaiting – as we are – the arrival of spring.”

Anne Thompson

Anne Thompson moved to Powell River in November 2019 (pre-pandemic) with the dream, as a vegan, of growing all her own food.

“As a person who suffers from back and neck pain, I began with constructing seven 32-inch-high raised garden beds in my front yard to capture the summer sunshine,” explains Anne. “I grew a lot of my food, including oats, beans, lentils, chickpeas and sweet potatoes, as well as vegetables. I’ve put in fruit trees and protected them in cages from the deer. Perhaps because I am still establishing my garden, I found that gardening season in Powell River is a year-round affair!”

Sue Clark

Sue Clark decided to create new raised beds, even though the previous year she had said she’d reached her limit. She finally got deer fencing around their fruit bushes, and her husband built trellises for their squash. Their work paid off with a harvest of about three times as much as usual. They then had the area between the house and the veggie garden paved over.

Formerly a dried-out patch of grass in summer and a mud pit in winter, it is now a relaxing spot for them to sit. Like Sue and her husband, I also moved strawberries from a bed to long pieces of guttering mounted on a wall or a fence. Not only does doing so improve air circulation, but strawberries are well out of reach of wood bugs and slugs.

Lianne Arnstein

Lianne Arnstein enlisted the help of her neighbour Keilana Bennie to attach potted strawberries along her fence: a great team project for grandparents and kids.

Judy Youngman

For Judy Youngman, the long winter spent in lockdown has provided more time to plan for new additions to her garden, prepare tools, declutter the greenhouse and organize seeds.

“It’s also allowed more time to reflect on successes and failures I’ve had with plants grown in previous years,” says Judy. “As spring arrives, buds are bursting open, bulbs begin to bloom, trees blossom and a feeling of renewal is in the air. It’s probably due to COVID, but this year I’m more excited than ever to get out in the garden again to enjoy the many benefits that nurturing plants and gardening brings.”

Sharon Shultz

Sharon Shultz says she finally did it, she purchased a gardening journal and started filling out daily weather conditions and tasks she is doing in the garden.

“Now I won’t need to rely on my sketchy memory; I also had time to research more about pruning and vegetable gardening. I am planting more food, canning more food and sharing more food,” says Sharon. “Books, YouTube videos and the Zoom presentations through the garden club have helped me learn what varieties and planting will increase production in my backyard garden.”

Joyce Bredo

Not everyone sticks to conventional designated garden beds in the backyard. Joyce Bredo has been planting an amazing assortment of veggies and bushes in containers on her deck and around her garden. She grows tomatoes, potatoes, green beans and even rhubarb in containers.

“Every year I try to grow something new; some things are successful, others not so much, but it’s fun to try,” says Joyce.

“Last year I purchased a heat lamp and a grow mat so I can start some of my own plants. Gardening is peaceful and relaxing for me.”

Joyce is a testament to proving that you don’t need a lot of space to grow and harvest your own food.

Karen Lacombe

Indoor gardening is also proving to be a popular way to expand the growing season throughout the year. Karen Lacombe has been growing lettuce and some herbs indoors under lights since the fall and hasn’t had to buy any lettuce or cilantro all winter.

Gardens hold promise

No matter what’s going on in the world, and even in the dreariest winter days, our gardens hold the promise of renewal and an abundant, healthy future. Planning for next year’s garden instills positive outlooks and excitement no matter how last year’s panned out.

Our fertilizer sale’s coordinator, Terry Faubert, reported that this year’s garden club fertilizer sale far surpassed last year’s. She noticed that sales for the best-selling varieties remained about the same, but there was an increase in sales of other types as well, indicators of experimentation, trying something new. That’s what gardening is all about!

I believe we can all agree with Sue Clark’s comment: “I think like many others my garden was far more organized than it had ever been. I have been so grateful for my garden during COVID; it kept me motivated, engaged, physically fit. And above all, happy.”

Lesley Mosely is president of Powell River Garden Club.