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Gardens North
by Des Kennedy
September 9, 2001


It’s always intriguing to strike off for other parts of the country and discover what particular configurations the mania for gardening has taken in different communities. So I was ripe with curiosity when I flew 800 kms north from Vancouver and touched down in Prince George as guest of the David Douglas Botanical Garden Society. Formed in 1991, the society works in close collaboration with the University of Northern B.C. which was established around the same time. I toured the campus with acting mayor and avid gardener Anne Martin, admiring and its interlocking buildings faced in native granite sited strikingly on a hill overlooking the city. 
The great plant hunter David Douglas explored this wild region by river in 1833, shortly before his death. Douglas introduced more than two hundred North American plants to Britain, many of which bear his name. The local society named after him is currently working on campus establishing a four-hectare display garden with plans to develop a world class botanical garden at another site on campus. The purpose of the planned garden is 'the enhancement of public education, the improvement of scientific knowledge and the promotion of plant material that is viable within the region served by the university.' Meanwhile the society stays busy with informal visits to members’ gardens, seed exchanges, group ordering of specialized plants, plant sales, a newsletter and a botanical library at the university. 
Next day I was back in the air winging another 400 kms north and east to Dawson Creek in Peace River country. Famed as Mile '0' of the Alaska Highway, the little town sits in a picturesque valley of rolling grain fields and copses of poplars. Within minutes of arrival I realized that this is a community upon which a mania for beautification has descended with a vengeance. First off, I was given a lengthy walking tour of the Dawson Creek Restoration Project, a terrific collaborative effort of community groups and volunteers, government agencies and local businesses. The little creek which threads its way through the centre of town is being rescued from decades of abuse and restored as a place of beauty. Since 1997 teams of workers have removed from the creek sixty-eight discarded shopping carts, fifty-nine old tires, two car bodies, forty-five rusting bicycles and thirteen thousand kilograms of garbage. In place of trash, there’s a 4.2 km paved trail along the creek with a bird and butterfly sanctuary and a number of small public gardens, including a 'memory park' in which people plant trees in remembrance of departed loved ones.
In another part of town I was shown 'Gardens North' comprised of nine large flower beds and a memorial rose garden located in a pioneer village. This is a project of the Dawson Creek & District Horticultural Society, which last year celebrated its sixtieth anniversary. It and the overlapping Dawson Creek Beautification Committee appear to be establishing and maintaining gardens on every available plot of vacant land with a vigor that makes you wonder if the members are all on performance-enhancing drugs.
And what fabulous gardens these stalwarts are growing up there in zone two (they had snow in the first week of July this year) and on dauntingly heavy clay soil. The omnipresent public gardens and the several private gardens I visited are places of exceptional beauty. Besides hardy roses - rugosa and explorer types mostly - I saw lovely displays of lilies and daylilies, robust peonies and delphiniums, late-flowering clematis, verbascums and alliums, brilliant yarrows and Shasta daisies. Many specimens were simply outstanding, far better than we can grow on the coast: I saw silver mound artemesias I’d die for and extravagantly blooming potentillas. And water features! I’ve never encountered a group so mad for water features. Some of the private gardens I visited have three or four different pools and cascades, often with goldfish that have to be netted and brought indoors for winter.
Winging homewards over the coast mountains, I reflected upon what a treat it is to encounter the enthusiasm, cunning and highly refined local expertise of gardeners at work in what might at first seem unlikely corners of the country.





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