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Hortico, Brickmans, Purple Loosestrife and More

Hortico is alive and well; so is Brickmans Botanical Gardens, and the purple loosestrife there; more on natives vs. non-natives; and blossoms, blossoms, blossoms in Victoria
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

April 6, 2003

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Above, McPherson's Playhouse in Victoria is typical of the spring splendor to be seen, and the VIA rail station with the Railiner ready to depart north on the Island; below, my Anemone ‘Blue Shades’ planted as bulbs just last November. Author photos.
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Back sometime in early February, chat participant, Warren from Athabasca, Alberta inquired if I knew what the problem might be with Hortico--a large retail/wholesale/mailorder nursery located for years in Waterdown, Ontario.

Over a year ago there had been reported financial problems but early last spring when I called to have owner Bill Vanderkruk confirm or deny the problems, his staff and then he confirmed that everything had been worked out and the rumours in the industry of Hortico's demise were solely that--rumours. About the same time the industry began hearing new rumours that what had actually happened was that one of Bill's brothers, all three also in the nursery business, had "bailed him out" and that the company was again operating as previously.

Hortico has been and continues to be an important Canadian source for both "usual and unusual plants" (Bill's words)--roses, trees, shrubs, evergreens, and perennials.

I made inquiries of several people in the Ontario horticultural trade but no one I talked to could give me a definitive answer; essentially no one, not even any member of the Canadian Rose Society executive, had any knowledge. I even tried one telephone number I had listed for Hortico and got the usual "this number is no longer in service."

Over a period of several weeks a couple of other regular ICanGarden chatters commented that they had not had their e-mail to Hortico answered, and Warren reiterated his inability to get through either by phone or e-mail.

Finally in early March I said to hold off, and that when I visited the Canada Blooms and Success With Gardening shows I would make more inquiries and get to the bottom of the question.

Indeed while at both shows I did ask a great number of people, but no one again seemed to know. Finally, via Larry Sherk, I heard that Karen Stensson of Sheridan Nurseries had been in contact with Bill Vanderkruk's people re a wholesale order, and that all was well.

Last weekend, since I was traveling from Toronto to Brantford by car, I decided I should go and take a look for myself. And so it was that on Monday this past week, on my return from Brantford to Toronto, I took the short detour through the lovely Ancaster and Waterdown area and called in at Hortico. Everything is indeed fine, Bill and his people are working hard processing orders from all over Canada and further. Bill urged me to check out their Web site ( and I have done this.

Obviously Hortico in Waterdown remains an excellent source of supply for the "usual and unusual" in plants. For those not on the Web, Hortico can be contacted at 905-689-6984.

While I was in Brantford, I encountered a number of folks who were either old acquaintances or friends I had not seen for some years. One of these was Mark Disero who is about to open a new specialist rose nursery, Langford Rose Gardens, It will specialize in Canadian heritage (bred) rose cultivars. He is growing all of the Explorer (Ottawa) and Parkland (Morden, Manitoba) cultivars plus many others; I assume such as 'Miss Canada' the Canadian rose for Canada's Centennial in 1967 which has all but disappeared.

Mark told me he is holding an open garden for anyone wishing to see his roses on Sunday July 6, from Noon to 4 PM. He may be contacted at Brantford, 519-720-0067 or by e-mail at

Also at the Brantford show, I had an opportunity to talk with old friend Gerry Brickman, of Brickman's Botani-cal Gardens fame. Gerry was also at the Success With Gardening Show but I was there for such a short time that I didn't get a chance to talk with him.

Located just outside of Stratford (near Wartburg and Sebringville), Gerry created a most delightful perennial garden in the midst of acres and acres of flat farmland--literally an oasis! I first visited back about 1990 when the garden was just a few years old and I was astounded with the growth and flower production he achieved.

Critics then, and likely now, say that it shouldn't be called a botanic garden because it is not a research facility; that a name like "display garden" would be more appropriate. I disagree, and the reason is that Gerry's operation is entirely private enterprise and takes no donations or grants from any level of government. He operates it solely on the modest admission fees plus the sale of plants from his adjacent little garden centre.

When Gerry created the garden he tried to model it after the gardens at Sissinghurst in England, and one certainly gets a similar feeling when walking around the thousands of perennials he grows. I suggest a visit this summer, any time in July, August or September. You may check out his Web site at, or call him at 519-393-6223.

In chatting with Gerry, it was inevitable that the topic of purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) would come up. Back in the early 90s, when so-called environmentalists were jumping on the bandwagon to have the plant to-tally banned, Gerry (along with Tom Thomson of Humber Nurseries and the late Fred Dale of the Toronto Star) was one of the few nurserymen and gardeners who saw the plant for what it really is and paid no attention to the exaggerated claims of those who said it would wipe out all of our wetlands. Now, over a decade later, those of us who stuck to our principles and defended the plant feel somewhat redeemed and rewarded in that prominent researchers have declared the plant not only very valuable in the production of nectar for bees, currently in decline, but also not really harmful to wetlands as had been (and to a degree, continues to be) claimed by the uninformed.

We also talked about the current "trend" to recommending against all but native plants, and just how ridiculous it is, again generally promoted by those either with axes to grind, or those who like to join "causes". Gerry and I concluded that topic by saying we hoped that ten years from now, we would be able to chuckle at the idea that anything but native plants were considered "no, no", and that all gardeners would realize the value of planting the largest possible diversity of plants, native and non-native, but retaining some emphasis on natives in certain areas like large parks. I did mention to him that the "natives only" craze had reached a high level in Australia when I first visited there in 1970. I even visited an "all Australian natives" private garden in Canberra during that visit. The purpose of that 1970 trip was to address the World Congress of the International Federation of Park Administration in Canberra, on the topic of newer trends by, and goals of, various Canadian municipal parks departments as we entered the 70s.

At that time throughout Australia, it was even de rigueur not to plant roses in home gardens, and many nurseries had actually stopped selling rose bushes because of the "trend". Now, over 30 years later, roses are again very popular in Australia, and the native push seems to have died down. That is not to say native Australian plants are not being planted, but rather they aren't being promoted over the many fine non-natives available.

That should be the case in Canada, and hopefully will be in the future!

As I write these final few paragraphs of this weeks article/editorial I am again aboard the VIA Rail Railiner from Victoria to Parksville on Vancouver Island.

On the way from Toronto on WestJet we came through a fairly heavy snowstorm in Calgary but once we reached Victoria all was well. It was about 8 degrees and flowers and blossoms were and are everywhere. Early in the morning before the train departed at 8:15 I took a walk around the downtown to admire the thousands of flowering trees in full bloom (and many now already finished). Forsythia shrubs vary from still being in full brilliant yellow bloom to being just past there best. But remember, it was three weeks ago that I made this trip south on the train and commented that the Forsythia were at about 40% of their best showing. The blooming period here for most shrubs and trees is of much greater duration due to the much longer drawn-out spring sea-son, say compared to Ontario.

As I arrived home, I was more than pleased to see my hyacinths, daffodils and anemones planted in late November, all in full bloom and the later tulips developing well.

By Art C. Drysdale, 893 Shorewood Drive, Parksville, B.C. V9P 1S6.
Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He is renovating an old home and will build a new garden there. He is heard Saturdays from 7:00 to 9 AM, with a live radio broadcast on Toronto's powerful and clear, AM740 CHWO Primetime Radio.


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