Bloedel Conservatory & Specknet

An update on Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory and new research involving computers and plant growers!
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

December 27, 2009




For my final column of the year here on, I seem to have two widely varying topics I thought worth mentioning.

The first is the “Save the Bloedel Conservatory” campaign ongoing in the City of Vancouver. Just today Donna Dawson received the following letter from Vicky Earle: “I am a director for Friends of the Bloedel, a grassroots organization that was started in response to the recent decision of Vancouver Parks Board to close the Bloedel Conservatory. In my search for documentation regarding agreements between the Bloedel Foundation and the City of Vancouver (to prove the City was entrusted with Conservatory and still has a civic obligation to maintain its legacy), I came across the great article by Art Drysdale titled ‘Save the Bloedel Conservatory’.

“I am writing with the hope that you might be interested in posting our website:  and urge people to sign the petition, leave comments, become a member of our organization and write to Park Board Members/City Council/Mayor of Vancouver. There is strength in numbers and as Art's article attests, with enough public pressure, even seemingly insurmountable odds can be overcome. Thank you for your consideration.”

Earlier (on December 3) Sheryl Hamilton of the Friends of the Bloedel wrote to me: “May I call you Art? Thank you so much for your encouraging article. It does sometimes feel like we are pushing snowballs uphill in August. The public response has been good, however. We already have almost 70 members in the brand-new Friends of the Bloedel society...and our web site has only been up for about 40 hours.

“I just came from a meeting at City Hall where there were 87 speakers on the list...we got to number 7. So I guess we will meet again next week on Thursday, December 10 at 6:30 pm, and perhaps again the following Wednesday before council breaks for Christmas. I doubt that Council will come to a decision before Christmas on this. Right now, it is looking like Council might increase property taxes by 5% this year to cover the shortfall and protect the Bloedel. But I can't predict the future, it remains to be seen.

“Whatever happens, I am happy to know that the Friends of the Bloedel exists as an entity to support, protect, preserve, and improve the Bloedel Conservatory by attracting donations, offering programs, doing media relations, etc.; assuming that the council does, in fact, vote to keep the Bloedel. Thanks again for your encouragement.”

The very next day (December 4) I also heard from Nadiya Chettiar who created and wrote the on-line petition: “That's fantastic! Thanks for the support!! Just as you saved those rose bushes, we will save the Bloedel Conservatory! Have you visited the Friends of the Bloedel website? ? Best.”

In going through the petition it is quite amazing to see just how many people see the politics in this issue. Certainly no coincidence that all of the Vancouver Park Board members who voted in favour of the resolution to close the Bloedel Conservatory (including chairman Raj Hundal) are members of the civic Vision Vancouver party. Some vision they must have! Mr. Hundal should be ashamed of himself if this move is illustrative of his thinking as far as parks in Vancouver are concerned. If the decision is reversed, one way or another, he should certainly resign as Chairman of the Board.

And by the way, as of this Sunday, there are over 5,600 “signatures” on the petition. If you have not signed yet, by all means do so. The link is just two paragraphs above. Do it!

* * *

According to the British trade magazine HortWeek, “Scientists from the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and the University of Edinburgh trialled new speckled computer technology on the Christmas crop of poinsettias from Pent-land Plants Nursery. The technology uses a range of sensors to wirelessly relay information back to a laboratory.”

Now, it would not be surprising for most readers to ask, “Just what is ‘speckled computer technology’?” Since I had to look it up, I thought I’d give you just a short outline here.

According to Specknet (a consortium of researchers from four universities: U. of Edinburgh, U. of Glasgow, U. of Strathclyde, and U. of St. Andrews) “Speckled Computing offers a radically new concept in information technology that has the potential to revolutionise the way we communicate and exchange information.

“Specks will be minute (around 1 mm3) semiconductor grains that can sense and compute locally and communicate wirelessly. Each speck will be autonomous, with its own captive, renewable energy source. Thousands of specks, scattered or sprayed on the person or surfaces, will collaborate as programmable computational networks called Specknets.

“Computing with Specknets will enable linkages between the material and digital worlds with a finer degree of spatial and temporal resolution than hitherto possible; this will be both fundamental and enabling to the goal of truly ubiquitous computing.

“Speckled Computing is the culmination of a greater trend. As the once-separate worlds of computing and wireless communications collide, a new class of information appliances will emerge. Where once they stood proud – the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, such as the ubiquitous Blackberries that almost everyone is using!) bulging in the pocket, or the mobile phone nestling in one’s palm, the post-modern equivalent might not be explicit after all. Rather, data sensing and information processing capabilities will fragment and disappear into everyday objects and the living environment. At present there are sharp dislocations in information processing capability – the computer on a desk, the PDA/laptop, mobile phone, smart cards and smart appliances. In our vision of Speckled Computing, the sensing and processing of information will be highly diffused – the person, the artifacts and the surrounding space, become, at the same time, computational resources and interfaces to those resources. Surfaces, walls, floors, ceilings, articles, and clothes, when sprayed with specks (or ‘speckled’), will be invested with a ‘computational aura’ and sensitised post hoc as props for rich interactions with the computational resources.”

So now you have a rough idea!

Let’s get back to the Christmas crop of poinsettias from Pentland Plants Nursery, and how speckled computing was used this year.

“Scottish Agricultural College [SAC] plant pathologist Simon Oxley said: ‘We can check the temperature, light levels, moisture and nutrients around the plant along with the compost to make sure that everything is perfect for the plant to grow. With readings every minute, we can keep a close eye to make sure that the plants are kept in perfect condition ready for Christmas.’

“The project was developed by the SAC, the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh and Pentland Plant Nursery. It is the first time that speckled computer systems have been used in horticulture. They have already been applied in medicine, where they can be used to monitor body movement or respiration.

“The initial horticultural trial took place at the SAC and sensors were installed at Pentland in July.

“Data are currently being compiled, but the system is expected to offer growers a more detailed picture of their crops and could potentially deliver light and energy savings when linked with automatic glasshouse and environment systems.

“Pentland technical manager Jean Repecka said: ‘Poinsettias represent a big investment in time and expertise. The new technology offers the prospect of better control over inputs and a deeper understanding of how plants are thriving. It should raise an alarm if you get spots that are under-watered or that sort of thing.’

“The technology could also be applied in the retail sector, where it would be used to monitor garden centre polytunnels and planterias. It will learn about the daily pattern of temperatures, light and watering and will send a message to the grower if the plants are not properly cared for.

“University of Edinburgh computer scientist and speckled computing consortium director D. K. Aryind said: ‘It is gratifying to see the outcome of our basic research in speckled computing now enabling precision horticulture with the potential for saving energy.

‘Specks are finding new applications in a variety of other areas such as monitoring the natural environment and optimising energy usage in buildings."

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row