You would have thought that when the Vision party dominated the City of Vancouver Council chambers with their sustainable and green policies that they would have quickly ascertained what an important asset the City’s Sunset Nursery was.
This private civic nursery tucked near 51st Avenue and Main Street has been owned by the City since 1929 and is one of the most sustainable secrets in the city. The magnificent flowers and plants that are showcased at Stanley Park and Bloedel Conservatory are all grown in this nursery, and many of those plants overwinter in the greenhouses which are on site. It is staffed by knowledgeable gardeners that went through a multiple year gardening apprentice program, and many of the plants are grown from leaf culture or from seeds right at the nursery.
It is in fact something that is so old it is new again~growing and nurturing plants on site instead of trucking from sources hundreds of kilometers away. It is a hidden secret gem in the City, and a few years back it was to be axed for “cost saving measures”. The Sunset Nursery superintendent at the time broke protocol by speaking directly to the Parks Board Commissioners on the importance of the nursery, the sustainability of growing and providing plants locally, and how the culture and management of extraordinary plants was what made the City of Vancouver parks and community centres different from any other city in North America.
She saved the nursery from being demolished. Of course she got a very stern letter of reprimand from her seniors for breaking protocol and telling the commissioners exactly why the nursery was important. Of course that letter needed to be mounted and framed to show that sometimes you have to do the work right instead of doing the right work.
When the adjacent Sunset Community Centre (designed by Bing Thom) was being built, city staff tried to get a greenhouse/classroom attached that would provide a window into the nursery and also provide a way of teaching gardening skills to kids and adults.But there was no interest from the parks board in incorporating such an innovation at that time.
Given the remarkable history and tenacity of the nursery staff it is no surprise that the current Sunset Nursery superintendent Bruce McDonald has adapted his growing stock given the Covid crisis, and the minimal amount of ornamental planting happening this year.
This CBC article by Maryse Zeidler describes that staffing cutbacks meant that the plants usually grown at Sunset Nursery were reduced by 60 percent. Since the raised beds and facilities were already prepped for planting, Mr. McDonald developed an innovative program to grow vegetables for city non-profit organizations that are feeding the most vulnerable during the pandemic.
Most of the vegetable seed was expired seed that came from VanDusen Garden’s floral shop, meaning that the bounty included rare varieties of lettuce and tomatoes. Mr. McDonald also commandeered gardens at the city golf courses to grow vegetables as well as VanDusen Gardens.
It is this resiliency that has made Sunset Nursery such a special part of the city in providing a visual bounty of plant life in Vancouver parks and community centres. For the city on the edge the plant life and plant culture is an integral part of what makes Vancouver unique and special.
Peter Wohlwend, the neighbourhood gardener that established the Blooming Boulevard program in Vancouver used to say that gardening and plants were so representative of who we are in Vancouver.
“Gardening has no specific culture. Everyone no matter what their mother tongue speaks the language of plants”.
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