Category Archives: Local News

Trees and shrubs collected over a lifetime set to move to arboretum in Langley

Agrologist Les Clay with a euonymus plant on his Langley property on Oct. 28. This is one of dozens of trees that will be moved to an arboretum.

The way Les Clay explains it, the longtime Langley gardener and former nursery operator pretty much talked his way into starting the community’s arboretum.

It’s a good thing, too, because that is the ultimate destination for many of his prize azaleas, rhododendrons and Japanese maples collected over a lifetime.

Clay ran a 40-acre nursery in South Langley. With his wife Beverly, the couple developed a number of hybrid rhododendrons, including one called Langley Tranquility .

He said he was sitting and waiting for something to happen in the city park with officials that included the former mayors of both the City and Township of Langley.

Over the years, he told them, he had donated a number of plants to both the city and township.

“I was giving them a hard time because they weren’t looking after them properly,” he said.

Former Langley city mayor Marlene Grinnell said the city really didn’t have any facilities to handle plant material.

“After a few minutes, Marlene looked me in the eye and said: ‘Why don’t you do something about it?’

“So that’s how it all started.”

 Langley agrologist Les Clay with a Japanese maple tree on his Langley property on Oct. 28, 2020. This tree is one of dozens of trees that will be moved to an arboretum.

By 2010, the Township of Langley adopted a master plan for Derek Doubleday Arboretum . Last year, a two-storey log-post and beam interpretive centre opened in the park, located in the 21200 block of Fraser Highway. The arboretum is home for the Arboretum and Botanical Society of Langley and provides meeting space for other volunteer organizations.

At least 26 medium-sized trees and 22 mature shrubs will be moving from Clay’s home in Murrayville to the arboretum whose main purpose is to educate people about the cultural and environmental benefits of plants.

Clay said after downsizing his nursery in 2001 to one acre, he estimated that he moved about 500 rhododendrons and other plants onto his property.

He said his children are planning to build a house on the property where he can live with his daughter. Clay decided it was the right time to donate some of his plants to the arboretum.

“I’m donating a fair number of plants,” he said. “We’re in the process now of making arrangements to carry it out.”

Niall McGarvey, landscape design coordinator for the Township of Langley, said Clay is donating most of his yard to the arboretum.

“The idea is that it would be a legacy garden,” McGarvey said. “He has quite a few rare specimens that he grew basically from cuttings or seeds.”

McGarvey said Clay is donating a couple of fairly large Japanese maples that “are really spectacular.” If sold, he said, they could fetch as much as $15,000 each.

“He has quite a stunning collection,” McGarvey said. “They are all fairly rare plants and they’re all in really good condition.”

Downtown Eastside grandmas plant seeds, grow more than garden vegetables

The Urban Farming Poh-Pohs are a group of grandmothers and older women who grow vegetables in raised beds on a plot of land at Jackson and East Hastings in Vancouver.

In a Downtown Eastside community garden, a group of grandmother gardeners love their vegetables — and the vegetables love them right back.

For two growing seasons, more than a dozen older women from the Vancouver neighbourhood have been growing bok choy, watercress, tomatoes and other vegetables in raised beds on a plot of land at the corner of Jackson and East Hastings.

While the garden started out in part to provide fresh produce for seniors living in a neighbourhood where more than half the grocery stores have closed in recent years, it blossomed into something more.

Women who started out as strangers became friends as they shared stories and got to know each other by gardening, weeding, harvesting and cooking.

Their camaraderie has been recorded in a podcast called Roots and Seeds .

For 2020, the physical distancing requirements of the novel coronavirus pandemic meant the urban farmers couldn’t sow heritage seeds in the garden as they intended, said Kathleen Flaherty, podcast co-writer with Kathy Feng.

But Flaherty is hopeful the women may be able to start planting by August.

“A lot of these plants have a short growing season,” she said. “I have a little bit of optimism about that.”

The garden is planted by the women in Urban Farming Poh-Pohs (poh-poh means grandmother or elderly woman in Cantonese).

In the podcast, the poh-pohs talk mostly in Cantonese and Mandarin which is translated. They recount the challenge of not being able to speak English when they first arrived in Canada. But most aren’t complainers, said narrator Kathy Feng. They have become philosophical over time about adjusting to a new life in Vancouver.

Being part of the gardening grandmothers is important to them, said one poh-poh.

“If you have any things that make you unhappy or that you struggle with, find someone to talk about it and it will be reduced,” she said. “Especially now since I joined the garden, it’s much better.”

They also cite how much they like growing vegetables. One grandmother pointed out that since she grew up in the countryside, she learned how to grow vegetables as a youngster.

Yu Li, speaking in English, said she liked gardening and growing vegetables because of the flowers that she used to bring into her parents’ house.

“The flowers they have life. You love them, they love you,” she said and burst into laughter.

The other gardening poh-pohs include Wai Yu Chan, Hui Qing Chen, Ya Qin Wan, Rui Lian Xian, Hui Juan Xie, Yu Rong Li, Yu Ying Guan, and Ai Xia Zhang.

One of the gardeners cited how important it was to provide fresh vegetables to seniors living on fixed incomes.

“The seniors in Chinatown don’t have much money so I don’t have much fresh food,” she said. “A lot of the food seniors get at the food bank is not fresh and sometimes expired. At the garden, I get fresh vegetables.”

When vegetables are ready to harvest, the seniors meet and divide the bounty equally.

Sometimes, narrator Feng said, they sell vegetables at the farmer’s market or get together to make dumplings.

One woman said they can meet friends while gardening “and learn to communicate with each other. For example, Mrs. Quan, she’s from the south and I’m from the north, the distance is so far. Now we are friends and can communicate. Friendship is very important as seniors — so we don’t get lonely.”

The poh-pohs are eminently practical.

“If we don’t have the garden, then we’d just be on our phones or TV and we wouldn’t even get exercise.”

They also value their gardening friends highly.

“This experience of everyone communicating with each other and caring for each other is very hard to come by,” said one of the women. “So I cherish it.”

As the narrator said to end the podcast: “It starts with a simple act of planting a few seeds but the harvest is friendship and community.”

The gardening project is a collaboration between the Carnegie Seniors Program , led by Doris Chow, and the DTES Neighbourhood House Seniors Program , led by Simin Sun.

The Roots and Seeds podcast, with interviews by Veronique West, is available in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Details at

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Vancouver Métis herbalist helps seed reconciliation with medicine wheel garden

‘I want people to open their eyes and pay attention to native plants and to learn more about the land that we’re now calling our home,’ says herbalist/educator Lori Snyder.

When herbalist Lori Snyder offers to share her knowledge about edible and medicinal plants, attendees want to know how far into the forests or parks they have to travel to find them.

“They’re there as soon as I walk outside my door,” said Snyder, a Métis herbalist/educator who holds workshops through the Vancouver Park Board, as part of its action on the 92 recommendations of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission that pertain to area parks.

Snyder, who is the artist in residence at the Hastings/Sunrise community centre, has created a medicine wheel garden at the Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre to grow native plants.


East Vancouver healing garden to remediate natural, cultural ‘toxins’

Anne Riley (left) and T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss are the Indigenous women behind A Constellation of Remediation, a public art work that is taking root in a vacant corner lot at Commercial Drive and East Hastings Street.

A contaminated brownfield site where a gas station was once located is being transformed into a rejuvenated greenfield garden at Commercial and East Hastings.

By later this summer, the corner lot will be covered with flowering, native pollinator plants that sway in the breeze. It will have many species including huckleberries, salmonberries and elderberries, as well as tobacco, and a nurse log with mushrooms.

Although it may resemble a community garden, it’s something different: An outdoor, Indigenous garden meant to start healing the land by building new relationships with non-human creatures such as butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and insects. Eventually, the site will become part of a new centre for the Urban Native Youth Association .

A Constellation of Remediation is a public artwork by T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss and Anne Riley.

Wyss said the main focus is to use plants as remediators to help heal the site and soil. Plants are known to remove contaminants from the soil such as heavy metals.

“It’s not just about the toxins that came out from the gas station, but it’s about colonial toxins that need to be released,” she said.

The southwest corner lot at 1680 East Hastings is a high-profile location in east Vancouver.

For about 30 years, the lot has been vacant. It was formerly a gas station owned by Petro-Canada, which merged with Calgary-based Suncor in 2009.

 ‘It’s not just about the toxins that came out from the gas station, but it’s about colonial toxins that need to be released,’ T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss says of the Constellation of Remediation.

In 2016, Suncor donated the $9.5-million site to the City of Vancouver for UNYA. UNYA is working to raise $6 million to build 180 to 220 housing units and a centre with 50,000 square feet of space.

The two Indigenous artists tried to get other former gas station sites, including the Chevron gas station on West Georgia near Stanley Park, for their project. It didn’t work out, Riley said.

“They were very touchy about the word remediation — and we’re talking about spiritual, emotional and physical remediation,” she said.

Riley sees the project as redefining the meaning of a garden and building new relationships to people and to the land. A big part of it, she said, is creating alternatives to colonial narratives.

Before COVID-19, the artists planned workshops with youths from UNYA. Instead, they’re looking to send seed packages to them so they can plant them on the site or wherever they live and ask them to document the process.

 The southwest corner of East Hastings and Commercial Drive, a former gas station site, where the A Constellation of Remediation garden is taking shape.

“What kind of stories do they want to tell on this land? What are their hopes and dreams for their new centre?” Riley said.

“I’m interested in work that’s about transformation.”

The corner of East Hastings and Commercial is the biggest of three sites in the project’s constellation.

The artists are also removing invasive species from a parklet at 5th Avenue and Brunswick Street, a block away from the Native Education College where they’re both artist fellows.

They’re also planting pollinators at Strathcona Park Fieldhouse in collaboration with Dawn Morrison, the Wild Salmon Caravan and Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty.

 Anne Riley sees the Constellation of Remediation project as redefining the meaning of a garden and building new relationships to people and to the land.

A Constellation of Remediation was chosen as one of the projects of the Public Art Program’s 2017 Artist-Initiated Public Call.

Wyss said that last fall mulch from Trout Lake was scattered on the site. When they returned this spring to dump topsoil in a horseshoe shape facing Commercial, they noticed something growing: A horse chestnut tree, just under a foot tall. It’s been transplanted to another garden to continue growing.

“It was such an amazing sign,” Wyss said.

“It only grew in the mulch, the one place we started remediating, not the dirt. That little tree is on its own little journey.

“When my grandchildren grow up, they will know that tree started here. We see that horse chestnut as resilient.”


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COVID-19: Outdoor spaces become places of security and tranquillity during pandemic

Kathy Friesen is the owner of Bloomsbury Designer Gardens, seen here at her home garden in New Westminster, B.C., May 11, 2020.

As far as Kathy Friesen is concerned, gardening is the outdoor version of baking.

Friesen, a gardener and owner of Bloomsbury Designer Gardens , said the two home-based activities have really taking off during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Maybe they wanted to do this for years,” she said about gardening. “When you’re running to the office and running kids to school, sports, music and all of those sorts of things (you don’t have the time). People are staying home and learning something new.”

Bloomsbury is based in New Westminster and specializes in turning small urban spaces such as balconies, patios and rooftops into outdoor rooms.

Friesen said she gets the impression that people in Metro Vancouver want an outdoor space that’s tranquil and calm. It’s a way to feel a sense of control while living in the time of a scary worldwide pandemic.

‘People are thinking: ‘If I have my own space, my own garden or balcony, I can control that. That’s where I want to feel calm,’ ” said Friesen.

Privacy is one of the things people are looking for in their outdoor space, whether it’s a back garden, patio or balcony. In parts of Vancouver such as Kitsilano, she said, lots are small and narrow and houses are often close together.

Homeowners want to be able to go into their gardens without feeling like they’re living in a fish bowl. Saying hi and waving to your neighbour is OK, she said, but you don’t want to be part of their outdoor socializing.

 Kathy Friesen is the owner of Bloomsbury Designer Gardens, seen here at her home garden in New Westminster, B.C., May 11, 2020.

Bloomsbury can turn a back garden into an outdoor room by making changes such as adding privacy screens with trellis and evergreen vines.

People are also coming to the realization, she said, that they likely won’t be travelling very much this year. International air travel is probably out of the question for the summer. So too is driving down to the U.S. for a camping trip or a vacation.

“They’re anticipating staying home and feathering the nest,” she said. “Gardening is exploding this year.”

What’s popular in smaller spaces are what she calls ‘vertical’ vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, blueberries, beans, peas and kale. Also popular are varieties of strawberries that produce fruit all summer long.

“People want things that are easy to grow,” she said. “When I’ve talked to people, they say, ‘Look, I want lots of colour, lots of flowers and a few vegetables because I realize I’m going to be staying home.’”

In the past, Bloomsbury would be hired to plant annuals or vegetables with her company returning a couple of times over the summer for maintenance. In the fall, the garden or planters would be cleaned out for the winter because the owners would be heading down south to homes in Phoenix or Palm Springs.

Friesen doesn’t think that will be happening nearly as much this year.

Canadians who head south for the winter are older and much more concerned about their health. Many have pre-existing conditions that may make getting out-of-the-country medical insurance much more difficult, she said.

“Now they’re wanting their garden all-year-round as opposed to only in the summer,” she said. “They’re going to be spending a lot of time out there and that’s where they’re going to feel the most comfortable and where they can protect their health.”

Friesen said she thinks the pandemic is changing people’s priorities.

“It all gets back to where you feel the most safe — at home,” she said. “What do you want to do with that space? You want it to be as comfortable and pleasant for you to spend a lot of time in.”