The Williams Lake Garden Club is less than 15 yers old, and like a teen, it has been experiencing incredible growth spurts in recent years.

Current garden club president Sheila Wyse, said a garden club started in the lakecity as early as the 1970s, which met in the library when it was located at First and Oliver. The librarian at the time was Barbara Watkins, and her husband organized the club. However, the club disappeared when the couple moved away.

Since then, it had been fallow earth for a garden club in the lakecity, all the way up until 2009, when the current club sprouted from fertile Cariboo soil.

Gerry Gebert was the first president, and the club’s stated purpose is to “promote, encourage and support the horticultural interests of the residents of Williams Lake and area.”

The goal is to do this through educational sessions which would appeal to both seasoned and new gardeners.

Wyse said she joined in 2010, but these days she only has a small vegetable garden in a raised bed and some flowers.

She readily acknowledges she is not a member of the club because she wants to be able to expand her ambitions for gardening exactly.

“I just get so much out of every meeting,” she said, noting the meetings are not only informative thanks to the speakers, but also there are always great questions from other members, plus they are very social.

She believes in the therapeutic benefits of gardening, which she recognizes can be physical, but she also considers it the most relaxing hobby she knows.

“People are happy when they’re gardening, I like to be around happy people,” she said.

In 2011, the club began requiring paid memberships, to help cover the costs of bringing in speakers and this is also the year the club offered their first garden tour, which would become a beloved tradition every two years in the lakecity.

The garden tours in recent years combine a range of art and music in the featured gardens, making for an incredible experience combining the varied colours and textures of the garden with everything from pottery, to metal work, to painting, quilting, woodwork and more.

All the profits from the tours go towards a local non-profit organization each time. Last year, the tour presented a cheque to the Scout Island Nature Centre to support their programs.

Plans for the 2024 Garden and Art Tour scheduled for July 6 are already well underway, with Deb Radolla and Lacey Tomlinson co-coordinating with help from “an amazing team of garden club volunteers” reported Radolla, with garden hosts already determined.

Along with the large job of organizing the garden tour, the club also participates in Seedy Saturday each year, organizes field trips to gardens and nurseries for members and manages the Salvation Army Kitchen Garden. The kitchen garden is a small area adjacent to the Salvation Army, where club members grow vegetables in small plots for use in the kitchen to feed those in need.

During Covid, the club was put on pause for a bit, with no in-person meetings, but as things shifted and more people were staying at home and focussing on their house and yard, membership increased dramatically over the last couple of years.

For years the membership hovered around the 25 to 30 mark, but recently, they have expanded this to 93 members, tripling their size. Wyse said clubs across the province have seen similar spikes in membership.

Speakers present on a different topic each meeting, with last year’s speakers including a master gardener going through his process to start seeds indoors, expert composter Oliver Berger on compost, and other topics like seed saving.

“It’s just amazing the people that are out there that have so much talent in so many different areas of gardening,” said Wyse.

The speakers and workshops are organized by Christine Coates and the club has a number of different committees to help spread the work, Joanne Wright is the membership chair and Pat Radolla heads up the garden tour committee.

“Such an incredible, talented group,” said Wyse of the entire team.

The club meets from February to October, but in the summer, they take a break from speakers and enjoy potlucks, one in a city garden in July, one in a country garden in August.

On Sept. 7, Glen Murray was giving a talk on his family’s many years homesteading in the Francois Lake area. On Oct. 7, Mary Forbes will be giving a talk on the history of the Potato House, a heritage home and now community education centre. The AGM will also take place on Oct. 7, and they are looking for volunteers to stand for election for a couple of years. Wyse has served two years as both the president and secretary and wants to pass on the torch so someone else can take the lead. Providing space for succession helps make the role less intimidating, said Wyse. Garden club membership is $20 for an individual for a year and $30 for two or more at the same address. They meet in the first Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Seniors’ Activity Centre at 176 Fourth Avenue.

A tale of two gardens

Heather McKinney has been gardening most of her life, but has only been at her current garden for seven years.

“This is our sanctuary,” she explained, as she described how after 16 years at Felker Lake, she and her husband moved into town. She said the yard saved her during Covid, keeping her active and engaged.

The previous owner had also been a gardener, and the hardscaping of bricks and concrete was already there, with some perennials. But McKinney has continued to add her own plants, many of which which she brought from the Felker property, including some which have become family heirlooms.

But her yard is more than just plants. McKinney is also a self-described “rough woodworker” and has built wooden features and collected different pieces to add texture, interest and history.

Along one fence she has wooden wheels, built by her uncle Tom Denny. An old garden fork with a missing tine was her mother-in-laws, and a wooden wagon was built by her dad.

“I gather stuff over the years and take it with me,” she said, of her eclectic collection of artifacts, rocks, driftwood and more.

“I love stuff that has memories,” she said.

Her garden has a large section of mostly vegetables, many bright pops of colour and soft grey aged wood and rusty metal..

She said she doesn’t use any pesticides and works to be water-wise and bee and bird-friendly.

Her tips: Use hardy perennials, they come back every year and take care of themselves, don’t do more than you can handle, and do your entranceway up nicely, that way every time you come home, it will make you feel good.

In another garden slightly north of town, Marg Evans has been creating a mostly xeriscaped garden for the past 12 years. Living tucked away in the Deep Creek area, she and her husband have been on the property for 45 years, but things transformed as they moved their primary residence into the converted barn. Now retired, after 15 years as executive director with the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society (CCCS), Evans was looking to reduce the watering and maintenance of her yard and garden to provide greater freedom for other things.

It was through her role with the CCCS she became aware of xeriscaping, which is landscaping meant to require little or no irrigation. The CCCS provides information booklets on xeriscaping and drought-resistant plants.

Through trial and error, she has created a beautiful forest garden, with pathways, stone and wood features she has collected, interspersed with pottery creations from when she did ceramics.

“You have plans and then mother nature takes over,” she said of her transformed property, but also emphasized starting with a plan is important. Planting more water-thirsty plants like delphiniums under the drip line of the roof means she only has to water them during longer dry periods. She has one small area of vegetables in raised beds. She said she also considers what things will look like in different seasons, noting grasses can be beautiful year-round.

Most of the property is forested with Douglas fir trees, though some areas opened up after a big windstorm a few years ago took some trees down.

After an extremely dry year, there are some plants showing the stress and she notes the is “dimmed down” from its usual splendour “but it’s alive.”

She uses wildflowers like blue flax, brown-eyed daisies, white yarrow and paintbrush for colour and collects rainwater to keep her planters watered as well as using larger containers and mulch so they don’t dry out as quickly.

When the lawn dries up and turns brown, she finds you crave the green and a xeriscape garden provides this with a range of different shades. Though it has taken time to transform, the time invested does provide some return.

“The time they get to enjoy the garden will be way more and the time they have to worry about it will be way less.”

Her tips: Resources like Okanagan Xeriscape Association and guides available from the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society help you plan where to start, succulents and ground cover are great, but check how invasive a plant will be in your area, and keep water-needy plants together so it simplifies what watering you do have to do.

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