It was the 1960s and Nanaimo resident Frank Graves was stationed in Cyprus as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, when he found a tiny tree.
“I saw this little orange tree trying to survive,” Graves said. “I picked it up and brought it up in an oil barrel and looked after it for six months during my service there. What happened after I left, I don’t know.”
For Graves, gardening has always been his one true passion. It has also served as a means of therapy, particularly during his time as a solider.
“It was good therapy,” he said. “It was a challenge stopping people from killing each other.”
Graves has been a member of the Nanaimo Horticultural Society since 1982. He said he originally joined the gardening club as a way to learn more about gardening and what types of plants he could grow throughout the year.
“It keeps me out of the pub,” Graves said. “I’ve always enjoyed getting my hands dirty. It’s quite a thrill to put a seed in the ground and you see it growing.”
The Nanaimo Horticultural Society celebrates its 70th anniversary this year and hosts an ‘Old Style’ Parlour Show on April 23 at the Nanaimo North Town Centre. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., residents will see various arrangements of flowers and horticultural-themed artwork, as well as master gardeners, who will be able to provide gardening tips to the public.
The society traces its roots back to 1946, when the first meeting was held at Eagles’ Lounge. Originally called the Nanaimo Agricultural and Horticultural Society, the gardening club has formed relationships with various community institutions.
For nearly three decades, the society provided a scholarship to a student enrolled in Vancouver Island University’s horticultural program. This year it donated $750 as an anniversary gift.
Graves said the gardening club has grown significantly since he joined.
“Over the years it has increased as more people moved to Nanaimo from all over the country and wanted to learn the same thing that I wanted to learn,” Graves said. “Now we have over 200 members.”
Graves said when he joined the society, it was more a closed group than the open and inclusive group that it is today.
“They [the society] are more free with their information. When I first joined up I thought there they were a close bunch but now they are a more liberal bunch with their information. They are anxious to give out information, especially with the younger people,” Graves said.
The society meets on the second Wednesday in the month at Brechin Church, where they host guest speakers. It’s an opportunity for members to meet other gardeners, make new friends, and learn from gardening experts.
Graves, originally born in the United Kingdom, said when he was a young boy it was important to know how to grow plants and vegetables, adding that there are more young people interesting in gardening today than in years past.
“I grew up in war-time England, where you survived with a garden,” he said. “You had to have a garden otherwise you went hungry.”
He said more young people are becoming members as backyard and community gardens become more popular and the price of vegetables continues to increase.
“We are getting more and more younger people in the organization,” Graves said. “More and more young people want to garden, mainly because of the price of vegetables in the store. People are becoming better educated about the food they eat.”
Additional 70th anniversary celebrations are scheduled throughout the year. For more information and future events, please visit www.nanaimohort.org.