Gardening and the joy of volunteering

I am an avid gardener, thanks to my membership in the Fernwood Community Garden in Victoria. I’ve had a plot there for 10 years and each year I get a bigger yield and reduce my need to buy food. Membership in the FCG comes with a requirement to grow fruit and vegetables organically. As well, we are all obliged to give five hours a year to maintain the common areas of garden, such as the flower, fruit and herb gardens. Some gardeners who rent plots in the allotment space shared with the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre go way beyond these obligations and are noticeably present, in the growing season, doing what needs to be done without any prompting.

Dominique Sevin, born in Orleans, France, is a sculptor who moved to Victoria in 1998.  She used to take waitressing jobs or clean offices at night to support her artmaking.  In the early 2000s, she got a plot in the Chambers Street garden. “I had no experience at all in gardening,” says Sevin. Claude Moreau, a knowledgeable gardener, occupied a nearby plot. He got Sevin off to a roaring start as a dedicated grower. Most days during the growing season Sevin can be found in the FCG tending to the common herb plot she maintains, trimming a rose bush or weeding the brick circle. This year she took on the task of pruning the bay leaf bush, with help from Paul Huxtable. Instinct drew Dominique to helping out. “Volunteering in the garden is for me associated with harmony. I find it really displeasing when something gets overgrown. And the brick circle looks so much better when it’s weeded.”

Bernadette Letchford was born in Toronto, but her family moved to BC before she was a year old. Her grandparents owned a farm outside Prince George and that city was where Bernadette grew up. Later in life she moved to Victoria and got a job as a researcher for the provincial government. In 2010, she joined the Fernwood Community Garden and for three years served on the Coordinating Group. Letchford was not new to growing things. “I remember gardening with my dad. We lived in a house on two acres and had a big vegetable garden.” Volunteering came naturally. “It’s part of being in a community. It’s just what you do.” Lately Letchford has been, with some expert advice, trapping rats that have infested the compost bins she maintains. In 2020, when the garden was under COVID restrictions, she and Annie Kitchen took the initiative to plant a few plots that were empty and donate the harvest to Fernwood’s Neighbourhood Resource Centre for distribution to low-income families. Gardening in the FCG is also Bernadette’s social life. “Some days I do more talking than gardening.” Ever modest, she points out others in the garden who give without being asked, such as Sabrina Nutchey, who this year rented a truck at her own expense to bring in a ladder so gardeners could pick the pears when they ripened.

Gary Johnson got a plot in the garden in 2018. A registered massage therapist from Creston BC, Johnson arrived in Victoria in 2010. He is the newest member of the Coordinating Group (Alison Delosky and Susan Walker are the others) and has proved to be the kind of guy who steps up at every opportunity, such as helping organize a July work party in the FCG or offering to help with paving pathways, something he knows about from jobs in landscaping. “My knowledge of gardening was pretty minimal,” says Gary about joining the FCG. “I had picked berries and I was familiar with a shovel. And my wife, Gina Chase, taught me a few things; she used to work in a nursery.

“But I asked questions of the gardeners around me, such as Claude and Bernadette.” Soon he had a thriving plot and when asked to join the Coordinating Group was willing to do it despite a busy schedule. Gary got his first taste of volunteerism with Canada World Youth and remembers his mother as a community volunteer. “My mum was involved in all kinds of things in Creston.”

Annie Kitchen is the life of the party at the FCG. Born in Trail, BC, she has lived in Victoria for 40 years. Before retirement, Kitchen worked as a risk consultant for Island Health. With her trademark laugh, she recalls her first efforts at gardening; it was in an allotment garden in Gordon Head. “I even tried growing peanuts.” After she became a single parent to her son, she began growing vegetables and fruits in pots around her home. After being on the FCG waitlist for four years, Kitchen and her partner Nigel Sinclair took over a plot in 2018 and transformed it, building new surrounds and erecting a beautiful looking trellis. Nigel has contributed his carpentry and handyman skills to projects such as paving around the watering stations and Annie has served on the Coordinating Group. She continues to contribute wherever she sees a need, such as redrawing the garden map and identifying the gardeners working each plot. Volunteering has always part of her life. Even as a single mother, Annie found ways to help others. “If you see a need, jump in. I do all sorts of crazy stuff,” she says, remembering a time she offered to paint bedrooms for people who’d finally found affordable housing. “With volunteering you always get more out of it than you put in.”

Photo from left: Bernadette Letchford, Annie Kitchen, Gary Johnson, Dominique Sevin

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