by Ed Johnson, photos by Ed Johnson
Maintaining a garden is certainly easier for those who are not nine-to-fivers.Indeed the last four episodes of backyard gardeners in SVO have all been retired people who had the luxury of spending as much time as they wish on whatever they enjoy.
The situation is slightly different for Ben and Bernadette Greene of North Saanich. With a growing family, a mortgage, Ben a full-time teacher, and Bernadette working two part-time jobs as a church musician and a corporate coach you would think that there would be little time for a garden. But for Bernadette, the pull to get her hands in the soil is strong and she loves to challenge herself to see what can be produced from their one-acre property.
Bernadette began with cut flowers, a favourite crop of hers. “I soon I noticed our two young girls loved to go out to the small vegetable patch to feast on carrots, chives, parsley, and whatever else was in season‚” she recalls. “Their friends loved to graze in the garden, too.” The light dawned, and Bernadette realized how many more vegetables their girls would eat when they could pick them themselves! – More vegetables and fruits were added to the Greene’s garden.
When the garden produced more than the family could possibly eat, Bernadette took a friend’s suggestion and began selling at the local farm market in North Saanich. She went on to branch out into other markets, as well as selling to local restaurants. “I have been fortunate to connect with a local chef who occasionally has a specific request for vegetables which I grow just for him,” she adds.
In the spring, Bernadette has a plant sale that includes thousands of vegetable starts, tomato plants, perennials and herbs. “I especially love propagating plants,” says Bernadette, “and now have some loyal plant sale customers who come back year-after-year when they’re putting in their vegetable gardens in the spring.“
Bernadette’s parents, Konrad and Els Welle, emigrated to Canada from Holland in the 50’s to grow freesias. In the beginning, they shipped these across North America, before branching out into other flowers. Bernadette and her five siblings were expected to help out in the greenhouses, and over time, the family nursery grew to cover nearly four acres and employ forty employees during the peak season. In their family’s photo album is a picture of Princess Diana holding a bouquet of flowers provided by her father on the occasion of her visit to Victoria in 1986.
The Greenes bought the family home and property from Bernadette’s mother in 2004. They immediately began to expand the gardens that her parents had lovingly planted. The market garden portion is positioned where one of the large commercial greenhouses used to be. Around the house are many common and uncommon specimens of flowers, shrubs and trees that contribute to Bernadette’s garden palette. One tree in particular always becomes the centre of attention in the fall when its seeds ripen inside paper husks resembling a large round cherry fruit. Known as Koelreuteria paniculata, or the Golden Rain Tree to mere mortals, it is featured in the online video following this article.
Maintaining the garden makes for a busy life and Bernadette has had to make some compromises to make it work. “Although I freeze, dry, and juice what I can for the winter months, I don’t have time in the summer to do a lot of canning anymore. While I do grow some winter vegetables, it is more efficient for me to buy organic vegetables when I need them in the winter with the proceeds of sales during the summer.”
One thing you won’t find on her farm is broccoli, however. “I’ve eaten enough broccoli to last me a life time,” she laughs. She has this trait famously in common with a certain U.S. president.
“Broccolini, though – that’s another story.”