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Interest in gardens blooming

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Contest a chance to share ideas

Seasoned and budding gardeners alike are being encouraged to sign up for the new Whistler in Bloom Garden Contest aimed at giving recognition to those who beautify their surroundings with plants and landscaping.

Up until last year, the Resort Municipality of Whistler participated in a similar program, an offshoot of the nation-wide Communities in Bloom Garden Contest. This year local gardening enthusiasts, Deanna White and Sandy Atkins, are resurrecting the event at a local level to mark the tremendous efforts being made by hands-on Whistler gardeners. White won the Communities in Bloom contest here in 1999 and says she wants to share that feeling with other gardeners.

"It is nice to be recognized for the work you put into gardening because it is a labour of love, and you can never get the dirt from under your fingernails," she laughs. "There are a lot of beautiful hidden gardens in this town and it would be inspiring for others to see the scope of creativity here."

Gardening in Whistler has apparently undergone a form of evolution, with the bare, dusty or overgrown gardens of earlier years mostly just a memory. Atkins says in the early 1980s many second-home owners in Whistler restricted their visits to the winter months, leaving the summer months to the locals and leaving the gardens largely up to nature. She says the introduction of irrigation systems in the mid ’80s allowed gardens to be watered when owners were away and therefore survive. A move towards greater landscaping work by the municipality and developers has also fostered a new era in gardening practices.

"Landscaping is part and parcel of nearly all property developments now, with features such as waterfalls being part of new hotel projects," Atkins says.

The pair estimate there are now more than six landscaping firms in Whistler and say four companies started up in Pemberton within a single year. The real growth appears to be even more rapid. A glance in the telephone directory actually reveals 14 companies listed in Whistler under the title, landscape architects. It’s a measure of how much emphasis Whistlerites now put on their gardens. Atkins says from what she’s heard, the landscaping business is booming, with new contract work being put onto waiting lists.

However the two organizers say the contest is a tribute to hands-on gardeners who take on the challenge themselves, rather than bring in professionals to do to the work.

Gardening in Whistler is no mean feat due to the area’s acidic soils and high rock content. White says anything other than a native plants garden needs special soil to be trucked in and considerable composting work. Whistler’s extreme cold and warm temperatures also means a narrow window of flowering opportunities for many plants, she adds.

"The climate here is a zone 4/5, which means heavy snowfalls and late or early frosts can lead to a very short flowering season, so growers have to do their homework."

The competition will include several categories: funky garden, patio garden, flower garden and vegetable garden. Entry forms can be picked up at McBloom’s Florist in Marketplace but nominations are also welcome for gardeners too shy to put their names forward.

White says the event is not a competition as such between gardens, but rather a chance to share knowledge and ideas.

Atkins says ideally contest entrants will eventually be added to the Whistler Gardening Group’s existing informal garden tours around town.

"These tours are run on a very small scale and it would be great to have more gardens participating because of the ideas that would be shared and the contacts made," Atkins says. "Similar tours are held on Bowen Island and Salt Spring Island for example."

The contest prizes include weekend hot tub rentals, flowering baskets, gardening materials, gift certificates and soil from High Country Landscaping. Entries must be in to McBloom’s by July 22, with the final awards being held at Hoz’s Pub at 6 p.m. on July 28. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly will be presenting the awards. Call White at 932-6469 for more information.

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