If you travel to cities in North America, you will see spring and summer floral creations with baskets of colourful annuals on street poles (Victoria B.C.) or massive plantings at grade level along major commercial streets (Chicago). But few cities have the diversity of planting, visual interest, and stunning design like the City of Vancouver parks and community centres. Stanley Park has a breathtaking public rose garden, and carefully designed outstanding annual and perennial displays that are worthy of the international attention received from tourists.
Unlike other cities that order in their plants and have them trucked from locations all over North America, the City has Sunset Nursery tucked near 51st Avenue and Main Street. At this private nursery which is not open to the public every plant that you see in Vancouver parks is grown from seed or from a very small plant plug. It only seems natural in a city that champions sustainability that Vancouver would be “LEED”ing by example by growing stock in place instead of importing it.
If you go to the Macmillan Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park, the 500 species of plants in that dome have been sourced and cared for by Sunset Nursery. The poinsettia throughout community centres in winter are all grown from rooted cuttings at the nursery. The gardeners at Sunset go through a stringent horticultural apprentice program, and they know their plants. The nursery has also provided workplace experience for some Vancouver residents with severe disabilities. Those people flourished in their placements.
The nursery has been owned by the City since 1929, and has a large heritage house in original condition on its grounds. This house used to be occupied by the superintendent for the nursery, who would be at hand should there be a power outage, security issue or an emergency on site.
The previous superintendent also performed an act of tremendous foresight. A few years ago Sunset Nursery was to be axed for cost saving reasons. That Sunset Nursery superintendent broke protocol by speaking directly to the Parks Board Commissioners on the importance of the nursery, the sustainability of growing and providing plants locally, and how the culture and management of extraordinary plants was what made the City of Vancouver parks and community centres different from any other city in North America.
That person saved the nursery. The previous superintendent also got a letter of reprimand from her superiors. We all thought we should frame the letter and hang it in a prominent place. Instead of doing the work right, that Sunset Nursery superintendent had done the right work-continuing the tradition of sustainable planting and management of one of Vancouver’s biggest assets-the bounty of plant life that can flourish for the public eye in public places. That is a rare thing, and this Secret of the City makes Vancouver a much better and more beautiful place.