West Vancouver Nursery Breaking New Ground
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Did you know that West Vancouver’s municipal nursery is not only a hotbed for vibrant flowers, it also generates revenues by providing baskets and annuals to neighbouring municipalities? Add to that its latest initiative – growing vegetables for the homeless and it’s enough to make a horticulturist green with envy.
Most of us bask in the colourful parade of baskets and flower beds that eloquently line West Vancouver’s boulevards. Years ago, when the municipality’s nursery was smaller, West Van bought its flowers from outside operations, incurring extra labour, fuel, and transportation costs, only to frequently find the plants damaged in transit. As a result, the nursery began to grow its own flowers from seeds and cuttings – and the benefits bloomed. “When you buy plants it’s hard to get small quantities, so it also prevents you from experimenting with new flowers,” says Shirley McKell, Horticulture Supervisor. “When we seed ourselves, we can try small amounts of new varieties to see what grows well. Often we’re trying out plants before they’re even in the retail garden centres,” she says gesturing to a gorgeous tangle of indigo blue Anagalis monelli dangling from a nearby basket. “Often residents call us to ask what it is.”
In addition to internal revenues from the supply of materials to our own operations, West Vancouver’s nursery pulls in additional revenues by selling its baskets to North Van City, and its annuals to North Van District. This past year, it produced 340 baskets, with 125 of them purchased by the City.
Having an in-house operation also enables West Vancouver to honour its commitment to environmentally-friendly practices. In retail and wholesale operations, plastic pots are often discarded. West Van washes, sterilizes and re-uses whenever possible. Two, full-time nursery staff, along with McKell, are dedicated to re-using, recycling, as well as using organic fertilizers, enzymes and nematodes. “We’re always trying out new, healthful combinations,” adds McKell.
That ‘science’ includes using ‘good guys’ (for example, preying mantis, ladybug larvae) to prey on the ‘bad guys’ (aphids and spider mites) that eat and destroy plants. In fact, it’s not unusual for the nursery to receive a delivery – innocent enough on the outside – but, brimming inside with more than 350 preying mantis! In just one month, the insects quadruple in size and eat the bad guys on contact.
With the nursery’s healthful approach and expertise in cultural growing methods, it’s no wonder they’ve also climbed on-board for the North Shore’s Edible Garden Project. Adds McKell: “North Shore Recycling encourages the community to grow food for the homeless. So we tried a simple pilot project by planting 12 large pots with carrots, peas, beans, tomatoes, squash – basic vegetables that require little labour. This allows us to contribute in a small, but important way, to the less fortunate on the North Shore.”
Call it the little nursery ‘that could’.