Blue Memories at the VanDusen Botanical Garden Plant SaleSunday, April 28, 2019
Today, April 28 is the yearly plant sale at VanDusen Botanical Garden. For many years Rosemary and I braved the usual cold of the day and we would line up hours before the opening at 10:30. We would be there with a wheelbarrow, sipping coffee to keep warm. If asked what plants we were looking for we would be noncommittal as we did not want anybody on the line-up to rush and get our treasured plant. For quite a few years, Rosemary chose to help on that day as she is a Master Gardener. This gave her access to look at what was available on the day before.
Today I dropped and her off and rushed home. Our male cat, Niño, had not returned (he has yet to return as write this).
The VanDusen plant sale is full of memories for me. There was the excitement of finding the plant I was looking for or being exposed to a plant I knew nothing about.
Most of all my memories are full of the people who were there helping gardeners with information.
And then there was Marion McDonnell (pronounced with emphasis on that e). She was the Blue Poppy Lady. Every Meconopsis grandis or betonicifolia (they are just about identical) usually called the Himalayan (snobs put emphasis on that first a) blue poppy came from her greenhouse. The plant, legendary for its blueness, likes dappled shade but it was notorious as an almost impossible plant to keep after a first year. Some said it was a biannual so a new plant had to be raised from seed.
I told Rosemary to see if she could find a Meconopsis today.
McDonnell was in charge of taking people (elderly or folks unable to walk) in carts and giving them tours of VanDusen.
On spring and summer weekends I would visit her (unnanouced). She did not live far from our Kerrisdale home. Her garden was something like a bowling alley, narrow and long. In the garden you would always find Gretchen her Daschund at the gate. McDonnell would then loudly say (with her baritone voice),”How are you my friend?” She would offer me her excellent coffee and cookies.
There were many others like her at those VanDusen plant sales. One person that stood out for me was running into architect Arthur Erickson with a smile of excitement on his face. He was keen on the plant chase.
To this day I can look at the plants in our Kerrisdale garden and know where they came from. In many of those instances I can see the face of the person who handed it to me followed by sage advice on how to grow it and keep it.
Niño just sauntered in.