When they’re given a chance to talk about flowers, what their blooms signify and the role gardens play in building a community, it’s almost impossible to imagine Alma Ingbritson and Coleen McClain would ever be labeled guerrillas.
Given their propensity to use the sharp end of a spade to beautify land that really doesn’t belong to them, however, that’s exactly what they are—guerrilla gardeners.
It’s a term created in New York during the 1970s, when groups of people clambered over fences by flashlight to till and sow a neglected space.
The movement grew roots and since then it traveled the world, eventually finding its way to this cozy corner of the Okanagan by way of McClain and Ingbritson.
Of course, they weren’t aiming to start a gardening revolution, or even aware of what a guerrilla garden really is.
“We just wanted to do something back here…it was all weeds, and they were this high,” Ingbritson said, gesturing to plants in what’s now Kings Garden, that reached as high as her torso.
Ingbritson lives adjacent to the stretch of Rails and Trails project that runs parallel to Enterprise Way and she and Glenmore based McClain started their plan to turn that bedraggled stretch of dirt into something the community could enjoy six years ago.
“You’ll never grow a garden here, they said,” said Ingbritson.
“But I said if God can make a dessert bloom in Israel then he certainly can make this bloom.”
There’s also been a lot of time spent helping flowers bloom in intricate designs—including a Maple Leaf pattern with colourful flowers in the centre, representing multiculturalism—digging out rocks and placing them back in tidy patterns, so they’re pretty, not pesky.
Both women said they’re married to the garden once summer roles around. Watering, dead heading and general upkeep can take upwards of five hours a day.
It’s “exhausting” work, said McClain, but completely worthwhile.
“When someone comes by and says, ‘this is beautiful,’ you get so energized,” McClain said.
“Everyone feels like they can be part of it, and that’s great,” added Ingbritson.
Cyclists, pedestrians, dogs and all manner of creatures that wander through have embraced the garden.
Of note are a young man who was wanting a bouquet for his girlfriend; Bucky the beaver; some challenging deer and over the course of this interview on Thursday, a porcupine wandered by.
The latter prompted a cyclist to tell the two women that he’d never seen anything like that in the wild.
Community really does bloom on the pathway.
While the women say it’s a labour of love, six years, hundreds of hours and countless dollars in, they’re now hoping to find some helping hands and a few donations.
“We’d really like some volunteers to share in watering, weeding or gifted people with a desire to share their talents and creativity,” said McClain.
The list of donations and work needed includes: Top soil, brick, light weight garden houses, weeds sprayed, lattice, organic compost, campy to work under during the hot weather, lawn chairs, lawn edging, ground covering, decorative solar lights and two small benches for people to gather.
To get in contact with the women, call 250-860-3463.