I was lucky to be born in the sunny Okanagan and even luckier to be born into the gardening business.
My grandfather, Arthur Burnett, moved his family to Kelowna in 1922, purchased a few acres of property which was dwarfed by the section of land he left behind in Weyburn, Sask., and was delighted with the productivity he was able to get from his little piece of Eden.
At first, mostly field crops of tomatoes, onions and corn were produced for the local and export market but in 1932, with my dad’s help, the family business built its first greenhouse—the beginning of a long and successful venture in the greenhouse, nursery, floral and landscape industries until it closed in 1997.
The Burnett name lives on with the flower shop on Bernard Avenue.
When I was born in 1950, there were only about 10,000 people living in Kelowna and perhaps another 5,000 or so in the surrounding area.
The fruit industry was a major part of life here and there were many busy packinghouses shipping fruit all over the world.
In the summer, tourism was, as it is today, very strong with families coming from all over Western Canada and beyond to lap up our famous sunshine and gorge on our delicious fruit.
In 1949, with the new Hope Princeton Highway cutting the 12-hour trip from the coast to an easy day’s drive of about eight hours, our population began to grow.
It doubled by 1962 when the Rogers Pass Highway to Alberta was built. Now you could drive to the Okanagan from Calgary in just hours and the Albertans did just that.
That was the beginning of the population explosion we are still experiencing today in the Okanagan.
Since my first contact with the lawn and garden industry, there have been many changes.
Gone are the days when bedding plants were cut out of flats to be wrapped in newspaper for the customer and the term bare root is hardly ever heard now with most plants sold in containers.
I find the gardening public is far more knowledgeable today and their needs include better service, quality and selection.
There is a gradual leaning toward gardening organically and we in the industry are helping our customers understand the principles our forefathers followed prior to the age of chemicals.
There have been many changes in the fruit industry as well.
Agri-tourism, the melding of the orchard industry with the tourism industry, is now the norm with many orchards offering tours and even a world class golf course operating in a working apple orchard.
The huge growth, however, has been in the grape and wine industry.
From its humble beginnings in the 1930s to the thousands of acres and dozens of small to large wineries up and down the valley, the Okanagan has become renowned for its ability to produce fine wine and table grapes.
Just to give the landscapers and others in the industry the heads-up, there is a horticultural certificate program being offered at Okanagan College starting Jan. 25. Contact the Continuing Education Department for more information, 250-862-5480.
Tune in to The Don Burnett Garden Show on AM 1150 News Talk Sports Saturdays from 8 to 10 a.m.