Gwen Steele Art Hughes-Games adding rhubarb leaves to his large, three bin compost system in his sixty year old garden. - Image: Gwen Steele

Steele: A father’s love of gardening

Our Kelowna xeriscape expert recalls how her late father sparked her interest in gardening

This is the first year I will garden without Art Hughes-Games, my dad, nearby to ask his advice. He died, at 95, in November.

Saturday, May 6 at 11 a.m. we will celebrate his life at St. Michael’s Cathedral, the church he was very active in from age five when he moved here from England.

Dad especially loved this time of year when everything burst into bloom on the wild hillsides and in his garden.

He had an incredibly full life. He was passionate about serving his community, preserving nature, and gardening.

My parents cleared the back one-third of their half acre property on Christleton Avenue beginning in 1945. A former tobacco farm, it had grown back to cottonwoods, and native shrubs.

I remember dad borrowing his uncle’s farm truck to take mom, my sister and me up to Crawford mill to get sawdust for the garden.

We also hauled loads of cow manure from the pile on the farm (where Cook Road is now). Manure and sawdust were dug into cleared land to create the large vegetable garden that fed us year round.

We had twenty-five chickens. Their aged manure and the massive compost pile were hand-dug into the garden every spring by mom and dad.

When I was five I was given my first garden patch to plant whatever I liked. All four of us children gained a lifelong love of gardening. Dad continued to grow a huge vegetable garden for 60 years. For the last 10 he was on his own after mom died.

Family, friends, the Kelowna Drop In Centre, and the Food Bank were all beneficiaries of his abundant produce.

Dad co-founded the Kelowna Drop-In and Information Centre to help people in need and was instrumental in fund-raising to get it a permanent home.

In 1992 dad and John Woodworth, convinced city council to restore the wetland they played in together as children. They worked tirelessly for years to fund-raise and oversee the project that was to become known as the Rotary Marshes at Brandts Creek.

I feel he is with me still when I walk there.

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On Tuesday, May 16 the Okanagan Xeriscape Association is hosting a free presentation: Growing Ornamental Grasses in the Okanagan, given by local grass expert Eva Antonijevic, at the Okanagan Regional Library, 1380 Ellis St, Kelowna.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Gardening books and OXA memberships will be on sale. The talk goes until 7:45 p.m.

Summerland Ornamental Gardens big, two day plant sale is May 6 and 7 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. www.summerlandgardens.org.

The last spring session of OXA’s Introduction to Xeriscape workshop is Saturday, May 13 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Kelowna. For information and to register, go to the classes page at www.okanaganxeriscape.org.

The OXA Xeriscape Plant Sale last Saturday was a huge success, raising funds for the garden which is entirely maintained by OXA and volunteers. Thanks to all who bought plants.

Gwen Steele is executive-director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association.