Roses Bloom

By Janet Nicol

Gardens meander through Janet Wood’s life like roses sprawling across a trellis. A long-time mentor to rose growers in Vancouver; Janet’s first memory of a garden is her mother’s flower bed.

“We had a victory garden too,” recalls the slender silver-haired grandmother.

Janet’s corner lot bungalow in the Southlands neighbourhood is surrounded by beds of roses covering the front, back and side yard.

“I’ve been a member of the Vancouver Rose Society for about 30 years,” says Janet. “At one point there were 600 members. But the numbers are smaller now because there’s so much going on. There are other local gardening clubs and specialized groups, like the orchid society.”

The Vancouver Rose Society was established in 1949 and 60 years later, still has a good membership mix, says Janet. Men and women ranging in age from 30 to 80 plus, attend events. “People come to socialize too.”

Janet is a past president and has been given a lifetime membership in honour of her contributions. She continues to offer advice to rose enthusiasts.

“I just had a call from someone in a seniors complex near Jericho Beach. He wanted advice on the roses growing in the courtyard garden.”

A clopping sound outside interrupts the conversation. It turns out a young woman is making her way down the empty street – on horseback. Only blocks away from busy Arbutus Street, Southlands still has patches of farmland, stables and homes with property large enough to graze a horse or two.

But this warm afternoon is also filled with the sounds of construction as more homes are being built. “The neighbourhood is changing,” Janet notes regretfully.

“My parents were Scottish immigrants who came out here in 1929. My mother had eight babies in nine years.”

Janet grew up on the city’s east side, attending Britannia Secondary, and then training as an elementary school teacher. “I taught for two years and quit teaching to marry.”

Janet and her husband, a forester, had four children. Busy years were spent raising her family in northern B.C. and, later, on Vancouver’s west side. All the while, she volunteered in the community and kept gardening. At some point as Janet dug in to the soil, her interest in roses bloomed.

“I love the fresh air and knowing exactly what I’m doing,” she says. “I don’t have a creative eye. I like doing something that feels neat and tidy.”

But others who know Janet say she has a taste and an eye for roses. The result of her green thumb is noted in *Gardens of Vancouver* by Collin Vamer and Christine Allen. And every June, Janet’s home garden is on the city tour list, with busloads of admirers coming to see trellises reminiscent of Givenchy in England.

“The mist from the Fraser River dampens the roses in my garden,” Janet explains. “The climate is similar to Britain. That’s why my tea roses do so well.”

In fact, most roses in her garden have fewer than 20 petals because of her “misty” location. That’s why Janet advises novice gardeners to buy roses from local nurseries, where staff can suggest types suitable to localized climates.

Lots of other gardening advice is available in the society’s newsletter, *The Rosebed*, and on the website http://www.vancouverosesociety.org

Stepping into the garden, Janet shows her favourites. “Look at the shades on the petals. Just perfect,” she coos about her five-petal hybrid tea roses.

The compost containers along the side wall hold an important secret to her success – great fertilizer.

“The neighbours bring over horse manure and grass clippings,” she says.

The backyard contains a bright yellow “Julia Child” rose, named after the popular American chef, and another lighter yellow rose, named for Canada’s female astronaut, Roberta Bondar.

Besides planting Canadian and American roses, Janet also has roses from England. Moving carefully around the rose beds, the scents and many petal colours, from powder blues to brilliant reds, are to be savoured.

On the front lawn, the tour ends with an unexpected surprise as Janet points to a pink and white petal tea rose. She says the flower was recently bred by Brad Jalbert of Select Roses nursery in Langley.

“This is the Janet A. Wood,” the life-long gardener reveals, her legacy of five delicate petals cupped gently yet firmly in her hand.

Reprinted from Senior Living magazine, April, 2010.

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