Green-thumb volunteers make Cairnsmore bloom

The Cairnsmore gang (from left to right)  Glynis Ballard, Ann Brown, Sharon Martin, Jennifer Ferguson, Bev Kraushar, Reg Grainger, Barbara Grainger, Manon Scott, Ali Morris, Monika Morgan, Donna Kaiser, Don Loewen, John Ballard, and in front Diane Allen and Louise Neveu. - Ashley Degraaf
The Cairnsmore gang (from left to right) Glynis Ballard, Ann Brown, Sharon Martin, Jennifer Ferguson, Bev Kraushar, Reg Grainger, Barbara Grainger, Manon Scott, Ali Morris, Monika Morgan, Donna Kaiser, Don Loewen, John Ballard, and in front Diane Allen and Louise Neveu.
— image credit: Ashley Degraaf

It’s quite clear during a tour of the gardens at Cairnsmore Place, the volunteer green thumbs there have formed a tight-knit group.

“That’s John (Ballard) working on the compost,” said the group’s volunteer co-ordinator Louise Neveu introducing the work party last Wednesday morning at the seniors care facility. “He just doesn’t weed, that’s all, but he’s quite happy to compost.”

About 15 volunteers get together once a week at Cairnsmore to beautify the grounds and bond while doing something they sincerely enjoy, explained Neveu.

“Some of us ladies even quilt together too,” she said.

“Well, we can’t just sit on our butts all day,” added gardener Glynis Ballard.

She and Ann Brown were working on a corner plot at the front of the building, while the rest of the gang was spread out among the care home, working on various gardens.

“This was our biggest project from this past year,” Neveu noted of the seniors centre’s front island garden.

The group started that project from scratch, after removing three big maple trees that were often chopped to bits by BC Hydro, and ripping out a ton of ivy.

They received a $10,000 donation from the Duncan Christian Seniors Housing Society to complete that bed, now bursting with red rhodos, daffodils, some rockery, solar lighting and a fountain that was also made possible thanks to another $4,500 donation made from a former Cairnsmore resident.

The volunteer group started about six years ago and is still mostly made up of the same people since the get-go.

Most of the members worked on gardens at the Cowichan Lodge seniors facility before it was shut down and made the move to Cairnsmore when staff asked them if they’d be willing to. And they were quite happy to accept.

The biggest reason the group volunteers their time and work is for the residents.

“Quite often the residents watch us from the windows when we’re here,” said Neveu. “We kind of become their entertainment.”

And residents watched last week from the large window at the front of the building, where one of the home’s main gardens runs along a concrete pathway.

There’s also a large plot at the left side of the building the group started from scratch about four years ago featuring several rhodos donated from last year’s Cowichan Valley Garden Fair.

“We also buy a few things but a lot of it’s from our gardens at home,” explained Neveu.

They also hold their own plant sale at Cairnsmore every year, bringing in on average $2,000 towards plants and supplies.

Cairnsmore’s back courtyard garden was the group’s first big project in 2009, and now just sees some weekly TLC.

Among others Ali Morris worked her magic there last week.

“She’s our garden connoisseur,” said Neveu. “When anyone is stumped, we go to her. She has a beautiful garden at her home which has been featured in many of our local garden tours.”

And during the group’s downtime, the volunteers get together for two potlucks every year, and sometimes coffee meetings, or quilting sessions during their break from mid-November to the beginning of February.

And during free time, Neveu also creates photo books from past year’s work, showing year-by-year the progress they’ve made.

“It’s a great group,” she said. “No one’s ever dropped out and we’ve gotten lots of new members over the years.

“The staff sure do appreciate us here.”


Garden Fair ready to blossom

The Cairnsmore garden gang were the recipients of the Cowichan Valley Garden Fair’s rhododendron donation. This year’s fair, hosted by the Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society is being staged at the Cowichan Exhibition grounds Saturday, May 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Admission is free and the early birds will receive complementary coffee and donuts.

A special gift is also up for grabs for the first 100 customers.

Proceeds from the fair go towards the rhodo donation and other plants to various public institutions in the Cowichan Valley.

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