History of the Cowichan Valley Garden Club

The Cowichan Valley Garden Club was founded in 1953, under the name Valley Garden Club, by keen students of Mr. J.W. Parkinson’s night school classes on gardening.  They selected St. Mary’s Anglican Church hall on Somenos Rd. for the site of their first meetings, with Vera Lundahl as president.
Throughout the remainder of the decade, meetings were held at the homes of presidents, at the United Church hall on Jubilee St. and at St. Peter’s Anglican Church hall on Maple Bay Rd., continuing at the latter site until October of 1976, when the office building of the Cowichan Exhibition Society was used. That building very quickly proved too small, so in April of 1977 the Club moved into the hall of St. John’s Anglican Church on Jubilee St., at a monthly rent of $15.00.  With a few temporary exceptions, that remained the meeting site until the present (2009), although the rent rose at least tenfold in the ensuing decades.
In the first few years of the 21st century, membership swelled to 200, the legal capacity of St. John’s hall.  Other venues were contemplated, but since 2003, membership has gradually fallen to 137, eliminating the pressing need for a move.

Since the early years of the Club’s existence, a wide range of garden-related activities have been enjoyed by members, the annual Spring Flower Show being the most continuous and probably the most widely recognized in the community.
The first flower shows held in the Cowichan Valley date from before the formal organization of this Garden Club, and in fact, during their first two years, Club members and others exhibited in the a show put on by the International Order of the Daughters of the Empire, or I.O.D.E.  By 1955, the Valley Garden Club was co-sponsoring the show, and five years later began holding one entirely under its own auspices.  The shows were held in St. John’s Church hall until 1963, when the site was moved to the Royal Canadian Legion hall, with some responsibilities and profits shared with a group called ‘The Looking Out Circle’.
For the following fifteen years there was no full-scale flower show.  Instead, annual spring plant sales were held in supermarket parking lots and various halls. Not until 1978 did the Garden Club once more put on a Flower Show, this time in the United Church Hall, where it remained (except for 1979 and 1985, when it returned to St. John’s hall) until 1995.  That was the year that the sale moved to the recently expanded and renovated hall at St. Peter’s Church, where it is held to this day.
 
One show a year being an inadequate outlet for the enthusiasm of Cowichan Valley Garden Club members, they voted in 1967 to take on responsibility for the Flower Division at the Cowichan Exhibition held annually in September.
Since 1977 both shows have been augmented within the Club, by a Parlour Show held at every meeting, as well as a monthly plant sale stocked by Club members with plant material, which, while overabundant in some gardens, provides just what is missing in someone else’s.

Members wanting to increase their knowledge, or simply dream of the enchantment existing in gardens all over the world, have had a well-stocked library available since at least 1969, and at virtually every meeting since the Club’s inception, guest speakers have also provided education and entertainment, through increasingly sophisticated technology over the years.  For example, in April of 1968, it was noted in the Minutes that ‘colour’ slides were shown.  Now we have Power Point Presentations and digital technology that allows visuals to be coordinated with music.
Some speakers have presented demonstrations of how to make, build, arrange and/or display garden-related objects and materials, and for those who want more in-depth instruction, there have been committees providing workshops on subjects such as: the correct pruning of fruit trees, Japanese Flower Arranging, Hypertufa trough building, Blue Orchard Bee keeping, and garden photography.
One of the most popular activities within the Club has always been touring gardens.
In the early years of the Club, members visited one another’s gardens, and membership was small enough to allow some meetings to be held in the gardens of executive members, accompanied by tea and a tour. In 1956 a garden competition was held, with both an Urban and a Rural category.  There were trophies, as well as prizes donated by local merchants.
In May 1961 the Valley Garden Club hosted the Parksville Club, who arrived in a cavalcade of 15 vehicles, to visit eight gardens and have lunch at the Greenhaven Restaurant on Station St..
By 1977 our Club members were able to enjoy a bus trip to the lower mainland.  Later years saw the bus tour become an annual event, taking as many as 47 passengers, and subsidized by the Club.  Public and private gardens in Victoria, Chilliwack, Vancouver, Saltspring Island, Qualicum Beach, Surrey, Port Alberni, Langley, Ladysmith & Cedar, Parksville & North Nanaimo, and the Saanich Peninsula have been visited.  In 1989 Ellen McEwan first organized the trip (That year to Point Ellice House and Saxe Point Park in Victoria). She continued in this role, guiding us through gardens large and small, public and private, rural and urban, as well as scores of nurseries (somehow always managing to get everyone back on the bus on time) until “retiring” 18 years later.  A new era has dawned this year (2009), with the reins of the bus tour being taken over by Diane McAmmond and Diane Moynihan.

With all the aforementioned activities and entertainments provided by the Garden Club, it is not surprising the membership has become larger and more enthusiastic over the years.  The real reason for the Club’s popularity though, is actually the sumptuous tea served after every meeting, provided by a different group of members each month.  It has been a tradition since the very first gardening students got together in 1953, and “The Best Tea” on Vancouver Island” is almost a Club motto!