Albert McCormick has been gardening in Keremeos, and donating the excess, for several years. He is now spearheading a new community garden that would be put in place across from the under-construction Ambrosia affordable housing development. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)

Albert McCormick has been gardening in Keremeos, and donating the excess, for several years. He is now spearheading a new community garden that would be put in place across from the under-construction Ambrosia affordable housing development. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)

Growing a community garden in the South Okanagan

Albert McCormick is spearheading the project to build a new community garden in Keremeos

Starting in the spring, driving down 7th Avenue in Keremeos you might spot a colourful display of flowers sprouting from dozens of beds. That’s the work of 75-year-old Albert McCormick.

Working with the Village of Keremeos and the Lower Similkameen Community Services Society, McCormick is spearheading the construction of an even larger garden for the whole community, which would eventually run the block from 7th Street to 8th Street along Veterans Avenue across from the Ambrosia housing project.

That new garden is set to be built in multiple phases. The first, funded by the village, would have the area graded and leveled, the arbor and entrance installed and the first beds put in. The rest of the garden would be put in if and when grant funding came through.

“It started by innocently asking about the disposition of the property known as the old Co-Op across from Ambrosia, they asked why I was inquiring and it led to this,” said McCormick. “This to me is the most fun I’ve had in years. It’s a joy I thought I would never experience again.”

Albert McCormick next to ‘the Lab’, where his plants are germinated from seeds. Currently, there are over 380 petunias germinating alone inside. (Brennan Phillips – Keremeos Review)

McCormick keeps a relatively smaller garden of his own outside his home. The garden started with just a few flowers inside, expanding to a single bed outside built with lumber from T.L. Timber, and then beyond to the approximately 1,500 square feet of boxes and beds it currently is.

Inside, there’s “the Lab”, a temperature-controlled chamber where the plants are germinated, where McCormick already has different kinds of cabbages, asters, zinnias and over 380 petunias. Once they’ve finished germination, they’ll be taken out and put out in the hothouse outside.

In addition to the many different types of flowers that McCormick grows, are many different fruits and vegetables, from squashes to corn to melons and beyond. He grows what he enjoys, but there’s only so much that he can eat, and what he can’t, he donates, particularly to the senior facilities at Kylami Place and Mountainview.

“Like last year, I don’t like tomatoes but I had a neighbour who used to love them, so that encouraged me to grow tomatoes. Then he moved away, so last year I had to pick and haul around town bags of tomatoes because I refuse to let anything go to waste,” said McCormick. “It’s a shame when you see all the hungry people.

Cabbages, onions and potatoes are just some of the plants already moved outside to Albert McCormick’s hot-house in his garden. (Brennan Phillips – Keremeos Review)

“Just about any time someone walks through when I’m harvesting, they’ll walk away with something. So I have people from all up and down the valley that come through, and now I’m on their stops.”

The idea for a larger garden was inspired and supported by not only the people who stop by, but also the many members of the community who have expressed their own interest in helping see such a garden grow. Although the whole community isn’t involved yet, McCormick hopes they will come to see it.

Inside his home, McCormick keeps his hibiscus in addition to all the germinating flowers, each of which he cares for as much as one another.

“I suppose comparing to someone who loves alcohol, I think I find one, then I turn the page and then I see another one. I’m just in love with beauty and nature. Favourites change every moment.

“The first joy, are poppies, but you got to appreciate them the very first thing in the morning. As they freshly open, and there’s still moisture and they’re almost translucent, there’s nothing like them. It brings a tear to the eye to see such fragility in nature. It’s a good reason to get out of bed in the morning. “

Gardening has grown into a very popular hobby during the pandemic, and even though he ordered early as usual, McCormick found that he wasn’t able to get everything he had hoped for.

“I put my orders in at Christmas, and there were already shortages. I had to take second choices, even my main display is a second choice. But it’s a new one, and I’m excited to try it.”

His last garden on the Sunshine Coast was a touch smaller than his current garden, and before that the garden he worked with his family in Fernie was bigger than the current one he maintains.

McCormick’s experience with the garden began from his childhood growing up on a farm in Washington state, which he only built on. Later, he went into construction, and the restaurant industry, before retiring.

His days now in Keremeos don’t follow set schedules, but once he starts, he is usually out until the sun sets in the evening.

“I go with the flow, because your start carries through the whole day, and if you don’t get started right, what the hell’s your start. I like to come out and feel good about it. This always gives me a lift and brings up the rest of the way.”

Those days are spent outside, once the weather warms up, going from bed to bed and from plant to plant.

“One of the best lessons I learned was from my father-in-law. He was an elderly gentleman from Czechoslovakia whose family had been held back by the Soviets. On retirement he raised that family, his garden was nowhere near this big, and he fed them and looked after them. He never worked fast, he never worked hard, but he puttered all day long and he had the most beautiful garden in the world,” said McCormick. “Everything is possible, that’s why the turtle isn’t in a rush, because he knows he’ll eventually get there.”

Whether the application for the garden is successful, the planned 16-foot arbor, the grading, and the outer bed will be finished to give the garden the entrance it deserves.

Other planned parts of the garden include a water garden, with koi, picnic tables, a games table, benches and of course plenty more beds for planting.

The garden will be open for every member of the community to come down and find something they are interested in, not just the residents at the Ambrosia development, although McCormick hopes that the garden will provide something for them as well. In particular, that means making the new garden fully accessible for the residents of the handicapped suites in Ambrosia.

The new garden will be more than twice the size of McCormicks, and a permanent feature that would hopefully be enjoyed for generations.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.


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