Flower powered

By District Staff on Thursday, Jul 6, 2023

They strive to create picture-perfect flower beds.

So, if you’re a municipal gardener who’s created a stunning floral display at the entrance to a busy park or neighbourhood, you will almost certainly have photos of it ready to share, like a proud parent.

Erik Gustafson, a long-time member of the District’s Parks staff, has indeed got pics to show.

“I’m proud of them. We have our artistic pride, but it’s equally rewarding when you install beds, and people say they are very grateful to have this beautiful display, whether it’s Lynn Valley or Deep Cove or wherever else in the District.”

Three Parks workers in high-visibility vests plant a flower garden at an oceanside park. The ocean and a moored boat are in the background.

Signature beds

On this sunny afternoon, Gustafson, Trades Foreman, Horticulture, Parks Operations, is planting a bed of annuals at Panorama Park in Deep Cove. The oceanside park is a favourite destination for locals and visitors alike, so this display will likely get a lot of views and selfies.

“We have eight signature display beds across the District,” Gustafson says while planting a row of colourful osteospermum “Akila Sunset Shades” and coreopsis “Early Sunrise” plants.

The horticulture team is 19-strong during the busy season. “When annuals come in, everybody’s doing annuals. When bulbs are coming out, everyone’s digging out bulbs,” he says.

The crew consists of Trades Gardeners, Parks Workers and Seasonal Workers. They are responsible for the planting and care for all garden beds, planters, planted roadway medians, street trees, and trees throughout parks across the District.

A Parks worker holds a grey bucket as she works on a display of purple flowers. In the background a white pickup filled with flowers and gardening equipment.

Annuals report 

Nearly 10,000 annual plants are ready by the last week of May, and they are all planted by early June.

This year’s varieties also include coleus “Gay’s Delight” and rudbeckia “Chim Chiminee,” to name a few.

Also expect to see large and delightful tropical plants such as canna lily varieties “South Pacific Orange” and “Pretoria,” large agave plants and other succulents, and a wide variety of colourful dahlias, which are perennial crowd favourites.

A hive of gardeners takes around one day to plant, water and fertilize one of the more extensive signature beds, like the one located at Whey-ah-Wichen/Cates Park.

Crews weed and deadhead beds about once a week to ensure the annuals remain photo-worthy all summer.

Hard September rains sometimes end the annual season abruptly, but last year the garden beds were still showing strong until mid-October because of the hot, dry weather. This pattern will likely continue due to our changing climate.

District horticulturalists store the dahlias, canna lilies, and other subtropical plants over the winter at DNV nurseries so they can be used for display beds when the weather warms up.

“We also do our own propagation (creating new plants), so we have a lot of interesting and eclectic plants that have a wow factor for our annual beds,” says Gustafson.

The nursery that supplies the DNV with most of its annual plants also offers large exotic plants on loan to display for the summer season, like the must-see four-foot agave plant at the corner of Lynn Valley Road and East 29th.

A large floral display of black velvet and reddish yellow dahlias with a sign in the background that reads Lynn Valley.

Spring flowers

Spring bulbs arrive from the supplier in early October, and each one needs to be planted by the end of the month to trigger spring flowering.

And there are a lot of them. The display at Whey-ah-Wichen/Cates Park alone requires around 3,000 bulbs, and Gustafson estimates that 20,000-plus bulbs are planted annually around the District.

Generally, bulbs bloom between late February and April and end in May. That’s when crews return to pull all the bulbs out of the beds and turn the soil so it’s fluffy and light again for the annuals.

Daffodils and hyacinths reliably return year after year, so crews take them to a DNV nursery. To ensure the bulbs can be reused, they are first spread out on asphalt to dry out and then cleaned and stored in the dark until the fall, when they will be replanted.

So, how do the gardeners come up with new and creative floral displays across the District each year?

“They are given free rein to do whatever kind of design they want,” says Gustafson. “I expect them to research each type of bulb to make sure they come up at the same time, and the colours are going to match, and that there is some kind of cohesive design scheme.”

And that makes for some genuinely picture-worthy flower beds.


We welcome comments and discussion. However, to ensure that conversations remain respectful and positive for everyone, we review all comments prior to publishing them, to ensure they meet our community guidelines. Those that do not will not be published.