Saturday, 9 February 2013

Gardening Mentors Dr. Wilf Nichols

Greener pastures for garden director

Dr. Wilf Nicholls

By Mandy Cook

Dr. Wilf Nicholls of Memorial University’s Botanical Garden is moving from his role as director and will be taking up a new post as director of the Botanical Garden of the University of Georgia in Athens.

A native of London, England, Dr. Nicholls came to Memorial via the botanical garden of the University of British Columbia 13 years ago. Today, he says the opportunity in the United States presented itself at a good time in his life and in the life of the garden.

“As director of a Botanical Garden, no doubt we always have headhunters sniffing around,” he laughs during an interview. “Usually I say ‘forget it, I’m delighted where I am,’ but I have four to five years left before I retire, I have a couple of good friends down there and I think it’s time for some new blood here.”

Noting that Memorial’s botanical garden will soon be unveiling a new strategic plan, Dr. Nicholls says whomever takes on the role come September will have new skills to maximize the goals of the plan. Continuing to make connections with the community is one of those goals.

Dr. Nicholls says linking the work at the garden with school children, seniors, undergraduate and graduate students will continue to be a priority at the garden. As well, working with local groups such as the Community Food Sharing Association and hosting the Ken Proudfoot Potato Festival will remain a vital part of the garden staff’s mandate.

Asked what he will remember as highlights of his career at Memorial, Dr. Nicholls says one of his favourite things was to hear a visitor say, ‘You know, I’ve never been here before,’ or to host residents from seniors’ homes in the garden’s tea room. He also said he is proud of the garden staff’s work towards building awareness around the intrinsic importance of maintaining a garden within the university.

“Before my time, there were questions surrounding this place whether Memorial really needed a garden or not,” he said. “We’ve worked hard to make the garden be more than just a pretty place. It’s where a graduate student researches their thesis, or where I teach students, despite there being no department of horticulture or agriculture.”

Singling out garden staff, the garden’s board of directors and particularly the many lifelong volunteers – the Friends of the Garden – Dr. Nicholls says there are many unsung heroes who have dedicated hours of assistance and advocacy to help the garden flourish. It is this combined passion for flora and fauna in its natural form that Dr. Nicholls says he will remember.

As well, the freedom to walk out of the office and head out on the trail to walk amongst the conifers is a special memory he will take with him to Georgia.
“This garden, the natural areas here, you really get a feeling of safety, you feel one with nature. And you don’t have to go far to get there. That’s an unusual feeling for a garden.”

New television program gives regional perspective
Homegrown gardening advice

A new television program, hosted by Memorial’s own Dr. Wilf Nicholls, will bring even more gardening know-how to the people of this province. Homegrown, which airs on Sundays at 3 p.m. on NTV, has been a big hit since it started just a couple of months ago.
What began as an idea with Cle Newhook, executive director, Landscape Newfoundland and Labrador, producer Bill Coultas and Botanical Gardens director Wilf Nicholls, has turned into an educational foray into the local agri-food and agriculture industry.
“Gardening and horticulture is probably the fastest growing sector of the agri-foods industry,” said Dr. Nicholls. “Ornamental crops exceed the farm gate value of wheat or canola making them the most valuable crop in Canada – a fact that very few people realize.”

Each episode of Homegrown features someone from Landscape Newfoundland and Labrador talking about the local agri-foods business, a focus on an aspect of gardening, and a bug of the week from Peggy Dixon from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on Brookfield Road. There is also a regular feature called the Garden Patch which provides information on vegetable gardening with Tim Murray and Debbie Preston of Murray’s Garden in Portugal Cove. Funding for the show came from the Agriculture Policy Framework (APF), Landscape Newfoundland and Labrador, Film Development Corporation and NTV.

“We make sure that the information we give is correct and relevant so that it provides good practical information. It is useful to people just getting started or who have been gardening for years,” added Dr. Nicholls.

Plans are already underway to continue the show once this season runs out. The crew would like to travel to Labrador and talk about plant nutrition, fertilizers, organics and pruning.
This week’s show to air on Sunday, April 3, will feature landscape design with Pam Pippy and a visit to Dave Carew’s rock landscaping shop in Portugal Cove. Peggy Dixon will talk about cinch bugs, those pesky creatures that turn the grass brown.
“We hope the show sharpens peoples’ interest in gardening and their interest in the horticulture industry of Newfoundland and Labrador. We do too much importation right now, but hopefully through R&D we can start to produce our own and get into home-based production and export.”

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