Memories of Early Days of the Alpine Garden Club of BC

by Art Guppy

Printed in Alpine Garden Club of BC 50th Anniversary Commemorative Issue #1 1955 to 2005 Vol.48, No. 1 Bulletin Winter 2005

The name “Alpine Garden Club”, actually goes back to about 1930 in Britain with the founding of the Alpine Garden Society. In our province that name was adopted in the mid-1950’s by a group of alpine garden enthusiasts led by Don and Iva Angerman. A short time earlier, a group of primula enthusiasts, among whom Roy and Margaret Boyce were prominent members, formed a club probably called the Primula Society, though its actual name is lost in the past. The two groups had so much in common they joined to form the Primula and Alpine Garden Society. (In those days the term “society” lacked the legal status it has today and was used rather informally.) Eventually, the Primula and Alpine Group became the Alpine Garden Club.

During the early 1950s I was a student at UBC, with my education being paid for by the taxpayers as a reward for having lugged a heavy rifle around for a time near the end of World War II. (Governments were much more generous in those days.) While walking about on the campus, I came upon a delightful little garden and fell into conversation with the man tending it. That man was George Boving, and he explained to me that it was an alpine garden – and so my botanical education began. I realize now that the education that started with my conversation with George Boving has become more valuable to me than all I learned from the courses at UBC, though the latter did enable me to earn a living as a teacher.

George invited me to see his garden at his home on West 4th Ave., and I received another injection of valuable knowledge. I remember George telling me he was having difficulty growing Cornus canadensis (which was just bunchberry to me at the time), and I was very surprised. I had spent my early years at Tofino, and there bunchberry seemed to be everywhere, but was especially common on old tree stumps. If I had known then what I know now, I could have given advice to the master, and told George to keep the plant slightly moist and to mulch it with old sawdust or decaying wood, which was the combination that made the plants grow so well at Tofino.

Of course George Boving was not the only member of what became the Alpine Garden Club who contributed to my education. Then, as now, the Club members have between them an immense wealth of knowledge, which rubs off on anyone associated with the group. A very early contributor to my education was Roy Boyce, who was an excellent flower photographer. From him I learned the fundamentals of photographing plants, especially wildflowers.

Having mentioned George Boving’s little garden at UBC, which to me at the time was quite wondrous, I must also mention that after George retired, that little garden was taken over by Karl Wrase, who made it even more wondrous. Those tiny little gardens were nothing compared with the very impressive gardens at UBC today, but they had their charm, and at a time when I was just beginning to learn something about botanical matters, they impressed me greatly. Karl had learned gardening in Europe and as a result his UBC garden was somewhat different from what one usually sees.

Two things in that garden have remained in my memory. There was an extremely beautiful group of Primula vialii, a species I had not previously seen, and the brilliantly colored spikes of bloom impressed me greatly. The unopened buds towards the tips of the spikes were crimson, while the open flowers of the lower part of the spikes were a contrasting bluish purple. Higher up in the garden was a plant so strange I am at a loss to think of anything to compare it with, and I must admit my memory of it has been somewhat blurred by time. It formed a large, low dome on the ground, with small flowers and leaves around the edge. At the time I was too unfamiliar with botanical matters to understand what I was seeing, but I think now the dome must have consisted of spent flowers and seed capsules. I have often wondered about the identity of that plant. It was scarcely beautiful, but it certainly was strange.

Although Karl was a quiet person, he did have some rather blunt things to say when the university bulldozed away his little alpine garden to make room for a new building. He and his wife were for many years members of the Alpine Garden Club. As he spoke little, he attracted little attention to himself, which was unfortunate, as we could have learned much from him.

Of the many botanizing trips shared by members of the Club, the ones I remember best were to Botanie Valley. On a trip in early June 1966, we hiked up the steep slope west of Botanie Lake to the rolling meadows with their awe-inspiring carpet of millions of yellow Erythronium grandiflorum blooms interspersed with the white of Claytonia lanceolata. On a trip toward the end of June, perhaps in the same year, we saw the same meadows clothed in a multicoloured cloak woven of Balsamorhiza sagittata, Lypinus arcticus, Delphinium nuttallianum, Castilleja hispida, and much, much more. On that trip I led the group to a little hollow with a small population of perhaps a dozen Lewisia pygmaea, which delighted everyone. The species is not showy, but its dwarf size and comparative rarity make it rather special. One lady was so impressed that when the rest of us moved on, she remained behind and collected the entire population! In those days collecting in the wild was not frowned upon as it is today, but that lady was certainly terribly carried away by her excitement. However, to put things in perspective, I must mention that about that time the hillside to the west of Botanie Lake, which had numerous plants of Cypripedium montanum and many other lovely things, was logged of its rather stunted trees, and in the process deep gullies were cut across the slope, destroying millions of plants and depositing a vast amount of silt in the lake. Today my memories of Botanie, including the Club trips are both happy and somber.

Regarding the lady who collected Lewisia, she is long dead, and I think that Peggy Guppy and I are the only ones who know who did it.

 

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About Art Guppy

Art spent over 70 years studying and writing about native plants of the Pacific Northwest from BC to California, especially the genus Erythronium and related plants. This site is a compilation of his work for the benefit of naturalists everywhere.
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