If you have ever wandered through Wascana Centre's Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Gardens, or Saskatchewan Government House's Edwardian Gardens in Regina, you may have wondered: "Who planted all these flowers and who looks after all these plants?" You are not alone. As remarkable as these gardens are, the entire contributions of the dedicated horticultural team of the Provincial Capital Commission (PCC) are even more impressive. The team is led by Horticulture Supervisor Steven Weir, and it is quite obvious that, after three decades, he still loves his work.
Steven, how do you describe what a horticulturist is?
For us at the PCC, our group of horticulturists are in love with plants. They look after the growing, development, care and maintenance of those plants, and that is a horticulturist in a nutshell.
We like to see plants grow. We want to make sure that the plants do their best. As a horticulturalist, you're looking for ways of propagating plants that might be better than other ways. You're a scientist; you're watching for disease and trying to figure out how to best treat or eliminate those diseases. You're a bit of an entomologist; you have to learn about the pests that sometimes come into your greenhouse crops and your outdoor crops and the best ways to work with those. We like to use as many environmentally safe means as possible.
What do you and the horticultural team do?
I look after all things horticulture on a day-to-day basis. I do all the sourcing, ordering, setting up the seeding and transplanting dates – the whole planting program. I direct my lead team of three who then organize their crews to implement those directions.
This is my 35th year with Wascana Centre. My first 12 years were seasonal in the maintenance department. When I was in maintenance, I was lucky enough to have an area where I was the only one who worked there, so I was able to work with plants besides my maintenance duties. It let me practise some things that definitely helped me when I got into the horticulture department. There was an opportunity to move over to horticulture in 1999. I started as a Horticulturist 2 and then progressed into a Horticulturist 3, which is the lead person for the crews that go out to the fields, and those are the people I work with directly as the current supervisor.
As the Supervisor of Horticulture for both Wascana Centre and Government House, I am responsible for the designing of all the flower beds. In the Queen Elizabeth II Gardens, there are about 40 flower beds and approximately 37,000 plants – it fluctuates from year to year. For Wascana Centre as a whole, there are close to 73,000 plants that we grow.
We also grow for the City of Regina, and they have about 42,000 plants. Wascana Centre and Government House are the main parts of the PCC. There are an additional 8,000 plants that we grow for Government House. It's been three years now that we have grown the plants for the RCMP Heritage Centre horse and rider topiary, and that adds an additional 14,000 plants. So, this year, we're growing around 140,000 plants in our three greenhouses.
We also do a lot of interior plant work. The University of Regina, the Legislative Building, Saskatchewan Polytechnic and our own head office are some of the buildings. You get to use your artistic abilities trying to put a little green space into a concrete building. Plant displays for various functions like convocation and long-service awards banquets also round out our work.
How far in advance do you start planning your garden designs, and how do you make decisions on which plants to use?
We are almost a year ahead of planting each year. Right now I'm going through the gardens, talking with my staff, finding out what's succeeding with certain plants.
We're looking through the catalogues, trying to get ideas for next year. You always try and incorporate tried and true with a few new varieties as well. And in September or October, I start making my designs for the flower beds and then start sourcing the seeds, and that's all done before December. Seeds come right away from our suppliers, and by the end of January we start seeding in the greenhouses so we can be ready to put them in the ground right after the May long weekend.
How many people are on your team, and why are they so special?
During the winter we are down to four staff, and that's basically to look after the interior work and displays that we have and start getting things ready for the upcoming season. Very lean during November, December, January and then staff start coming back. By planting time, we should be back up to 18.
Working outside also includes rainy days and pulling the flowers out of the beds in the fall when there is snow on the ground. For the staff, that's a challenge, but they're troopers. Hot temperatures like we've had recently – and the last few years there has been more and more of that – they have to watch out for each other, make sure nobody is overheating. There's a lot more to their job than just fluffing some flowers.
Our team is second to none. One thing that has been commented to me over the years: "Why are you guys always smiling? You're always happy over here." It's nice to hear that. In order to be that way, they must enjoy what they're doing. To surround yourself with a team that's like that, how can you beat it?
What do you find rewarding and inspiring?
Last year we were really worried, as everything was getting shut down due to COVID-19, that we may not be able to put the gardens in. It's so important, not only for keeping people working, but for the well-being of citizens so that they have a place to go. They can unwind, relax and forget about COVID. I think it was really important that we were able to put the gardens in last year.
When I hear the public coming through and commenting on what they're seeing, how they're feeling, wow, there's nothing like that. Those are the things that keep you going. That's the treat for me.
Horticulture to me is a life-long learning. There are things I'm still learning now about horticulture and plants, and that will go on.
We are continually trying to develop new programs to make Government House and Wascana Centre horticulture hotspots. We are able to spend a lot more time here in Wascana Centre's QEII Gardens because it's such a show piece. My mind is running like the hamster on the wheel with things that I'd like to try out here, or have the opportunity to at least get them set up so somebody else might be able to complete them after I retire. It is a real joy to be able to work in this environment.