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St. Albert Botanic Park buzzing with activity

Past president Patricia Bell passes the torch to president Lyn Reynolds

On the periphery of St. Albert’s bustling downtown core is an oasis of peace. The St. Albert Botanic Park, a long strip of land flanking the Sturgeon River, is slowly re-awakening after winter’s long sleep. 

Although the grass is a muddy brown, and bushes are still wrapped in burlap protecting them from a chill, volunteers have started nurturing tiny plants in the park’s two greenhouses in readiness for the annual Mother’s Day Rose Sale on May 7. 

Two green thumbs who donated more than their share of time and knowledge are past president Patricia Bell and the park’s new president Lyn Reynolds, who was elected in February for a two-year term. 

Bell passed the torch to Reynolds in February after serving as president for two consecutive terms. She was one of the original five board members who, along with John Beedle, Richard Plain, Ed Toop, and Gudrun Bublitz, dreamt of developing a botanic park. 

“John is often credited with it, but it was Richard’s idea. He is a big rose grower and wanted to see a rose garden developed for the public. At the time, John worked for the City and started building dioramas,” said Bell. 

The park board was incorporated in 1990 and for 12 years the fivesome kept the dream alive until more people volunteered. 

“Initially it was just four or five people. We all worked during the day and had busy lives. It was hard to recruit if you’re working. At times I thought we’d never get anywhere,” explained Bell, who comes from a self-employed background. She and her husband owned Shine City, a car cleaning business. 

Bell’s business savvy began at age 13 after her father put her in charge of book work for his trucking business, R & M Trucking, in Devon. Since he was in the oilfield business, the family moved around Alberta to other small towns, including Lodgepole, Breton, and Swan Hills. 

But the one constant in Bell’s life was her grandmother, a woman deeply passionate about planting and nurturing flowers and vegetables — a quality she passed on to her granddaughter. 

“She was curious about the process. She would always dig down in the soil to see what was happening, especially if it was something she’d never planted before,” Bell said. 

“It’s amazing that from this little seed, you get this plant. Some seeds are so small you can’t even see them, but you get this amazing plant and I think that’s what my grandmother liked, and that’s what fascinates me.” 

In recent years, the park area has expanded to its maximum physical limit. However, within the green space, projects continue to develop, such as experimentation with different plant breeds and the paving of Memory Lane, a fundraising campaign to develop a brick pathway for easy access to the park’s west corner. 

Although she works closely with Reynolds during this transition phase, Bell has more time to devote to special projects on her radar. One is loading informative gardening articles for our Zone 3 on the botanic park website. 

“I used to belong to the St. Albert Garden Club in the 1980s and I did the newsletter. In doing the research for those articles I learned a lot of things. Since I’ve already written the articles and the botanic park mission is to increase the knowledge base about gardening, I’d like to get more gardening information out there.” 

On the other hand, Reynolds, a retired teacher out of Cold Lake, noted she’s been gardening for 70 years.  

“I grew up in southwest Iowa and I’ve been gardening since I was four. We had a double lot with a huge garden and a big vegetable garden. I think my mother had a green fist,” laughs Reynolds. 

She moved to St. Albert to be closer to a granddaughter and volunteered at the botanic park starting in 2005. The first year she potted dahlias followed by multi-purpose jobs looking after the front office, planting, and working as the housekeeping hostess, as well as twice navigating policies on the park's elected board. 

While less comfortable working computers than Bell, the more outgoing Reynolds easily and comfortably slips into the role of a public speaker, a skill that hopefully will bolster volunteer numbers. Currently, the botanic park has a running tally of 40 to 50 volunteers. She hopes to increase numbers by encouraging more retired seniors to join the relaxed social atmosphere as well as students requiring volunteer hours for credit. 

“It’s outdoors and it’s basically a very safe activity,” Reynolds said. 

For the present, Reynolds will continue to pave the way for Memory Lane and events such as the Rainmaker Rodeo Parade. 

“For the Rainmaker, we’re partnering with Salisbury at the Enjoy. It’s one way to involve ourselves in the community,” she said. “As for the future, we can’t expand physically. We have a lot of beautiful beds to maintain. Right now, our big project is the Memory Lane Pathway. We would also like to do a Canada Day Strawberry Tea and get back to normal. The last two years, because of COVID, we had an increased number of visitors in the park, and we’d like to continue that.” 

The park’s next big project is the Mother’s Day Rose Sale on Saturday, May 7. This year, there are only 175 roses for sale. Due to fires, flooding, and disease, certain British Columbia and American greenhouses were unable to ship the expected number of flowers. However, volunteers will supplement roses with perennials and baskets of annuals.

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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