Inspiring Gardens

Denman Home and Garden Tour—set for May 9 and 10— showcases the unique features of Island living.

With a prototype designed, the manufacturing process secured, and the “Reduce Your Pawprint” logo designed, WAGZ put out an official call for denim cast-offs in October 2008.  They expected to receive a couple of hundred pairs of blue jeans during an initial flurry of interest.  Six months later, Weston grins as he sits in a wicker chair in his pet food store.  He is still surrounded by stacks of donated denim!

Rose Fulcher and Brian DesLauriers from the Beaufort Association show Bill Weston the latest Wagz Bagz they have created.

Rose Fulcher and Brian DesLauriers from the Beaufort Association show Bill Weston the latest Wagz Bagz they have created.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

“We have received over 1,000 pairs of jeans so far and people keep coming in to drop off more,” he says proudly.  “What really surprised me at first was that it wasn’t just our regular clients who were bringing us blue jeans.  We are seeing people of all ages, from all walks of life—both pet owners and non-pet owners alike!   Last fall, people who had never been in the store before would walk past our window display stacked with old jeans and then come in to ask what they were all about.  The next time we saw them they would have a big smile and some jeans to donate.”

Adds Wendy Scott:  “People are so happy that their old jeans can finally be put to good use,” she says.  “And being practical is exactly what Wagz had in mind when we began researching cloth bags as an alternative to plastic bags for our customers.”

Not only had the folks at Wagz underestimated the generosity of the people in the Comox Valley and beyond, they were soon reminded that jeans come in vast range of colors. Denim comes in every shade of blue, as well as a rainbow of other hues, including grey, black, white, purple, pink, green and more.  The creative people at Beaufort have fun using this broad color palette of cotton fabric, which helps ensure that every single Wagz Bag is truly unique.

Weston and Scott are thrilled that they also under-estimated the popularity of WAGZ Bagz.  Initial guesstimates were to produce and sell about 100 bags at $5.99, plus taxes. Today, more than 200 bags have already been sold and Weston recently received a call for a special order of 100 bags from the owner of a bike repair shop.  The business owner wants to substitute Wagz Bagz for the plastic bags he now uses to hold the various parts for each bike as it is being repaired. Wagz Bagz were perfect, he said, because their durability allows them to be washed and re-used over and over again.

Banking on the success of Wagz Bagz, Wagz and Quest are now embarking on a new project that expands the product line and further promotes the “Reduce your Pawprint” branding.  They are now accepting donations of fleece and “faux fur” fabric to make dog toys and pet beds with removable covers.

At Wagz, this dogged determination, dedication and commitment to environmental responsibility does not start or stop with shopping bags.  It is woven into the corporate culture of the company.  Everything sold in the store has been substantially researched to ensure it is as environmentally friendly as possible.  Pet products, such as toys, clothing and beds, must be durable, have minimal product packaging, contain earth-friendly or recycled materials, and be manufactured using environmentally responsible processes.

Animal foods must meet the same criteria but also must contain healthy, natural ingredients.  Much of the pet food is raw and frozen product from 10 different manufacturers.  It is contained in a dozen or so freezers that fill the back of the store. Even the poop bags they sell are biodegradable!

“Wagz doesn’t see itself as a store that simply sells pet food and accessories,” says Scott. “We promote respect for companion animals, social and environmental responsibility, and building community.  Our mandate is to help families care for their animal companions by educating them about healthy lifestyles for dogs and cats, by supporting community initiatives that nurture healthy lifestyles for people and pets, and by providing products that are healthy for animals, our community and our planet.”

By interacting with and educating their clients (human and animal) Wagz employees develop relationships that, in many cases, blossom into genuine friendships.  Although the company has only been in business for about five years, they are thoroughly enjoying being a part of the lives of many of the dogs and cats in the Comox Valley.  They love it when clients bring in newly-acquired puppies and kittens for a meet and greet.  And, as emotionally difficult as it as it may be at times, they also cherish the times when a client brings in a geriatric pet for a final farewell.

Wagz community involvement also includes support of many no-kill animal rescue associations and individuals who rescue dogs and cats.  And they sponsor a monthly ‘Wagz Walkers’ event to raise money for Lilli House.  In addition to raising money, the Wagz Walkers further reduce our environmental pawprint by promoting walking as a healthy lifestyle option.

“To truly reduce our environmental pawprint, we have to consider both the environment, the community as a whole, and the individuals within that community,” says Weston. “We have to do more than simply reuse a shopping bag.  The Wagz Bagz project provides multiple benefits for everyone.  People feel good about donating their jeans; Beaufort participants who make Wagz Bagz get paid for what they are doing, while gaining valuable work experience on a fun project.  And we can offer our clients trendy, affordable and genuinely earth-friendly bags.”

“We are grateful that the community has supported this project so well,” adds Susan Bunn of the Beaufort Association. “And we are grateful that Wagz asked the Beaufort Association to partner with them on this unique project.  Wendy and Bill’s commitment to the environment and vision of community make this project possible and ensures a ‘win-win’ for everyone.”

If you would like more information on Wagz Bagz or to donate jeans, fleece or faux fur fabric, drop by Wagz Lifestyles for Dogs and Cats, 463 5th Street, Downtown Courtenay or call 250.338.6716.

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Jimmy Tait’s garden is one of 10 spots to visit on the Home and Garden Tour.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

I really want to move to Denman Island…” a visitor to my Denman home said to me recently, discount RX
“…because I really want to garden.”

I nodded knowingly, as if his words made perfect sense.

However, this guy was not from the desert, the frozen North, an urban centre or anywhere else that could be considered inhospitable to gardens. No, he was from Comox, a place that, in theory, has all the same garden resources as Denman Island: a mild coastal climate, lots of rain, reasonable soil and proximity to natural, organic matter for nourishment (seaweed from the ocean, manure from nearby farms).

Denman Island’s reputation as a garden isle extraordinaire doesn’t seem to rest on anything objective, measurable or perhaps even logical. Yet, there is no doubt that this sparsely populated 5-by-19-kilometre strip of forested rock in the Georgia Strait, a 10-minute ferry ride from Buckley Bay, is home to an inordinate amount of exceptional gardens and gardeners.

This is never more evident than during the annual Denman Island Home and Garden Tour, now in its 18th year. The tour brings in up to 1500 visitors annually from all over BC, and sometimes further afield, many returning faithfully year after year, is written up regularly in dozens of publications, and was recently recommended by the Globe and Mail as one of Canada’s top six horticultural events.

As 10 sets of dedicated homeowners and a volunteer cast of close to 200 people gear up for this year’s tour, set to take place May 9 and 10 (the first ever May tour), it seems a good time to inquire into what makes this Gulf Island, and its long-lived tour, stand out in BC’s fertile gardening world.

Writer and broadcaster Des Kennedy, whose home and garden has always been one of the tour’s big draws (this year he and partner Sandy are taking a break), has a few theories on why gardening runs so rampant on Denman.

“It’s a complicated question, involving a number of different facets. For one thing, historically, this has been a ‘growing place’ with long-established orchards, the Japanese market gardens, etc. When we newcomers first showed up in the early 70s, self-sufficiency was high on many agendas, and a lot of people plunged into vegetable growing. For us, and others, the mania for ornamental gardening came a bit later. It was definitely food first!

“I see the local outbreak of ornamental growing as an intrinsic part of the artistic expression that goes on around here,” says Kennedy. “We have a disproportionate per capita number of accomplished gardeners, just as we do of potters, painters, writers, dancers, etc. It comes as no surprise that a community heavily weighted towards artistic endeavour would focus on gardening as the perfect fusion of artistry and nature, being as the place itself is one of natural beauty. Sort of like a mini version of Britain,” adds Kennedy, who hails from the British Isles.

Kennedy, wanting to be fair, points out that, in fact, Denman Island is not alone. “It’s also important to recognize that a lot of nearby communities, and especially a lot of the other islands, are similarly obsessed. The gardens of Cortes, and of some other islands, are at least the equal of those found here. So Denman is far from unique.”

Still, he recognizes that there is a mystique, a sense of special status, to Denman’s garden world.

“I think the annual tour—which was the first in the area, and successful from the get-go—has gone a long way towards establishing Denman’s position as a premier gardening locale,” he says.

Tobey Callaghan, a Home and Garden Tour stalwart whose property is on tour for the fourth time this year, agrees that history plays a role. He notes that Denman has traditionally had more farming than most Gulf Islands.

“There’s something about the combination of the old farmers who’ve been here for ages and the so-called hippies who came in the 70s to get back to the land,” he says. But equally important, he adds (and this is echoed by many other Denman gardeners), is the influence of key individuals in the community—accomplished and passionate gardeners who have shared their skills, knowledge and their plants with others in the community.

Sandy and Des Kennedy, of course, are often cited, partly because their garden, and home, are so absolutely amazing, and partly because of Des’ national renown as a garden writer and broadcaster. But another name that keeps coming up is Jimmy Tait.

And no wonder. Tait founded her garden in 1978 and has been steadily improving it ever since. She estimates that there are more than 1,000 different plants, including more than 5,000 daffodils. At 88 years old, this small-boned, delicate woman with a genteel British accent still does most of her gardening herself.