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South Slave

These stunning Hay River gardens are brightening a rough year

After the town’s worst flood in decades, some Hay River residents have found hope in gardening – doing all they can to sustain bright colours during hard times.

Rosie Wallington, a longtime Hay River resident, says knowing she had a garden waiting gave her something to look forward to during the stress of having to leave when the flood hit.

“I start things as early as February sometimes – inside, of course,” she told Cabin Radio.

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“I then start putting things outside as early as May in the warm days, but then bringing them back in at night. I don’t leave things outside permanently in the ground until June.

“So, it’s a process. It takes a long time and I care a lot about it. Just the hope of coming back and seeing that things were still alive, when I thought they were going to be dead, was so helpful.”

Walllington spends many hours a week in her garden while her daughter plays in the yard, and says she loves spending time watering plants and watching things grow.

Her favourite part of her garden is the flower pot in the front yard, which is an old boat that had floated down to a vacant lot in a flood several years ago.

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Rosie Wallington’s front yard garden. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio

“No one claimed it, so we went and picked it up, and it’s been here as a garden ever since,” she said.

Other plant beds in her garden are made from the wood of her neighbours’ old fencing, as well as old bathtubs.

Wallington acknowledged how many people had their gardens destroyed in the flood, calling herself both “lucky and thankful.” She is sharing flowers and plants with friends who lost theirs.

“We’re going to regrow. We’re going to rebuild,” she said.

‘I just love flowers’

Delaila Thomson has lived in her home since 1998 and worked on her garden ever since.

Thomson didn’t experience any water damage other than a line on her fence, about a foot from the ground, showing the high water mark.

Her garden is her favourite place to be, she says, with her dog Stitch.

Delaila Thomson and Stitch in Thomson’s garden. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio

“I’m by myself here, so this is what I do. It seems like I’m always going: home, work, home, work. So, when I’m home, Stitch and I stay out here – if it’s nice out, sometimes until 12 or one in the morning,” she said.

Thomson says the colours of the flowers helped her get through this year’s flooding.

“I love the colours. I love sitting out here and just looking at all of them. I find them really helpful and I’m not so stressed when I see them.,” she said.

“I started gardening because I just love flowers, and now I never want to leave my garden.”

‘It’s a little bubble’

Cindy Haley spends all day in her garden during the summer, and has spent the last 20 years making it into the space it is today.

The garden represents Haley and her family well, she says, as she often invites her daughters and grandchildren to help her. Features around the garden include a “troll hole”, a “fairy garden” and a homemade checkerboard using stones painted to represent bees and lady bugs.

Stone patterns occupy the walkway into the garden, each one with meaning.

“These ones are in the shape of Alberta, because my husband was born in Alberta,” Haley explained, pointing to one set of stones.

“And this one is in the shape of Inuksuk because I was born in the Northwest Territories.”

Stones in the shape of Alberta in Haley’s yard. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio

Growing up, Haley’s grandmother had a big garden, just like hers.

“She had the most amazing yard – big trees, paths going through her garden,” Haley recalled.

“Her vegetable garden, it was just amazing. I always wanted to have a grandma garden.

“It’s a little bubble out here. I don’t have to pay attention to anything else.”

Haley’s has a vegetable garden with zucchinis, cucumbers, beets and other veggies, as well as flowers, homemade displays such as a dishpan garden – flowers planted in a shallow plot with broken dishes – and even willow trees.

“This is my twisted sister,” Haley said, pointing to a willow tree whose branches have been braided.

A “twisted sister” willow tree in Haley’s garden. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio

“I bought two gnarly little plants – a blackcurrant and something else. I didn’t want my husband to run over them in the winter with skidoos and stuff, so I grabbed a bundle of sticks from the shed,” she said.

“I stuck one in the ground to mark where they were and, in the spring, the willow started growing.”

To add some humour to her garden, Haley has worked with her grandkids to create signs. “It’s thyme to turnip the beet,” one reads. “In case of zombies,” a sign declares on a shed bearing pitchforks. In the front yard, a plaque reads: “On this site in 1887, nothing happened.”

A sign in Cindy Haley’s yard. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio

‘I started with fake flowers’

Lilia Alexander, one of Hay River’s most well-known gardeners, has a yard full of bright flowers. Multiple times a day, she can find herself offering visitors pastries and cold drinks as they tour the garden.

Her hobby however, began with fake flowers.

“I just liked how the fake flowers looked,” she said.

“They were so colourful. But they get dusty, so I’d spend a lot of money on nice ones, then I’d stand and spray them off with water to get the dust off.

“Then I thought, why don’t I just get real ones if I also have to water my fake ones?”

Alexander says she’s thankful her garden wasn’t damaged in the flood so she can host visitors who were affected, or who don’t have the time or ability to create a garden of their own.

Lilia Alexander with her garden
Lilia Alexander with her garden. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio

“I spend all my time out here. People walk by and I invite them in. We eat, we talk, and then they leave, and they tell their friends – who come later on,” she said.

“It’s very busy, but I love it, and so does my husband. We are very lucky to be able to share this with our friends.”

One such friend, stopping for a visit on a recent summer day, described their awe at Alexander’s achievement.

“It’s just the most beautiful place to come and sit. Everyone loves Lilia and her garden, everyone’s always talking about it,” they said.

“I would sit here all day if I could. It’s such a break from the rest of the world.”

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