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These herbs are grown for snipping, and Oak Bay guests sure do

Garden invites tasting, smelling and even conversation

Barbara Holst is convinced the chest-high garden at the corner of Mitchell and Granite street is magical.

“This is a healing garden,” she said, gesturing to the garden atop a rock wall. She specifically notes people are facing stress “like never before.”

For her, Jude Somers and Gord More, who tend the inviting Oak Bay space, are the magicians.

The garden is filled at times with sweet peas, shamrocks, clematis, and the ground cover that are More’s forte. He has mosses and a light green, small-leafed plant that boasts little yellow alien-like flowers.

That’s how some items are described, by the mirth or emotion they evoke rather than their traditional names. Informality is part of the allure, Somers figures. The snipping garden also helps, Holst said.

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A herb section immediately accessible to Mitchell Street walkers features a 20-odd year-old sign that says “this is a snipping garden” inviting guests to take some along. Someone swiped the sign one day, so Somers replaced it with another that had a small caveat at the bottom asking that the sign not be stolen. The original quickly reappeared among the herbs.

Somers calls it a performance garden, in part because of its elevation over street level and its prominence near a church and the village. “It is fun because being on the corner all kinds of ages enjoy it,” she said.

Whatever the reason – the garden or gardeners – the spot brings out the characters.

One resident, now moved, made the herb garden a resting point on neighbourhood walks and would stop to chat with the cat, who also seemed to enjoy the exchange.

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One day, Somers was weeding and a bit hidden when she heard an exchange that still makes her smile. She heard two teen boys walking up the street, and suddenly felt the air of swagger and teen-ness disappear, replaced by boy-like wonder as one shared a childhood memory with the other. The curry plant, he explained to his friend, presumably grabbing a sprig and rolling it between his fingers, smells like curry. He’d been enjoying that scent, in that garden, since childhood.

“It made my heart glow,” Somers said.

The characters have come and gone over the decades for a variety of reasons. One older regular blithely stopped by to warn Somers she was moving – not dead.

A sharing garden developed naturally, Somers said. It was easy, so she did it.

The couple has received cards, small gifts, waves, smiles and even a bottle of wine in thanks for sharing their garden. When people move away from the community or downsize homes, they leave lovely plant pots to help grow the garden – about 100 to date – sometimes with bulbs already planted.

“It’s nice people say thanks and keep picking the herbs, it keeps them healthy,” Somers said.

People frequently ask her “why don’t the deer eat it?” The short answer is sometimes they do, but they do use an Auntie Deer Spray and keep a stack of printouts of the recipe by the front door – the request for it is so frequent.

Auntie Deer Spray

for a 40-ounce bottle

1 strained egg

1/4 cup milk or yogurt

1/4 teaspoon cooking oil

1/4 teaspoon dish soap

10 drops of essential oil (they use cloves but others work)

Mix ingredients and pour into a spray bottle, top with water and go for it.

In rainy season the Oak Bay gardeners suggest spraying every other day, otherwise every few days does the trick.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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