Talk about a group of untamed volunteers.
Joanna Blanchard and her team of four volunteers from the Leaside Garden Society were awarded first place for their piece in the Open Design category at Canada Blooms this year. The theme, ‘Horsepower,’ was inspired by the equestrian events at the Toronto PanAm/Parapan Am Games taking place this summer.
Blanchard started gardening at the age of six when she lived in England. She’s spent the last 35 years tending her garden in Toronto. This is her 18th year participating in Canada Blooms.
“I think it’s an obsession, not a passion,” she said in a phone interview.
According to Blanchard, every year the level of difficulty increases at Canada Blooms. It was particularly challenging for the team this year.
“It was very difficult,” she said. “(Horses) don’t have a whole lot to do with plants, and it was quite obscure what ‘Horsepower’ meant. The design has to co-ordinate with the surroundings and the team didn’t know anything about equestrian.”
The team faced another challenge when they had to source plant material that is in perfect condition when building the piece in February.
“The main challenge is access,” Blanchard said. “To see what is available at that time of the year and place it onto the design.”
According to Ursula Eley, who sits on the judging panel of Canada Blooms, judges not only consider the design of the piece, but also its culture perception. Leaside Garden Society excelled in both criteria, she said.
“It’s quite a stunning design,” Eley said. “We take into consideration how well the exhibitors have used the different components to come up with a beautiful design, which Leaside Garden Society has definitely done in this case. It’s definitely very eye-catching.”
The piece that Blanchard and her team created not only won first place in the exhibit, but also the prestigious Garden Clubs of Ontario Award for Best Exhibit in Class 36.
Blanchard said her team originally tried building a far more complicated structure, and then realized that perhaps less is more.
“It was a long and complicated process,” she said. “It took a lot of thought, a lot of effort and a lot of trial and error.”
To Blanchard, teamwork is what won the competition.
“I love the camaraderie,” she said. “I love working in groups. There is nothing in it for us, except for the fun of doing it.”