Visitors on a guided walking tour (Photo by NCC)

Visitors on a guided walking tour (Photo by NCC)

A decade in bloom

Camas flowers in bloom (Photo by NCC)

Camas flowers in bloom (Photo by NCC)

April 30 marked the 10th annual In Bloom Wildflower Festival at the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve near Duncan, Vancouver Island. Many enthusiasts arrived prior to the 10 a.m. start, eager to begin celebrating spring, and guests continued to show up throughout the day. They had the chance to learn about the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) while grabbing some free coffee at the welcome tent, then embark on a self-guided tour around the preserve. Long-time volunteer Larry White also led guided walking tours every hour.

The Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve is NCC's flagship property in the Cowichan Valley. In Bloom opens this normally off-limits conservation area to the public to exhibit the value and impact of NCC's work. Veteran visitors mingled with first-timers as they trekked along the single-file trail designed to protect the wildflowers that speckle the meadow.

This year, speckle was an understatement. The camas formed a vibrant purple blanket across the preserve's upper field, with shooting stars and spring gold adding accents of pink and yellow.

Guests shared information with each other and the knowledgeable volunteers who ran each station on the tour. Volunteers are key to the success of the preserve. They gather on "Weedy Wednesdays" to pull invasive plant species, tend the native plant nursery and tackle other tasks to support the ongoing stewardship of the preserve.

Old traditions and new additions

In a tall oak visible from the path, a great horned owl perched with two young, causing a ripple of excitement among guests. The owl could be viewed more closely through a scope at the bird-watching station.

“Information stations” — an In Bloom tradition — also included the native plant adoption centre, Coast Salish storytelling and traditional plant use with a local Cowichan elder, Doug August Sr., nature-inspired pottery by Cathi Jefferson and a tractor ride to the wetlands portion of the preserve. Hopping aboard the tractor was a fun way for visitors and staff to connect, though its efficiency as a means of transport is questionable! A second wildlife station celebrated the success of the Bring Back the Bluebirds project, which has succeeded in reestablishing western bluebirds in the Cowichan Valley after an absence of more than 20 years.

Tractor rides during In Bloom (Photo by NCC)

Tractor rides during In Bloom (Photo by NCC)

Chirpy tree swallows flitted through the trees above the clearing where the day's Nature Talks took place. The first talk of the day featured forest ecologist John Dick discussing ecosystem rehabilitation. Irvin Banman offered his expertise as the steward of the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, recounting the history of the land from its uses for Indigenous people pre-colonization, to the land's possession by the influential Elkington family in the 1800s and finally to NCC's purchase of it in 1999 and current land stewardship program.

The talks had no shortage of variety: the afternoon continued as poet Maleea Acker told her humour-filled story of converting her front yard into a native plant meadow, which provoked calls to the municipal bylaw officer but ultimately resulted in changing a Saanich bylaw in favour of native ecosystem restoration on residential lots. BC Regional Vice-president, Linda Hannah, wrapped up the day with a casual Q and A about NCC's values and aspirations.

A decade of successful In Bloom Wildflower festivals culminated in this year's anniversary event, which drew more than 250 visitors. Everyone left with a smile, and a piece of celebratory cake.

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