Jess Paul of Regina began volunteering with the Regina Garden Associates after she became a mother. Over the years, her enthusiasm grew and she became head of the organization, which is made up of volunteers who operate and maintain the Regina Floral Conservatory. The facility provides a place for plants and flowers to thrive in an environment used by the public for gardening-related workshops, private events, and for people who want to stop and smell the roses.
(This article was originally published in the April 3, 2013 edition of QC.)
(Photo by Bryan Schlosser, Regina Leader-Post)
Q: Everyone loves flowers, but how do you describe the appeal of the conservatory?
A: The place has a bit of a healing vibe to it. The air is fresh and it’s a very refreshing place to go. There is a whole sensory experience behind it. You get to see all the beautiful bright colours; there is always a great scent. And there are textures. We have succulents and cacti. Also, the air that you breathe because of the plants just seems that much better . . . I read a quote the other day that said “a flower is the truest expression of love.” I think that is interesting.
Q: Who owns and operates the conservatory at 1450B 4th Ave.?
A: I am the president of the Regina Garden Associates. And we are the non-profit organization that operates the conservatory. The building is owned by the City of Regina. There was a partnership that was formed in 1999 between the association and the city. So the city oversees the building and the maintenance. They look after the heat, the water and those types of things.
Q: And your organization runs the place?
A: Yes. The Regina Garden Associates operates the conservatory itself and its displays. We do all the design work and we put on all of the workshops and that kind of thing.
Q: What drew you to the facility in the first place?
A: When I joined, I was a new mom. I was looking at ways I could get out of the house. I always loved flowers so that is how I got involved.
Q: What did you do?
A: I volunteered my time by doing maintenance. So I’d show up with a stroller and I’d dig in the dirt. It was great to be able to get my hands dirty.
Q: Other than allowing people to visit to see the plants and flowers, what happens there?
A: Once a month, we put on a little gardener’s club. So we have recruited a few volunteers through that.
Q: Is it popular?
A: Last year, we put on a little gardener’s workshop once a month. And this year, we’ve doubled that because it was such a popular program.
Q: What other things happen there?
A: We have school tours come through here and we have volunteers who follow the school curricula so we try to match that with the age groups as they come in for a tour.
Q: How does the funding work?
A: The city provides some of the funding for plant materials. But the rest of our funding comes other sources. For instance, we rent the facility out for weddings, parties, baby shows and those sorts of events. We offer some programming, like family days and the little gardeners workshops. And we also receive some donations.
Q: Are you saying that there are no employees?
A: Correct. None. Everything is done completely by volunteers. There are no paid employees, which is pretty rare these days.
Q: Do you think the city should have staff to help run things?
A: Part of the problem is that this discussion has never been formally opened, I suppose. Because we are volunteers, we only have so many resources. We’re all busy people. It’s only in the last couple of years that we have tried to build the organization and reach out to partners in the community. I would think that in the next couple of years, those sorts of discussions might be happening with the city and with other organizations that haven’t been reached out to before.
Q: Do you have trouble recruiting volunteers?
A: With any volunteer organization, our volunteer base is definitely aging. I am probably one of the younger members of the organization. We have a lot of people who are retired and volunteering. But we also have people who are retiring from volunteering, so we have been spending the last year or so in a building phase, which means we have been working to make sure our organization is as strong as possible before we take a next step and look at a new building.
Q: Are there a lot of people interested in helping?
A: We have seen a lot of new members, and a lot of young members, join our organization in the last year. We have reached out to our community in a number of ways. One of the big ways is through social media. We have an active Twitter and Facebook page. And now we are on Instagram. We started up a new monthly e-newsletter.
Q: It sounds like education is a big part of the conservatory.
A: Getting to know about gardening at an early age is important and I think more and more people are starting to grow things themselves, whether it’s flowers or vegetables. We have family days, and we hold them about five times a year. We invite people to come in and hold a variety of activities. We talk about composting with worms or how to plant bulbs. There is a big education component to what we do. And we get some sponsorship in that regard. We get a lot of people who come in from local seniors’ homes for an afternoon, or sometimes, Wascana Rehab will send in some of their patients and caregivers to spend some time.
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