Vital People: Long-time Abkhazi Garden volunteers retire

Vital People: Long-time Abkhazi Garden volunteers retire
WatchTwo dedicated Abkhazi Garden volunteers are retiring from their retirement project. Tess van Straaten has their story in Vital People.

Every Monday morning — rain or shine — for more than a decade, Joe and Linda Harvey have been volunteering at Abkhazi Garden.

“It’s a gorgeous place,” Linda says. “There can’t be a better place to spend a few hours a week.”

Joe, a retired botanist, shares his passion for plants.

“People like plants because they’re so simple, they’re innocent, they represent friendliness,” the octogenarian says. “But to me, plants are dangerous. They’re full of toxins so I’m always fascinated by the chemistry, the defensive mechanisms, what they do, how they reproduce, how they travel, what their names are.”

Joe’s also created several new strains of flowers for the garden, which is operated by The Land Conservancy of British Columbia.

“I’m a plant breeder,” Joe explains. “I’m a plant geneticist by training so I like plants and I wanted to make crosses.”

Two of his most famous creations are the beautiful ‘Bella Bella’ magnolia tree and the ‘Abkhazi Princess’ tree peony.

“Abkhazi runs on 50 volunteers, but Joe and Linda really stand out,” says Abkhazi Garden executive director Cathy Armstrong.

Linda, a retired librarian, shares the incredible story of Prince Abkhazi, the son of an ancient line of kings on the Black Sea, and his wife, Peggy.

“It’s just a story of resilience and survival and joy,” says Linda. “I mean, look what they did after what they’d been through.”

The Abkhazis started work on the garden in 1946, the year they married and settled in Victoria, after being touched by tragedy and surviving prisoner of war and internment camps.

“They spent the next 40 years or so creating this magnificent garden, a wonderful legacy for everybody,” Linda says.

Joe — wearing yellow pants he got for 99 cents years ago so he would stand out — and Linda with her wealth of knowledge, love sharing that legacy with visitors in the garden that love built.

“His storytelling is legendary and Linda’s smile and gracious welcome with everyone has also kept the garden so warm and friendly, which is exactly what the Abkhazis did, so they’re keeping the spirit of the Abkhazis alive,” Cathy says.

But now, both well into their 80s, Joe and Linda are retiring from their retirement project.

They’re sad to go, but so grateful for their time here.

“We’re really blessed to be able to tell that wonderful story in this gorgeous little bit of paradise,” Linda says.

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Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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