Summers on her aunt’s Quebec farm gave Jocelyne Sewell her first taste of gardening.
“We lived in Quebec City and my family didn’t garden so I think that’s where I got my love of gardening,” she said.
It was years until she had her own garden. She came to British Columbia and worked as a cook on a Canadian Coast Guard weather ship 500 miles off the coast of Victoria and would be at sea for seven weeks at a time. She met her husband, Tom, who also worked on the ship, and in 1982 they settled on Vancouver Island.
“A friend gave me some organic gardening books to read and I decided to have a garden. It looked like it was very easy,” she said with a smile.
“My first garden I had more weeds than anything else.”
The couple bought two acres in Mill Bay in 1983 and decided to build and garden on it. The land was basically rocks with a few trees. Sewell rethought easy but she was determined to have an organic garden.
“We used the rocks for pathways and the trees that had to be cut down for raised beds. Tom built everything we needed, from the compost boxes to cold frames to a deer fence,” she said.
They raised lambs, chickens, rabbits, ducks and pheasants, some fruit trees and lots of vegetables. It wasn’t long before the produce was winning awards at local fairs. In 1989, the garden was featured in Organic Gardening magazine.
In 1991, Tom, who had kept working as a shipwright, took early retirement so they could travel and they later bought land in the Kootenays and started another garden from scratch.
The Sewells moved to Vernon in 2005 looking for a place with a smaller garden and found it on the sunny slopes of Bella Vista.
“I started all over. There were just a few roses, one little rhubarb plant and some overgrown junipers,” said Sewell.
“We re-used the rocks and Tom built what I wanted. I plant my garden and a garden for my neighbour. I always plant extra for the food bank.”
The garden has raised beds, grapes she started from cuttings, self-planted elderberry and Saskatoon bushes and high bush cranberries. Sewell starts all her own plants and sells some at the Lumby Farmers’ Market. There was still lettuce in the cold frame in early January.
Water is caught in rain barrels and used only as needed, with hand watering making the most of the resource. Sewell grows most of the couple’s food with two freezers full of produce, including the bounty of 99 tomato plants last year.
“My garden keeps growing each year as the beds take over the lawn,” she said, picking a weed that was daring to show itself. “I love everything that goes with gardening, even the weeding and pruning. I just love plants and I always try new or unusual varieties to see what they will do. I see some buds on the bushes and the plants now. That’s not good. It’s too early. The garden should be sleeping now.”
Sewell is up and gardening early on summer mornings before it’s too hot to garden.
“We sit and relax and enjoy the garden in the afternoon,” she said.