It’s that thyme to compete – Yards in Bloom brings out best of gardeners

Velma Rowe waters the plants outside her Hay River home on July 13, and isn’t discounting the possibility of competing in Yards in Bloom.

 For three weeks every summer, Hay River residents get a chance to showcase their green thumbs and win admiration from fellow gardening enthusiasts – not to mention a few prizes, too.

Between July 16 and Aug. 6, more than 30 volunteers will be scouring properties across six regions of Hay River in search of flower and garden arrangements appealing to both the eyes and nose.

Linda Carman, co-ordinator of the Yards in Bloom program, said the group’s main goal is to encourage people to make their living spaces tidier, more beautiful and visually appealing.

A sub-group of the Hay River Beautification Committee, Yards in Bloom picked up steam a few years ago when Carman and a couple of other volunteers, Marilyn Barnes and Faye Stark, decided to split Hay River into regions and classes, handing out more awards and prizes.

The top level, or master class, is for past winners and includes property owners who have had professional landscaping done. Winners in the second class, amateurs, also get bumped up to the higher category the following year.

We shake it up so that it prevents the same people from winning all the time, which is what used to happen,” Carman said. “If someone in the master class hasn’t won in the past three years, we allow them to go down to the amateur class.”

The competition is open to virtually anyone, businesses included, even those limited by space – the containers class allows people with balconies to participate, too.

It doesn’t have to be the whole yard,” Carman said. “It can be the front or the back. Basically it’s whatever people want to show us.”

After noticing judges weren’t quite sure what they were supposed to award points for, the group developed a criteria and points system, with five sections totaling 25 points. Each class has its own criteria sheet.

Every winner gets a cash prize, which ranges from $25 to $150. More importantly to some is the sign they also receive, an emblem they proudly display on their properties for all to see.

It’s a fulfilling endeavor for Carman, who grew up in a gardening family with parents who would try to grow anything.

My dad was able to grow McIntosh apples in Alberta, in a climate where they normally can’t grow,” she said. “This project is a great opportunity to see what people can do. I’ve seen people start from scratch and build absolutely beautiful gardens.”

Last year, the judges looked at 328 properties, excluding businesses.

On the third and final week of competition, a group of five judges spend an evening looking at the 12 best gardens and decide on an overall winner, whose identity is unveiled on Aug. 18 as part of an annual brunch.

With a fairly limited budget hovering around $3,000, the program organizes fundraisers and silent auctions in order to keep going.

Residents can participate by nominating their favorite yard by ballot at the library, town hall or recreation centre, or they can become a judge and help decide the winners.

by Myles Dolphin