Blooming on the reserve

Diana Yeager/NNSL photo Irene Graham, second from right, guides her niece Amaila Norn in planting a flower in one of the 10 flower beds she and her family will be maintaining on the Hay River Reserve. Looking on are Graham's children Tobias, left; Monique, second from left; and Xavier, right.

Diana Yeager/NNSL photo
Irene Graham, second from right, guides her niece Amaila Norn in planting a flower in one of the 10 flower beds she and her family will be maintaining on the Hay River Reserve. Looking on are Graham’s children Tobias, left; Monique, second from left; and Xavier, right.

K’atlodeeche First Nation is getting a dash of colour, thanks to a dedicated volunteer and her family.

Irene Graham plans to fill her time this summer with tending to 10 garden planters in different spots around the Hay River Reserve, bringing her children along to help.

The mother of five said the planter boxes have been set up for a while but no flowers have ever been planted.

“They’ve been here for five years, just doing nothing,” she said of the boxes. “Now that I’ve got some time on my hands with my maternity leave, I wanted to make some use of them. It’s my way to give back to the community and make it more beautiful.”

The flowers are the fruit of Graham’s labour in making her life into what she wants it to be. Now sober for six months, she said the gardens are her way of maintaining a positive lifestyle.

“I’m replacing that time I used to spend on old ways with something new,” she said. “It’s a healthier lifestyle choice. I’d rather spend my time doing something positive and it helps to have something like this to fall back on. I want to look out for my kids and show them something positive.”

Also, with the recent unexpected loss of a family member, the gardening is helping her to keep occupied.

“This is how I’m going to keep busy,” she said.

Graham is also involving her children in planting and maintaining the gardens. The family has been keeping a large vegetable plot in the Old Village during the summer seasons but flowers are new territory for them.

“Lynn Lepine was a big help,” she said. “We got some good opinions from her. She knew what would work well.”

Graham brought her idea to the band office and it is supporting her project.

“I’ve got purchase orders for all the flowers and supplies, and they even gave me a truck to use,” she said.

One of the challenges with maintaining 10 planters will be keeping them hydrated. Graham has a pump system that runs up from the river for her own personal vegetable garden but the flower beds will require some extra time given that they are all in different locations.

“I was going to set up a pump and tank for the back of the truck but I’ve got to get these plants watered, so I am just filling up garbage cans and doing everything with buckets,” she said.

“It might be more than I can handle to keep this up all summer,” she said. “I will figure out a way to balance it. If I can manage five kids, I can do this.”

Graham said she would be happy to have some volunteers join her in caring for the plants.

“I called the school to see if they wanted to send some students to do their hours here,” she said. “If anybody else wants to help out, they are welcome.”

People have been responding positively to Graham’s project. She said that, as she has been planting, people have been driving by honking and waving to show their appreciation.

“I hope it inspires other people to make positive changes, as well,” she said.

–Diana Yeager