By Ashlee Starratt
Marina from Halifax Perennials will be the first to tell you – she’s simply “a working Mom who loves flowers.”
For the home business owner, what started as an after-work hobby for the mother of young children – sourcing and selling mail-order bulbs and perennials – has blossomed into a meaningful homegrown endeavor that gives back to the community while offering customers a healthy selection of rare varieties.
“There are no employees, or a storefront,” she says. “Halifax Perennials is run as an after-work project that allows me to share my love of gardening. You can find unusual plants here too – raspberry and blackberry plants that can be grown in a pot or on a patio, as well as David Austin roses, yellow peonies, and one of the best collections of tree peonies in Canada.”
Coupling her passion for plants with a desire to provide a meaningful service to her community, Marina started the Plants for Non-Profits program shortly after launching Halifax Perennials in 2020.
Since then, the program has provided several non-profit organizations across Canada with perennials and bulbs for schools and community gardens, as well as for use in gardening therapy programs by organizations supporting at-risk youth and individuals recovering from addiction.
“I had heard great stories about restaurants feeding the homeless, and I thought: what a great idea! I felt this was an excellent opportunity to support non-profit groups,” says Marina.
“It’s an honour for me to be able to help in these projects. There was also a loving teacher and her amazing students who reached out to us too. The work by these individuals and groups inspired me to help – and I hope this little spark inspires others to help someone, too!”
Marina believes that the impact of gardening as a therapeutic act is one with widespread positive outcomes, and has focused the Plants for Non-Profits program in 2021 on helping those who could “benefit emotionally” from it.
“I thought that certain groups of Canadians might be going through a difficult time now,” she states. “Lockdown, the COVID-19 virus, losing (or the risk of losing) a job, not seeing relatives, and other factors might add one stress too many into people’s ‘emotion cup’.
And if at least someone can get distracted from every day’s life pressures, and at least try to grow a beautiful flower and take a break from whatever they are going through, then that would be a worthy project. Maybe gardening could help a few people learn new skills, build relationships with other gardeners, or not slide back to substance abuse.”
Having successfully aligned her entrepreneurial spirit and love of gardening into a hobby that brings her – and others – joy, Marina has a tip for would-be gardeners as spring comes knocking on Nova Scotia’s door.
“I’d say start with something simple. There is a wealth of knowledge available on the web – from planting bulbs to planning a large garden that will bloom all season long. Break it down into smaller, bite-size questions, find the answers, and create your own garden, even on a windowsill.”
It’s a tactic Marina has applied time and again before launching Halifax Perennials, with friends, peony collectors and “outstanding gardeners” offering her a wealth of information along the way – from popular varieties and reliable suppliers, to garden design ideas.
“I’m standing on the shoulders of giants,” she says. “I’m learning from them, one bite at a time.”
With a background in Physics and Computer Science and a fulfilling day job, Marina says she’s happy maintaining Halifax Perennials as a passion project.
“I want to keep this as a small hobby, manageable after work, and don’t have plans to expand. It has to be enjoyable and not overwhelming – so, many plants are available just in a small quantity. I ship plants by mail anywhere in Canada, and my kids help me pack the parcels.”
When asked what home gardeners should be looking forward to cultivating this spring in terms of new floral trends or perennial favourites, Marina tells us there are a few to keep on the radar.
“I love plants that are not very common but still easy to grow. I was getting requests for roses and clematis that can bloom well in a partially shaded spot, so I brought some in” she says. “I have a couple of David Austin (English) roses that survive our winters. More than half of these have been spoken for, and it’s not even planting season. They are very popular! I also have in stock a very hardy Campfire rose, blooming with yellow and pink on the same plant.”
Gladioli are another of her top spring picks. When planted two weeks apart, she says, they will also blossom two weeks apart – extending their blooming time. Flowerbed classics such as echinacea, broken hearts, and astilbes continue to be popular choices for any home garden.
As for Marina herself? She is looking forward to up to seven or eight months of blooms, arranging her plants in such a way that the small lawn in front of her house is full of blooms, late March through late October.
A perennial palette of colour if ever there was.
For gardening tips and updates on new stock – or to place your order – visit www.halifaxperennials.ca, or Halifax Perennials on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/halifaxperennials). Or, email email@example.com.