Stratford volunteer gardeners win $ 25,000 from Communities in Bloom

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Everyone in Stratford knows the must-see Bernie van Herk front yard on Huron Street.

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Everyone in Stratford knows the must-see Bernie van Herk front yard on Huron Street.

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Over the course of four decades, van Henk’s colorful gardens have expanded to include water features, life-size prints honoring the Stratford Festival, a windmill reminiscent of the one near his childhood home in Holland, and a section lovingly dedicated to his late wife, Barb.

Passers-by often ask for photos, a request van Herk is always happy to oblige, and his work has not gone unnoticed with the city’s Communities in Bloom committee, which presented him with an award for the first time. in 2019.

Two years later, van Herk’s meticulously manicured front yard is no longer a local secret.

Communities in Bloom, this time the national nonprofit based in Milton, recognized van Herk’s gardening skills with a Canada-wide award this month, as part of a very successful year for the committee. of Stratford volunteers at the Communities in Bloom National Awards and Community Showcase.

“I couldn’t get over it,” said van Herk, 85, a nursing attendant at Stratford General Hospital for 35 years before his retirement. “I was really happy.”

The Communities in Bloom local committee has been very busy during the pandemic by participating in the national organization’s Hope Grows campaign.

Challenged to focus on the color yellow, the color of hope, Communities in Bloom volunteers added magnolias to the Ted Blowes Memorial Garden, planted and donated hundreds of thousands of sunflower seeds to Stratford and participated in two public art projects in Centennial Park. They have also worked on the Shakespearean Gardens, Avondale Cemetery, the Festival Theater, and the gardens outside various public buildings in recent months.

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Their work was also recognized nationally, earning them the Communities in Bloom Grand Prize: A $ 25,000 Landscape Design Package.

Local committee member Barb Hacking said the victory was emotional.

“I was crying,” she said. “It was very exciting and we can’t wait to see what the… prize brings to Stratford.”

After becoming an honorary member two years ago, van Herk has played an important role in the effort. He donated dozens of sunflowers and canna lilies and helped with weeding and watering.

“It wouldn’t have happened without Bernie,” Hacking said. “The way he moves, I would say he acts more like 21 than 85.

“We can learn so much from our older residents and Bernie taught me a lot during the summer, like these canna lilies, how to save them for the winter so that I can have them again next year. He’s an amazing guy.

Van Herk has been interested in gardening for years, but lately this hobby has been particularly important to him. Without his wife, who died a few years ago, the father of two has spent much of his time in isolation due to the pandemic.

“(Gardening) gave me an opportunity,” van Herk said, adding that he and Hacking had “been a really good team” recently.

They don’t yet know how they will spend their landscaping package, but van Herk is sure of one thing.

“We’re going to go big,” he said.

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