When Rob Harris was a peacekeeper in the late 1980s, a fragrant scent accompanied his daily patrols in Syria’s Golan Heights. Years later, when he took over Le Coteau Nursery in a bid to keep learning in his 50s, he finally discovered the source.
“I never knew what it was until I started getting citrus in and it bloomed and I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness that is what that smell was,” said Harris.
Founded in 1956 by Jack Ponchet, Le Coteau Nursery in West Saanich has been supplying local grocery stores and providing plants and familiar fruit trees to gardeners eager for apples, peaches, plums and pears. Now in its 60th year, the farm offers such exotic fruits as lemons, Chilean guava, and persimmon, and is marking the occasion with a series of special events.
On most Saturdays this April and May from noon to 2 p.m., Le Coteau will feature a different free workshop on introductory urban farming, berry growing, herb gardens, and plants with health benefits.
Farming is a long way from his former careers in the military and the insurance business, but Harris kept growing in his backyard in James Bay, which he attributes to hot childhood summers in Ontario surrounded by beefsteak tomatoes and lettuce patches. Now Harris cultivates herbs, deer-resistant shrubs (some of which even bear fruit), hanging baskets, and much more on a commercial scale. He says that citrus has become very popular with customers, which he attributes to the smell of the blooming plants.
In addition to supplying hobby gardeners and landscapers, Le Coteau supplies local grocery stores with vegetables like cucumbers, peppers, radishes, and tomatoes. The farm also supports other local food initiatives like the Grow Young Farmers Society, which teaches farming skills to children and puts fruit trees and vegetable gardens in schoolyards, and Food Eco District, a collection of local restaurants and volunteers promoting urban food production. After a long search, it is clear that Harris has found his passion.
“What better way to make a difference than to put food in people’s yards, take up carbon and put oxygen into the atmosphere? That makes me feel good every time a tree goes out.”
Saturday workshops offer a lunch by The Salt and Pepper Fox for $12. The festivities will culminate with a 60th anniversary party on May 28 featuring on-site events and giveaways. To register for workshops and for more information, email email@example.com or visit lecoteau.com.