Crystal Carwardine – Bloombox Champion

By Becky Benoit

A garden is a peaceful oasis in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life. Even the smallest patch of earth is a place to escape it all, to breathe deeply amidst green, growing things and remember what’s important. But, as Rudyard Kipling said, “Gardens are not made by singing, ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.” Gardening is hard work, and there’s perhaps no gardener more hardworking than Crystal Carwardine.

A horticulture technician with the RMWB since 2007, Carwardine ‘s handiwork is evident all over Fort McMurray, in the beautiful hanging baskets and plant pots gracing medians and light posts, overflowing with brilliant blooms and greenery. Carwardine’s love affair with plants began with a parttime high school job in a greenhouse. When the time came to apply to different colleges and universities, a few wise words from Carwardine’s mother decided her fate.

“I had decided on the University of New Brunswick’s International Business program. I thought it was perfect – I could travel and be a career woman. It was my mom who said the words that changed it all: ‘You do know that you will spend your while life in an office, right?’” Carwardine recalls. “The thought of that was enough to change my decision. Niagara College of Horticulture, here I come!”

While her growing masterpieces brighten the streets of Fort McMurray, Carwardine’s flowers also play a partin healing the community after a tragedy. In 2009, following the tragic death of two young canoers on theClearwater River, Carwardine organized the memorial ceremony, marking the young men’s passing with abeautiful floral display.

The following year, when Carwardine lost crew member Heidi List to a car accident, she designed a livingtribute in the form of a flowerbed, complete with plaque in memory of her friend and coworker.

“I believe flowers play an important part in the healing process. When you get to witness the flowering shrubyou planted for your child’s birth, or the death of a loved one, flush with that vibrant green colour in spring, flower in the summertime and turn colour in the fall, those are the simple things that make you slow down, breathe deep and remember happy days,” she says. “That helps soothe the soul.”

For Carwardine, the biggest rewards of her job happen every day, when she sees the difference her work has made in the community. “When I first came here from working in the Niagara peninsula, it was a dramatic culture shock for me in the plant world. I came from growing wisteria, flowering tulip trees and Japanese maples to Fort McMurray, where marigolds and wild roses were the plants of choice,” she says, smiling at the memory. “I discovered I had a challenge on my hands, and there’s nothing I like more than a challenge!”

Carwardine’s advice for gardeners: smile. “You’re only a terrible gardener if you’re not smiling,” she says. “As long as you’re smiling, you’ll be good at it!”