Doris and Rick Wukasch's boulevard of realized dreams
Updated: Mar 13, 2021
by Liz Primeau
Meet our members Doris and Rick Wukasch, who have a brand-new blooming boulevard that enhances their front yard garden, and last November started 800 native plants in little cups for other members' boulevards. Doris and Rick have been dedicated to nature and growing things since they married 45 years ago. "It's in our genes," says Rick.
Doris and Rick Wukasch, both botanists, can barely remember a time when they weren't involved in plants and the environment. They met while at the University of Guelph in a class on plant hormones, where, says Rick, there were obviously a few human hormones at work. "Later we went all the way to Newfoundland to gather wild plants, which are our passion, for Doris's collection for a botany course, and on the ferry on the way home she said yes." Doris went on to a degree in education and a teaching career, and after they married in 1976 Rick earned a master's degree in botany, then joined Guelph U's Pest Diagnostic Clinic.
Along the way, whether tending someone else's house, living in an apartment, or owning their own home, they grew plants. They even became market gardeners one student summer, growing mountains of vegetables with a group of friends on a rented five-acre farm."We made about a dollar an hour on that venture, but we had a whole lot of fun," says Rick. Life went on and wherever the couple lived while raising their family of three sons, they always had a garden. "We lived in typical urban houses with a lawn and couple of trees, but we always repurposed the grass. We wanted an urban paradise." They grew vegetables, fruits, ornamentals and wildlings. But their desire for an urban paradise went beyond their own interests in fresh food and environmentally friendly surroundings. They like to please their neighbours, too.
"We love it when people appreciate our gardens," says Doris. "it gives us joy."
In 1987, after a career change for Rick -- he spent a couple of years at a Toronto seminary--the family moved to Mississauga and their present home. Rick became pastor at The Meeting House in Oakville, and they concentrated on converting the lawn at their new home, as well as following their avocation at the church. ”We grew vegetables with the Home Churches and at the Meeting House for the Salvation Army's food bank, and then with the community and the Plant-a-Row Grow-a-Row program," says Rick. Last year, during Covid they grew 235 bags of vegetables for the program and a homeless shelter in Oakville.
All along, they'd been enlarging their own garden, taking out more of the lawn ever year. "So our neighbours wouldn't be horrified," says Doris.
"Pretty soon we had no lawn left at all."
That's when they started to eye the boulevard between the sidewalk and the road in front of their house, a dead space with compacted soil that grew practically nothing at all, and how they became involved with Blooming Boulevards.
This was only last year and, staying in character, they dove in with both feet. A friend had been working with Jeanne McRight; they met her and she convinced them it would be easy to deal with the boulevard. "We signed up on the spot," says Doris. "In May we added new soil and put in all these tiny wildflowers she supplied, and by September they were tall and beautiful.
I couldn't believe they grew so fast! This summer they'll be even more vigorous because now the roots are established."
Their commitment went further than turning their boulevard into anther garden oasis They agreed to grow wildflowers for Blooming Boulevards' stock, becoming Garden Stewards, and last November, with the help of some volunteers, they put 800 tiny native plants in little cups to be wintered over beside a a south wall at the church.