Thunder Creek Gardens in bloom once again

Nathan Liewicki
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Ravaged by fire last April, greenhouse set to reopen Thursday

Canna lilies seeds are about the size of your fingernail. They are tough and need to be scarified for their dormancy to be broken.

“I hang on to them with a vice grip and file them,” said Michele LeCuyer. “Then I soaked them for a good 48 hours before I seeded them.”

LeCuyer, a manager at Thunder Creek Gardens, said she started that process with the canna lilies on January 17. More than three months later, their big healthy roots signify that growth is continuing at a tremendous rate.

“I’m very pleased with them so far. They will form into huge trumpet-shaped flowers, four to six feet high,” she said. “We've got seven different colours, which is very unsual for cannas.”

One year ago, however, there were no canna lilies blooming at the greenhouse, located near Caronport and just south of the Trans-Canada Highway. Instead, Lloyd Friesen, owner of Thunder Creek Gardens, was dealing with a fire that had ravaged part of his greenhouse complex.

Charred wood, burnt plants, and melted metal still litter what was previously the main growing greenhouse.

Friesen told the Times-Herald the goal is to have the remaining disaster areas from last year’s blaze cleaned up in the near future. Until then, however, the wreckage serves as a reminder of what happened last April.

“The hardest thing is a sense of loss. With any loss the challenge is how you're going to deal with it,” said Friesen. “Then your energy starts working towards that.”

There were commitments, most notably a sizable contract with the City of Moose Jaw, which Friesen and his team had to make adjustments to, in order to meet. They met them, but it was far from easy.

As a result of the fire, the greenhouse, which is only open to the public for May and June, did not open last year.

Until Christmas, Friesen was still unsure if he would rebuild and reopen the greenhouse his late wife, Pat, had such ambition for.

“She's the one that had the passion and actually one of our goals was – when I retired – for us to work together in the business,” said Friesen. “We hadn't anticipated getting into it as early as we did, but the opportunity came up and Pat said, “Let's get at it.’”

They worked together for four years before Pat succumbed to cancer, and it was the thought of her, Friesen stated, that was the driving force behind the rebuilding efforts.

“Her desire was to have the best plants that she could possibly get, and the girls that are working here now are doing a great job in keeping up that quality,” he said. “Once the fire happened, I had to think about what would have happened if Pat was still around.”

Friesen admitted it was extremely difficult to get motivated to clean up and begin the rebuild. The support his children have given him, he said, has helped tremendously.

With the dawn of a new greenhouse season nearing – Thunder Creek Gardens is set to open May 1 – Friesen is excited for many reasons.

Plants are in bloom, vegetables and herbs are growing and the rebuild efforts are well underway, but there is one thing Friesen is especially looking forward to come opening day.

“It's being able to see the folks that we missed last year,” said Friesen. “There's hardly a day that goes by that somebody isn't asking if we're going back up. That's one of the encouraging parts, and that's to recognize that people are and have been very supportive recognizing the disaster that took place.”

Although two greenhouses still need to be repaired, he said the plan is to build a tenth greenhouse because the demand is so great, as is the variety of products offered. 

“The annuals, perennials and the opportunities we have to do custom potting, that's important for our customers,” said Friesen. “It's like one of my customers says, ‘It's like walking into a candy store.’”

Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks

Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway, Times-Herald

Geographic location: Thunder Creek Gardens, Caronport, Moose Jaw

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