Plant sale grows bursary fund

May 12, 2005, vol. 33, no. 2
By Carol Thorbes

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On May 18, as they have done for the past several springs, staff and faculty volunteers will transform the south lawn of Strand Hall into a colourful smorgasbord of gardening treats.

The proceeds of the annual plant sale will top up the SFU campus community bursary endowment fund. The plant sale's charter volunteers founded the investment eight years ago to help academically promising, but financially challenged students complete their university education.

“We have about $200,000 in the fund but we want to reach $1 million,” says SFU math lecturer Malgorzata Dubiel without batting an eyelash.

Dubiel, along with Kathy Heinrich, the former chair of what was SFU's mathematics and statistics department, first conceived of the endowment fund and its primary financial feeder, the plant sale, in the summer of 1996.

“I was admiring a beautiful perennial anemone at a reception at the president's residence,” remembers Dubiel, an ongoing plant sale volunteer.

“Mayling Stubbs, the wife of then-president Stubbs, gave me and Kathy a plant each. We talked about the natural generosity of gardeners and there and then, decided to use this generosity to benefit students by organizing a plant sale the following spring.”

Dubiel and Heinrich, now VP-academic at the University of Regina, say many unsung heroes are responsible for the plant sale's success, which has generated more than $30,000 in bursary awards for more than 30 students. “It's now six years since I left SFU,” says Heinrich, “and it is wonderful to know the sale and the endowment, like the plants themselves, continue to grow.”

Renaissance Café owner Parminder Parhar keeps the 40 to 50 volunteers plied with free coffee and goodies on plant sale day. The sale runs from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Facilities management buildings and grounds superintendent Frank De Vita provides free labour to set the stage for the plant parade and keep it well watered.

Ken Knechtel, co-owner of Perennial Gardens, has donated an impressive hosta collection valued at $80 for raffles. Perennial helps fundraise for the endowment fund by donating 30 per cent of its sales at its premises on days designated as SFU days in September.

Como Lake Garden Centre owner Bill Pastorek gets up at 4 a.m. to attend a plant auction in Burnaby. He applies his 21 years of gardening acumen to getting a $1,500 deal on about a thousand reliable flowers for the plant sale. “Bill walks through the entire warehouse before the auction begins,” says Janis Horne, director of alumni relations and a plant sale charter volunteer. “Bill really knows which bargains to wait for and grab at the auction.”

There are also individuals whose passion for gardening and giving are inextricably intertwined. SFU senator Valerie Dunsterville grows hundreds of perennials that she donates to the plant sale, and secures the voluntary participation of master gardeners on sale day. Retired SFU psychology professor Vito Modigliani, who is now a special adviser in student services, pots about 200 plants in what he and his wife Heather Rhodes call their gardening lab.

Modigliani's pride and joy is a little deep purple Geranium phaeum, which he bought at the first plant sale.

“That plant has been flowering in my garden ever since,” says Modigliani. “Many of its descendants have been sold at successive plant sales. I'll have a few phaeums up for sale again this year.”

This year's plant sale will feature a mini-E-Bay style silent auction instead of the raffle sale. Bidders can log onto where they can review 60 plant items, valued at $4,000 collectively, and electronically bid on their selected item.

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