By Therese Eley, Marketing Services
"Gardening is verk!"
At least that is what horticulturalist and Continuing Studies instructor Jeff DeJong grew up hearing from his Dutch immigrant parents.
"My parents were always gardeners—my dad did vegetables, my mom did flowers, and us kids were always told to just stay out of the way. We were never allowed to participate in the gardening. We were told to stay out of the plants and just behave ourselves," he laughs. So, the thought of gardening never really appealed to him growing up. "It always sounded so horrible! I thought 'why would I ever want to do it?'" Jeff recalls.
That is until, as an adult, he took a job working with a woman who had a renowned alpine garden in Calgary. It was she who really opened his eyes to what gardening could be. "You can really enjoy it—you can be outside, you can be in nature and you can accomplish something. That is gardening too!" he remembers her saying. "That sort of opened up a whole other perspective for me and allowed me to explore my own interest in gardening. It was her influence on me that showed me that gardening is joyful. It’s not work. You do activities that can be strenuous at times, but if you’re not enjoying what you're doing, then why do it? That was her take."
That began Jeff's journey into horticulture and landscape design. After earning his degree in horticulture at Olds College, he taught there for a while before moving to BC. When he first arrived in BC, he took a job working at a garden centre.
"The plant selection and the types of plants are just so much more numerous on the west coast than they are in the prairies. That was a real eye-opener and a very good experience for me because you have to learn your plants very quickly in order to help people in the service industry. But I was still always interested in teaching, and I did take on teaching the Master Gardener program at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific. I also do numerous talks for clubs all over Vancouver Island."
About six years ago, Jeff began teaching with Continuing Studies at UVic. He enjoys it because, like gardening, "It’s not static, it's something that is ever-changing. People are always excited to hear about something new and that keeps them excited about the topic of gardening or horticulture." Although he teaches a variety of gardening courses each term, his new Landscape Design of the Pacific Northwest online course brings him a particular sense of pride.
"I was very hesitant to do this course because landscape design is a difficult thing to teach; it uses both your right brain and your left brain. Some parts of the course are very analytical—you have to use a scale ruler and do measurements and figure out calculations—and then you flip over and all of a sudden you’re talking about what colours and what plants look good together, and what is the overall feeling of the garden."
"It's a real challenge to teach this course in person and I thought it would be impossible to do it online, but it actually worked better. One reason was because we could access people from all over Vancouver Island and even the mainland, people who would not be able to take this course if they had to attend in person. It's like a whole different type of class we've created and it's the result of COVID. I think we've improved the course and made it more accessible for the public."
Although he’s thrilled with the success of the online course, Jeff is excited to get back to face-to-face teaching as well. "For me, as an extrovert, I'm dying to see the 'aha moments' in peoples' eyes. I like to get that feedback and know that I'm getting through," he says.
Even when he's not working on projects or teaching, Jeff enjoys spending his down time in nature: gardening, taking photos or practicing his watercolour painting. He finds happiness in the absence of things, finding moments to enjoy total stillness. He feels we'd all be happier if we could focus on being "human beings" instead of "human doings."