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Visionary Gardeners highlights unique green thumbs on new television series

Victoria alpine seed hunter among those profiled in five-episode series

ON SCREEN: Visionary Gardeners

Where: VisionTV

When: Monday, March 7, 6 p.m.

Television programming with a gardening focus is nothing new. Entire networks are geared to covering the pursuit. But a series that attempts to widen the definition by showcasing mavericks in the field? That’s definitely a novel concept.

Victoria filmmakers Mark Bradley and Ian Toews of the 291 Film Company wanted to highlight that uniqueness in Visionary Gardeners, which premières Monday at 6 p.m. on VisionTV.

“We’ve done a lot of work [over the years] with artists and designers, architects, these kinds of people,” Toews said. “Interviewing them, you find that there’s a lot of depth to their ideas, and a lot of philosophies and beliefs. But the gardening shows we’ve done up until now, we hadn’t probed as deeply.

Visionary Gardeners allowed us to do that, to really get into their minds and understand why they do what they do.”

Bradley and Toews have two decades of experience in film and television, much of which has been award-worthy. They hit upon a groove in recent years with their arts-and-culture programming, winning a Gemini Award for the TV series Landscape as Muse and Canadian Screen Award nominations for the series Ageless Gardens and documentary Bugs on the Menu.

Visionary Gardeners is liable to continue that run. The series consists of five 30-minute episodes, the first of which features a segment on Paul Spriggs of Victoria Spriggs is a rock gardener and rock musician who played in several key Victoria punk bands during the 1990s.

His passion for alpine hiking and seed hunting is what drew producers to him. In the première episode airing Monday (which also features a story on Ontario playwright David Young), Spriggs is filmed atop the stunning 50/40 Peak near Port Alberni, gathering mountain seeds he is later shown planting during a commercial job with his company, Spriggs Gardening.

“It’s an exploratory process,” Toews said. “There was a lot of shooting with Paul around his front yard and at some of his jobs in the region, down at sea level. We were trying to find what the story was. And then, at one point, Paul told me about his adventures up into the alpine, and my eyes lit up.”

The remaining episodes are no less interesting. Medical herbalist Chanchal Cabrera of Courtenay appears in the March 21 episode, which explores the nature of healing plants and how they perform physically and psychologically. Victoria botanist Bob Duncan shows up March 28 and in his episode links the growth of citrus and other exotic tree fruits to Canada’s West Coast.

Garden writer Marjorie Harris, who has appeared in a previous gardening-related programming from Toews and Bradley, brought several members of the cast to the table, including former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and her husband, novelist John Ralston Saul, who appear in the show’s second episode.

What struck Toews during filming was the spiritual and holistic benefits gardening provides to each cast member in Visionary Gardeners.

“All of these participants are exceptional gardeners, really advanced in their thinking and their practice. They have such a deep knowledge of gardening that when we get into the gardening that gets us into bigger ideas about life and philosophy.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com