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Helen Chesnut: Ownership changes can affect prices, availability

Some locally owned businesses are taken over, often by big corporations

It’s been several decades since I began ordering regularly from Stokes Seeds, a wonderful source for an extensive selection of pansies and violas. Stokes could also be counted on to offer many of the year’s new introductions.

So far this year, I’d begun accessing the online catalogue to make some preliminary choices. I had not yet progressed to final choices and placing an order when I received an email from Jay and Janet, with disappointing news:

“Did you know that they (Stokes) now have a minimum order of $125 plus a $14.95 cost of shipping and taxes? We’ve been buying from them for nearly 50 years, but this price is out of reach for our small needs.”

They phoned the company and spoke with a person who attributed the change to new ownership.

I’m noticing changes like this in local communities, when family and locally owned businesses are taken over, often by big corporations. Changes that follow almost always affect availability of items that had become staples in many households.

This has been happening in the seed business for a while. With the Stokes changeover, Jay and Janet have lost a source for one of their favourite onion varieties.

Alternate sources. If you are having difficulty finding a source for a particular vegetable variety, visit the Seeds of Diversity website ( and click on “Canadian Seed Catalogue Index.” You’ll find a list of varieties for each vegetable, with seed sources that you can click on for details.

For flower and herb varieties, I type “seed source for …” into a search engine in hopes of finding a Canadian source. If the only sources I find are American or oversees, I use the email contact to determine whether the company ships seeds to Canada.

That has been, in my experience, a nice way of stumbling on new sources. In one such search, I came upon Twining Vine Garden in Fanny Bay. Scanning through their seed offerings, I came upon a listing for Gem, a South African squash that had dropped off all my usual seed lists. I see Twining Vine will be attending many of the Seedy Saturday events on the island this year.

Home gardeners looking for a Stokes alternative would do well to have a look at the William Dam Seeds catalogue, one of my main seed sources for decades. Their prices are reasonable. They listed almost all the new introductions out this year that I featured in the January 20 column. They have a smaller but superb selection of violas that includes Delft Blue, an exquisite confection in deep violet blue and white.

The listings feature many popular European vegetable varieties, like the Witkiem broad bean that has long been a favourite. And the website is blessedly simple to navigate.


VHS meeting. The Victoria Horticultural Society is hosting a Zoom meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Linda Gilkeson will speak about the butterflies of southern Vancouver Island. Linda is known for her books and workshops on organic gardening, beneficial insects, and eco-friendly pest management. Non-member registration cost is $5. To register, visit

Gordon Head meeting. The Gordon Head Garden Club will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Gordon Head Lawn Bowling Club, 4105 Lambrick Way. Abby from Satin flower Nursery will speak about converting a lawn into a wildflower meadow. Visitors are welcome at no charge.

Floral arts. The Mid Island floral Art Club will meet on Thursday, Feb. 8, at 2 p.m. in St. Stephen’s Church hall, 150 Village Way in Qualicum Beach. Theme for the afternoon: “Stretch Design.” Guest admission fee $6. Information at 250-757-8969 or

Fruit tree propagation. Dinter Nursery, 2205 Phipps Rd. in Duncan, is offering a fruit tree propagation workshop, led by Bernie Dinter, on Saturday, Feb. 10, from 10 to 11 a.m. For details visit or type “Dinter Nursery fruit tree propagation workshop” into a search engine.

Seedy in Alberni. The Alberni Valley Food Security Society is hosting a Seedy Saturday event on February 10, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Echo Centre, 4255 Wallace St. in Port Alberni. Admission is by donation. The event will include a seed exchange, guest speakers, vendors, children’s activities, and Master Gardeners to consult on gardening issues. Details at