John Barrett, Director of Sales, Marketing & Development of Veseys Seeds met Dorothy way back in Winnipeg before he moved to Prince Edward Island and became a garden man.
He worked for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra at the time, and she was on the board. Now, 30-odd years later, they are both part of the garden establishment. John tells the story of how that happened.
It started with growing sunflowers on two acres with the vague idea of selling sunflower seeds, but that first year was a disaster with the birds being the biggest beneficiaries of all that hard work. But John was never a quitter and he persevered. Several years later, he was growing 60 acres of sunflowers and found himself on the acquisition list of one of PEI’s major businesses: Veseys Seeds.
“It started with a one-year contract with Veseys after I sold my business,” laughs John. “But here I am all these years later.” Both John and Veseys have prospered as a result.
“2020 was Vesey’s 81st year,” said John, and our business doubled as a result of COVID.” This was not without complications and some pain as they scrambled to fill orders and overloaded the Post Office. Nevertheless, the new gardeners stuck, and this past year saw a further sales increase of seven to eight percent as young gardeners remained infected with the joy of “growing your own”.
Veseys believe in giving back, too. This year, the Year of the Garden in Canada, they are donating 25% of a special beginner’s collection of vegetable seed, the sales of the popular Red Charm peony and a lovely red tulip that will be introduced in the fall catalogue. Red is the colour of the Year of the Garden.
John also explains why some gardeners will not be able to get seed potatoes from Veseys this year due to a federal government dictum from CFIA, which has banned the sales of PEI seed potatoes to the United States and now cross borders in Canada.
This hurts growers in this tiny province but does not represent a significant part of Vesey’s overall sales. They still have plenty of really interesting and sometimes hard-to-find plants. Your host was very pleased to see the beautiful red-with-a-white-rim gladiolus ‘Atom’ for sale. Also on offers is a brilliantly red, double-flowered potentilla named ‘Fire Flames’, and a pretty amaryllis, ‘Amadeus’ whose flower is white with pink tips. Veseys buys their bulbs directly from the growers in Holland and, as a major importer, has the pick of the crop.
Along the way we pause to play Snowbird written and sung by Islander Gene MacLellan. John’s second pick is Blackbird by the Beatles. We leave you with my favourite, Lemon Tree by Fools Garden.