Did you know there are more than 20,000 species of orchids?
That’s just one of the fascinating facts you learn when you speak with gardening enthusiast Susanne Olver, who recently retired from volunteering with the Prairie Garden Committee.
The committee publishes The Prairie Garden, Western Canada’s only gardening annual. Once a project of the Horticultural Society, the book serves gardeners across the Canadian Prairies, as well as in Ontario and U.S. states such as Minnesota and South Dakota.
Olver, 90, says that with the publication of the 2017 edition — which came out last month and is all about herbs and spices — she was ready to take a step back.
"People change and committees change," the Fort Garry resident says. "I felt it was time."
Olver joined the committee in 1976, when she was working as a horticulturist at the University of Manitoba.
She faithfully served on the committee for more than four decades, attending meetings, soliciting articles, writing her own pieces and editing the work of others.
All told, she contributed to 41 issues of The Prairie Garden.
She has four articles in the latest edition, all written on the IBM typewriter she’s owned for more than 30 years.
"I can’t use computers," Olver says. "I’m too old-fashioned."
It was meeting people who shared her passion for plants that she most enjoyed about volunteering with the Prairie Garden committee.
Olver brought a vast amount of knowledge to the committee. Growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, Olver’s parents had a large garden in their backyard.
"I (spent) a lot of time playing alone in the garden, and got interested in the plants and the little creatures I found in the garden," she recalls.
Olver was trained as a horticulturists in Germany and pursued further horticultural studies at the University of Guelph after she immigrated to Canada in 1951. She began working at the University of Manitoba part-time when she moved to Winnipeg in 1962, transitioning to a full-time role seven years later.
Along the way, she raised two daughters. Today, Olver has six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Olver’s involvement with the Prairie Garden committee led to some interesting opportunities.
She lectured across Manitoba, including visits to Leaf Rapids, Thompson, Flin Flon and The Pas. She was also a frequent guest on CBC Information Radio.
Sandy Venton, who has volunteered with the Prairie Garden committee for the past seven years, says she will miss Olver.
"She was a driving force at the meetings," Venton says. "She’s a very knowledgable person, she’s very helpful with everything and I really enjoyed working with her."
Linda Dietrick, who recently took over as chair of the committee, agrees.
"Susanne Olver is one of the sharpest 90-year-olds I’ve ever met, if not the sharpest," Dietrick says, adding that Olver plans to write articles for future editions of The Prairie Garden.
"I’m looking forward to seeing what else she contributes."
Olver is looking forward to writing those articles.
"I love my plants," she says, adding that volunteering has been very meaningful to her. "It really pays back."
If you know a special volunteer, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.