Crocuses open up on the grounds of Royal Roads University. The 41st Flower Count runs from March 3 to 9

Stop and count the flowers in Greater Victoria

Friendly competition promotes community and heritage; Colwood looks to defend bloomingest title

While much of the country is busy shovelling snow at this time of year, Greater Victoria residents often boast about their region’s mild climate.

Hoping to use some of that good-natured ribbing to their advantage, Tourism Victoria, the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, Butchart Gardens and Gardens British Columbia have banded together to promote tourism in the region, while highlighting some beautiful blooms.

With just over 17 billion counted in 2015, the annual Flower Count encourages residents to get outside and helps promote the region during a season not typically known as a busy tourist time.

“It just gets everybody involved … It adds to tourism, it helps the economy and it adds to business,” said Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce board chair Al Hasham.

Paul Nursey, Tourism Victoria CEO, called “flower garden tourism” a major sector that draws international and domestic tourists. The image of cherry blossoms covering streets – “Victoria snow,” as he called it – “gives a great story to share … (And) we get to share this all over the world.”

In its 41st year, the Flower Count runs March 3 to 9, with the award for Bloomingest Community going to the municipality that counts the most blooms. It’s a title the City of Colwood has claimed the past two years and the City is looking for a three-peat, said Mayor Carol Hamilton.

“We all benefit (from) the fun events that bring community and people outside,” she said.

She credits Ecole John Stubbs for taking an interest in the project and putting Colwood on the map for flower counting, largely helping it claim those first two titles. “I call them my secret weapon,” Hamilton said, laughing.

While the students are no secret anymore, she’s still optimistic and offered a friendly challenge to all the region’s mayors, especially rival Barbara Desjardins in Esquimalt, who challenged her last year.

“I’m sure Esquimalt will increase their efforts, but so will we,” she added.

That competition is also driving John Stubbs students to take their flower counting to the next level. Grade 5 teacher Matthew Barker and his class offered their own challenge to their counterparts in the region.

But students are also focused on beating their own personal goals.

Colton Trotter, 10, said last year’s effort “beat the old class record,” and that’s something the students plan to do again this year.

It’ll be no small feat. Dylan Pugh, 10, pointed out that last year alone they counted 3.1 million blooms. When asked what he was looking forward to this year, he said, “winning, hopefully.”

The flower rivalry mirrors history, according to Brian White, director of Royal Roads University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality.

Laura Dunsmuir, who resided in RRU’s Hatley Castle, and Jennie Butchart, who founded the now world-famous Butchart Gardens, also had a friendly rivalry in establishing their own gardens, White said.

Butchart Gardens public relations specialist Scott McDonald added, “They even hired the same Japanese garden architect … It was the thing to do at the turn of the century.” He noted Victoria was the first area in North America to have authentic Japanese gardens.

McDonald said gardens can promote cross-generational involvement, with grandparents getting grandchildren involved. They are also a place to gather, enjoy a cup of coffee, walk one’s dog or just relax.

White, also a representative for Gardens British Columbia, said the Flower Count is about getting residents involved and taking pride in their community. “All the things you see around you reflect our heritage. It’s a symbol of the life we lived here … gardens are an icon.”

For more information on how to get involved, go to flowercount.ca.

katie@goldstreamgazette.com

Get in on the fun and win some prizes

UsedVictoria.com is placing “hidden blooms” on their site every day during the Flower Count. When a user finds a hidden bloom classified ad, they are encouraged to share the ad via Twitter for a chance to win one of seven daily prizes provided by Tourism Victoria members.

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