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Garden Club an ongoing joy for long-time member Betsey

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Betsey Mowbray (Photograph supplied)
The Smith Garden in St George’s (Photograph supplied)

When Betsey Mowbray moved to Bermuda in 1976 she was fascinated by morning glories.

They reminded her of her mother back in Montreal, Quebec.

Frances McKindsey would plant a morning glory vine in the spring and would “be so excited” when the first flower bloomed.

Mrs Mowbray now cringes remembering how she sprinkled seeds across the backyard of the Smith’s property she moved into with her husband, Louis. She did not realise that in Bermuda, the vine is an invasive pest, almost impossible to eradicate. In Montreal, it was easy to control because the frost killed it off in winter.

“I have pulled so much of it up,” she said. “They are beautiful; if only they would stay where they were.”

Two years later she joined The Garden Club of Bermuda. It taught her a lot about what she should and should not plant here plus, she liked the members.

Her skills as a gardener confirmed Mrs Mowbray became president of the club, serving in the role from 1993 to 1995. In 1999 she coordinated the opening of Smith Garden. The small, walled space off Barber’s Alley had been used as a dumping ground for decades.

“It was meant to be a gift to the Town of St George to celebrate their getting world heritage status,” said the 86-year-old who, with help from other Garden Club members, filled it with roses, day lilies and begonias.

“There were old mattresses in there and old boat parts.”

For years Mrs Mowbray led a handful of volunteers who maintained the garden. She gave that up last year, but still helps with the weeding and pruning.

She’s disappointed that she hasn’t yet been able to get the first-day cover of the $1.55 Smith Garden stamp. It was released as part of a series commemorating The Garden Club’s 100th anniversary this month.

In Montreal, she was more interested in athletics than gardening.

“I did figure skating and anything you do in high school – basketball, volleyball, track and field,” she said. “My biggest interest was badminton.”

She studied history and economics at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke but did not know what to do with her life after she graduated.

She spent the next year cycling and hitchhiking across England, Scotland and Europe, staying in youth hostels and occasionally working as a typist to earn money.

“Hitchhiking wasn’t dangerous then,” she said. “It was fine. That was a whole different world.”

After a few years back in Canada, she returned to Scotland to study teaching at the University of Edinburgh.

“I enjoyed teaching, but I went into it because I wanted to go back to Scotland and I felt I should go back and do something,” she said. “I had a wonderful year there and loved Edinburgh.”

She worked in Montreal for two years. She met her future husband while visiting a friend in Shawinigan, just outside the city.

“Her boyfriend came over with Louis, who was living further north in Arvida,” she said. “I thought he seemed really nice.”

They started dating and married in 1960.

Mr Mowbray’s job in human resources with the Aluminium Company of Canada meant they moved a lot – to Kitimat, British Columbia, Geneva, Switzerland, Mackenzie, Guyana and back to Montreal.

Along the way they had three children Mary, David and Andrea.

The family returned to the island when the Bank of Bermuda offered Mr Mowbray a job.

Settling into life in her husband’s country was relatively easy.

“I was very lucky,” Mrs Mowbray said. “My husband and his family both knew people from when he was growing up. We had ready-made friends. It was different from everything I knew, but I loved it. I am still very happy here.”

Her husband’s father, also called Louis, was curator of the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo; his grandfather, another Louis, was the founder.

Mrs Mowbray took her children there often.

“We would walk there,” she said. “We didn’t have to worry about traffic so much. I would push the stroller along the road, and it was perfectly safe.”

The pandemic has been a little lonely for Mrs Mowbray. Not up to speed with Zoom and similar apps, she has missed meetings with The Garden Club and her craft group. Another miss is the time she devotes as a volunteer at The Barn each week.

The upside is that she gets to spend more time puttering about in her garden.

“The property here is about three acres, but the garden is all over the place,” she said. “There are bits here and there. We have a banana patch and citrus trees.”

There is also a greenhouse, where the Mowbrays propagate Bermuda roses and endemic plants they then donate to the Garden Club, the Rose Society and the Bermuda National Trust for fundraisers.

The roses have to be grown from slips because they do not have accessible seeds the way other plants do.

“You have to get the right slip,” Mrs Mowbray said. “You have to know when to cut them and where to cut them. I tend to lose as many as I get. If I put in 50 rose slips I will probably get maybe 25 back. At the moment I have 30 that are ready to sell and another 30 or 45 that are still little slips.

“My favourite old Bermuda rose is Papa Gontier. It is one of the few old garden roses you can pick and bring in the house and it will last. Most Bermuda roses will last a day and then they drop their petals.”

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published April 21, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated April 20, 2021 at 11:05 am)

Garden Club an ongoing joy for long-time member Betsey

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