Todd Gesshe had a hard time deciding what his favourite plant was.
“It’s hard, it’s like asking a painter to choose their favourite colour,” Gesshe said.
He loves red Russian kale because it gives and gives and gives, with all the different things you can do with it. Delphiniums, though, are big, tall, bold, and bright purple. And oak trees? Any oak tree is cool, Gesshe said.
“Down off Yukon Street [in Kitimat], there’s an amazing pin oak down there, in town here. So, I’m starting to kind of discover what the treasures are, you know?”
Gesshe started as the new Horticulturist with the District of Kitimat about two months ago. He and his family came for a visit once he’d applied, and it just felt like it was meant to be.
“We were really blown away by how friendly everybody was here, and we just got a really good feeling from every single person that we kept running into,” Gesshe said. “And a lot of things fell into place great, with purchasing a home and just things in our life, and we could really see the opportunity for things in our life to take off.”
And it didn’t hurt that Kitimat is already a very green town, surrounded by plants in almost every direction.
“It’s a community that already values its green infrastructure,” Gesshe said. “It’s going to be neat to be able to build on that tradition.”
Gesshe got into horticulture from his time travelling around Western Canada. He started as an arborist because he was fascinated by all the various types of trees. Because of that, he also decided to study them.
Gesshe got a diploma in arboriculture and a Bachelor of Horticulture from Olds College, in Olds, Alberta. He also met his wife while there, who was in the landscaping program.
From there, they moved to Vancouver Island, where he worked as a climbing arborist for several years, climbing in trees and doing aerial pruning and such. However, he wasn’t fully satisfied with that job, so he decided to change his path a bit, and started a businesses doing landscaping and other horticulture work with his wife.
“So, we kind of put our skills together and we started our own business in the Cowichan Valley, around Duncan,” Gesshe said. “I loved being there, I loved being out with the plants and I loved the results and I loved how happy clients were, but I always wanted to do more on a community level, like something bigger than that.”
They had the business for about six years before they decided to switch it up again. Gesshe was offered a position at the University of Alberta as the lead horticulturist on the Aga Khan Garden, which had been gifted by the Aga Khan to the university.
Gesshe worked on that for two years, until he and his wife decided they wanted to be back in B.C. They moved back to Vancouver Island, where Gesshe worked one year at a golf course and learned a lot about turf maintenance, something he hadn’t had prior experience with.
“There’s things you just learn everywhere, and different ways of doing things,” Gesshe said.
Gesshe’s experiences have helped him tremendously both in his career and his life, as he learned about different plants, trees, and sustainable living practices. In the Cowichan Valley, he and his wife lived and worked on a couple of different organic farms, where they had their own greenhouse, their own gardens, and grew their own food most of the time.
“[Growing our own food] is really important to us, so that’s our next big project for next year at our house.”
It also helped him make the move to Kitimat, as he realized he wanted a job that was more community-based. Gesshe is an ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) -certified arborist, and also got his Red Seal certification just last year, just because it was a good qualification to have.
It ended up actually being the qualification the District of Kitimat wanted for people applying to the position, which ended up working out and helping him land the job.
Which, two months in, Gesshe said he is absolutely loving.
“I’m really finding it to be a collaborative and inclusive environment. Like, everybody I’ve met so far since working at the District has just been very helpful, very supportive, and just very kind.”
Gesshe’s current projects include redoing many of the garden beds around town, applying a treatment, redefining the bed edges, then applying a layer of mulch on top to keep the soil moist and cool, which will help plant roots.
The gardening team is also in the process of switching a lot of the annuals that are in garden around town for perennials, Gesshe said, because perennials are less labour intensive and bring about less soil disturbance annually, which helps support soil biodiversity and insect habitat.
“Annuals, the reason they’re planted is that they often give you lots and lots of knockout colour, but perennials, if they’re planned properly, can also give you a lot of colour. But they can also give you a lot more form, texture, size, you can do a lot more with perennials in that way. And also, because they don’t need to be replanted every year, they deliver really, good value as well.”
Many of the existing gardens around town will be converted into perennials, with annuals kept in many of the planters and high-profile locations, such as downtown, so they can change the colours and themes every year. With the perennials, the same things will come back year after year, which Gesshe said is also sort of nice and familiar in a way.
“I think there’s also something to be said with perennials, how something familiar comes back every year. You know, there’s those purple delphiniums, or there’s those brown-eyed Susan’s that come up every year, and all these different perennial plants. And you kind of get to know them, they sort of become, like, friends in a way.”
Gesshe said that, down the road, he would love to create even more gardens around Kitimat and maybe even try to enter Kitimat in a Communities in Bloom contest, a national community green space competition. He’s got many ideas about how to further the town’s greenery, and said he’s happy to be in a community that truly values and enjoys its green space.
“I like to be a part of something that really enhances people’s well-being and overall community well-being. You know, with this kind of work, you really do have an opportunity to make a positive impact in people’s lives and their experience of their community.”
Gesshe said he loves horticulture because he loves being in nature, and he’s excited to get involved in the Kitimat green spaces in and around the community.
“I love being outside and working with plants and seeing plants and there’s always something new, there’s always something that surprises you. It connects you with the living world in a really intimate way,” Gesshe said. “I’m really excited to work with everybody here and to do the best I can to make this one of the most beautiful communities in Canada.”