PRIME Meet gardening green thumb Jack Kouwenhoven

Hale and hearty at the age of 85, he's been tending a garden for an astounding 75 years.

Jack Kouwenhoven and one of his grapevines.

Jack Kouwenhoven and one of his grapevines.

Jack Kouwenhoven has been gardening with gusto since he was just 10 years old.

Hale and hearty at the age of 85, he’s been tending a garden for an astounding 75 years.

“Gardening is my passion,” he says simply.

He loves gardening — and sharing his considerable knowledge about it with others.

Kouwenhoven is a proud member of the Chilliwack Garden Club, and the Chilliwack Schools Garden Program, and the International Order of Foresters.

He helps kick off the Plant A Row Grow A Row program with Food Matters Chilliwack every spring with an introductory workshop.

“When growing vegetables, you’re in complete control,” says Kouwenhoven. “I grow a lot from seed because you can choose which varieties you want.”

The immense health benefits are part of the allure, and he particularly enjoys getting young people excited about backyard gardening.

He’s been cultivating fruit trees, grapes, vegetables and more from his home on a half-acre property on Yale Road east. He also worked in silviculture for BC Forest Service during most of his working life, as well as stints as a carpenter, and hardware store assistant manager.

The garden is what makes his heart beat a little faster.

“To grow something yourself is interesting and exciting.”

He first learned how to be a successful food gardener, as a child, from his father, growing up in Maassluis, Holland before the Second World War. It’s part of what got the Kouwenhoven family through the ordeal, he figures.

Jack’s father, Dirk, had an allotment garden that they tended to feed their family of seven, growing potatoes, cabbage, turnips, cauliflower and more.

They grew lots of potatoes, of course, and potatoes were piled up for use as rocket fuel during the war.

When he came to Chilliwack, it was to help his father build a house next to the old fairgrounds. That started a lifelong connection to the fair.

He’s been growing vegetables to show at the fair for 50 years, and this year was no different. He entered 60 exhibits for consideration by the fair judges. What do they look for? Uniformity, he says.

The educational aspects of showing at the fair are very appealing to him.

“I always like to share what I know. People often tell me I should write a book. I need to pass on some of these tricks.”

He likes to show young people for example, how beets are a two-for-one vegetable, with the beautiful greens that are edible as well as the red base of the beetroot.

He’s in his 19th year of working with student gardeners for the Schools Garden program.

“There’s nothing like seeing the excitement on a child’s face when they bring you a carrot that they themselves have grown. They always want me to taste it, too,” he says.

It reminds him sometimes of how hard they struggled to survive, with the help of the family farm during the war, without refrigeration.

“We also didn’t have the nice soil that we get to work with now.”

So many things have changed over the decades.

Raised bed gardening has become a big deal in recent years, and is ideal for seniors and anyone with mobility issues.

“Raised beds are a godsend. It’s important to build them narrow enough so you can pull weeds from both sides.”

In recent years, he’s sought out lighter tools, like hoes, and avoids kneeling, except during planting.

Overall, the 2014 garden year has been fantastic, with lots of sunshine, but not too hot temperatures.

“I cannot ever remember a season as perfect as this one has been.”

Anyone interested in his gardening advice can check out his blog,

Just Posted

A lone walker on the Hope River Corbould Park Rotary Trail on March 29, 2021. City of Chilliwack is seeking community input on its parks, recreation and culture master plan. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress)
Community input sought on the future of Chilliwack parks and recreation

Feedback from public sought as master plan for Chilliwack parks, rec and culture starts this summer

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of June 13

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Madalyn Clempson, 18, of Chilliwack sings ‘Hiney Yamin Ba-im.’ She won the Intermediate Vocal Canadian Music award at the Performing Arts BC Virtual Provincial Festival. (YouTube)
Chilliwack youth bring home awards from provincial performing arts festival

Chilliwack’s 18-year-old Madalyn Clempson ‘a bit stunned’ to have won Intermediate Vocal Canadian Music

These three kittens, seen here on Thursday, June 10, 2021, are just some of many up for adoption at the Chilliwack SPCA. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Find Me My Furever Home – Three kittens at the Chilliwack SPCA

Kittens were in ‘rough shape’ when they came into the Chilliwack SPCA, now ready for adoption

Jacqueline Pearce and Jean-Pierre Antonio received the BC Historical Federation Best Article Award on Saturday for their story about translating haiku written in the Tashme internment camp.
Article chronicling haiku in Japanese internment camp near Hope wins award

Tashme Haiku Club’s work was preserved and recently translated, authors write

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read