Planting Peace

Captain Dick Steele creates a rhododendron paradise at Bayport Farm, Nova Scotia

Summary: Captain Steele believed that beauty has the power to transform us. After surviving two major wars as a Naval Officer, Steele rediscovered the beauty and serenity of earth through one of the world’s oldest plants - the Rhododendron. Now recognized as one of the great plant breeders in North America, Steele not only transformed Bayport Farm and nursery into a magnificent Rhododendron forest, he used the power and beauty of plants to transform lives.
Garden Contact Information: Bayport Farm, New Brunswick
RR#1
Rose Bay, Nova Scotia B0J 2X0
The Garden: Captain Steele owned the Bayport Plant Farm for over 30 years and was widely recognized as one of the best hybridizers of Rhododendrons in North America. He created over 100 new variations of Rhododendrons and developed a hybrid of a rhododendron that stands over 20 feet tall, 35-40 foot magnolias as well as hollies, heathers and azaleas that bloom sporadically in the original forest that sprawls out from behind the farm. Steeles’ tireless efforts in hybridizing resulted in 30,000 plants within the 40 acres of land.

Over the years, Steele has formulated and implemented a breeding program that can be passed down for generations and his hybrids are renowned throughout North America for withstanding the harsh growing climate of Atlantic Canada.

Steele’s gifts of specimen plants and cuttings have been the backbone of plantings in hundreds of gardens throughout Atlantic Canada as well as at Boulderwood, Pine Grove Park, Oxen Pond Botanical Gardens, Norfolk Botanical Gardens, the Nova Scotia Lieutenant-Governor’s Garden, and the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens.

The Gardeners' Story: Captain Dick Steele owned Bayport Farm for over 30 years and was widely recognized as one of the best hybridizers of Rhododendrons in North America. Known as Mr. Rhododendron, this well-respected and award-winning gardener created over 100 new variations of Rhododendrons as well as breeds of magnolias, hollies, heathers and azaleas.

Captain Steele’s life was not always surrounded by the beauty of plants and flowers. For more than thirty years he served in The Royal Canadian Navy and that period included two major wars: World War II and the Korean war.

During WWII, he served at sea in enemy actions in The North Atlantic; The North Sea; The Norwegian & Barent Seas and with the North Russian Convoys. He was the Navigating Officer for the HMCS Algonquin when that warship, with several other Destroyers, went in thirty minutes ahead of the main Normandy Invasion and destroyed certain enemy Gun Batteries.

In the Korean War, Captain Steele was Commanding Officer of HMCS Nootka, when that Destroyer served on both the East and West coasts of North Korea. In these northern enemy waters they held and protected all of the Islands and spent many long, cold, grey, dark winter months facing dangerous and at times quite furious weather.

However, upon returning to Sasebo harbour in Japan, just as the sun was rising on an early May morning, all the rice paddies up the hillsides were light, bright, and shining green. Clean and vibrant new color was creeping out everywhere. Upon seeing this wonderful sight, Steele said to his key helper, "Off-You-Go ashore and round up lots of good bright color for my cabin". A delightful and competent Flower-Lady was found who quickly and thereafter, whenever the Nootka returned to the Base, kept the Captain’s Cabin awash in many hued flowers.

It was from these episodes that Steele fully realized how much Nature’s colours can soften the harsh and gruel stress of difficult times. But this was still not enough. Surrounded by the brutality of war, Steele soon needed to find regular escape from the aggressive, combative military atmosphere, so would work from 6am-4:30pm and then change out of uniform and seek a garden to go to relax, unwind and replace the horrendous visions of war with a kind of serenity only a garden can provide.

On his way home from the Korean War, Captain Steele stopped at the Kandi Botanical Gardens in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka and was captivated by the road leading up to the gardens. It was lined with 70 foot royal palm trees following the curves in the road. He instantly felt a deep appreciation for the person who had the foresight to plant the palms, making the landscape a more beautiful place. It was then he decided to build a similar legacy back home and after much thought and research he chose rhododendrons because of their hardiness and delicate beauty and because his occupation required a plant that could sustain itself for long periods of time with very little maintenance. Rhododendrons were the ideal plant for his purpose, but they were hard to come by in the 1940s.

Refusing to let this hinder him, Captain Steele used his naval connections to initiate a relationship with the Head Gardener of Windsor Great Park, where the best species of Rhododendrons flourish. The friendship between Thomas Hope Findley and Steele spanned two decades and supplied Steele with a steady stream of seeds, pollen and cuttings which he used to start Bayport Farm.

Captain Steele believed beauty has the power to transform lives. After seeing so much anger in the world he felt a desire he plants beautiful things hoping beauty will change people and make the world a better place for future generations. Gardening strengthened Steele’s belief in the power of nature to restore beauty and to propagate peace.

Captain Steele was a founding member of the Atlantic Chapter of the Rhododendron Society of Canada and in 1998 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the American Rhododendron Society of Canada. In the spring of 2004, Steele was made a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition for his outstanding contributions to horticulture in Canada.

Captain Steele passed away on March 14, 2010

Link:
Behind the Scenes: Executive Producer: Merit Jensen Carr
Producer(s): Merit Jensen Carr
Director: Erna Buffie
Writer: Darla Kraigsley & E. Anne Dawson
Narration Writer: Erna Buffie
Narrator: Bonnie Dickie
Director of Photography: Wade Cornell, CSC
Editor: Chris McIvor
Composer: Michael Plowman

Date: 2004
Length: 30 Minutes

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