Richmond gardener shares his backyard with the public

Johnny Tai spent 17 years growing succulents and cacti in his Richmond backyard, which draws hundreds of visitors each year for a free “open garden” exhibition.

The annual exhibition usually lasts for two days in June, featuring cacti from Mexico and the U.S. and succulents from South Africa.

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But due to the popularity of Tai`s garden, he takes appointments for people to come and enjoy his backyard.

And each year, several elementary schools in Richmond organize field trips to his garden and gives them free seeds for practicing plant-growing at home.

Tai’s home, in a quiet neighbourhood on Woodhead Road, close to Cambie and Shell roads, doesn’t seem different from the front, until you take a peek around the back.

There, you will see three greenhouses and more than 10,000 plants clustered together.

Tai remembered each scientific name of his plants, even though there are more than 1,500 species in the backyard.

Even more surprising is that, for him, each plant has a personality.

“Succulents symbolize endurance, for they are tenacious plants that could store water in their stems and can even live through strong sunshine,” said Macau-born Tai, 76, in Chinese to the Richmond News’ Mandarin-speaking reporter.

“Cacti has a strong-mind, even though its appearance isn’t as charming as roses or other flowers. But it grows where no other plant will grow. The greatest part of (cacti) is every time they bloom, all flowers look different and beautiful in their (own) way.”

Tai wears many crowns in the local Chinese community, including “The King of Succulent” and “Cactus Mania.”

Sonia Tai, Johnny’s wife, said a few local Chinese language reporters interviewed her husband several years ago and, since then, the story has been shared in China, attracting tourists from China to drop by their backyard while visiting B.C.

Tai’s backyard garden has gained popularity over the past few years, turning into a hub where people from a variety of backgrounds could gather together and learn how to grow plants from each other.

Born in Macau, Tai went to Hong Kong at the age of 10, where he met Sonia. Tai and his family immigrated to Vancouver in 1992, and later they moved to Richmond where his family has been living for 16 years.

Tai still remembered the thrill he felt when he saw the backyard in his Richmond home for the first time.

“There wasn`t much room to grow plants in Macau and Hong Kong…When I came across (my) backyard, and I was so excited that we could turn it into a garden and share our experiences with friends, neighbours and even the younger generation,” said Tai.

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