Enthusiasm and persistence personified
So how did Ieuan, whose Welsh accent is still very evident, end up in rural Alberta? He grew up on the west coast of Wales in a horticultural milieu. His parents were both avid gardeners (his father grew apples, his mother grew roses and glads), and his inlaws from siblings’ marriages were involved in horticulture.
At the University of Wales, Evans earned an honours degree in agriculture. “Then I couldn’t decide whether to go to Cambridge, North Borneo, the Cook Islands, Trinidad, Australia or Hong Kong,” he recalls.
With the assistance of a scholarship provided by a Welsh family living in Florida, he ended up at the University of Florida. There, he obtained a PHD in biochemistry, plant sciences and virology, qualifying him as a plant pathologist.
His career included teaching at the University of Guelph, 16 years as Alberta’s plant diagnostic pathologist and 12 years as research pathologist, before he retired from the provincial government and joined Agri-trend Agrology as a consultant. Evans has written and contributed to hundreds of documents, articles and papers including invaluable contributions to diseases of field crops in Canada.
Ieuan Evans has frequently found himself, as he puts it, “swimming against the current” with his ideas, and he chides scientists who “do the same old thing in the same old way.” His work is based on observations in the field, and a readiness to jump in and try something rather than setting up formal experiments.
When he worked for the province of Alberta as a plant diagnostic pathologist, determining why plants have died, he pushed some ideas that were criticized and laughed at but which proved to be correct. He became known as “Dr. Sulphur” when he promoted the addition of sulphur for canola crops; and later, “Dr. Copper” because he insisted that the major problem on almost half the fields producing wheat and barley was a shortage of copper. When Alberta’s “prove-it-to-me” farmers found fewer crop diseases, they became believers.
Evans likes to challenge conventional ideas and negative, self-limiting thinking. And his enthusiasm knows no bounds. He’s an optimist, a can-do person who encourages others to try things, too. Which is why he got into plant breeding: “The real thrill is you can tinker around and produce something new by chance or design,” he says.
Evans always has lots of breeding projects on the go. In addition to lilies, he has worked with lilacs, pinks, irises, amaryllis, Mayday blossoms, even apples. However, he cheerfully admits he has been “spectacularly unsuccessful” at crossbreeding apples.
He was inducted into the Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2012. The gala dinner culminated with a cheesecake dessert topped with “Evans Cherry” compote from his Alberta-developed Evans Cherry trees!
Whether it’s diagnosing the problems of a lawn or crop, or breeding plants to combine the practical with the beautiful, Ieuan Evans is keen to make gardening better and to see others do the same. “Gardening is my life,” he says. “It’s all tied up in gardening and results.”
Ieuan Evans’ favourite lily, named ‘Gwyneth’ for his mother.