Jul 2017 25

The Vancouver Resident’s Guide to Alternative Gardening

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Cherry Tomatoes by Jonas Ingold

With short winters, plenty of fertile soil, and a temperate rainforest climate, Vancouver is the perfect place to grow a lush, beautiful garden. The only problem is that many Vancouver residents don’t have an actual garden space to plant in. This doesn’t mean that gardening isn’t an option in Vancouver, though. Lacking their own garden plot, many Vancouver renters and homeowners have turned to alternative methods for keeping a garden. From community gardens to boulevard plots, here are some of the most popular options in the city for space-challenged gardeners.

Rooftop and Patio Gardens

Because much of Vancouver’s urban space is taken up by highrises, many developers are looking upwards to create gardening options. Rooftop and patio gardens are becoming increasingly common in Vancouver, especially in new condo and apartment buildings. Much of this is thanks to the City’s active promotion of urban gardening spaces within new developments.

Vancouver Rooftop Garden by Kyle Pearce

"We encourage developers to put shared garden plots on their roof or their podium," says James O’Neill, food policy planner for the City of Vancouver. Of course, not all buildings will be well-suited for garden plots, so City staff have to balance the desire for shared gardens along with other needs such as recreation areas and playground spaces.

"There are so many other competing interests that need to be balanced," O’Neill says. Even with all of these competing interest in mind, however, O’Neill notes that adding a shared garden space to a residential development proposal often makes the proposal more appealing for the City.

Small Space Gardens

If you live in a condo or apartment building without a rooftop or patio garden, you may still be able to use the space you already have to satisfy your gardening itch. Even with a small patio, there can be plenty of growing potential – as long as you’re facing the right direction.

According to Michael Levenston, executive director of City Farmer Society, a non-profit group that encourages urban farming in Vancouver, the challenge is first of all finding the space and then finding the sunlight:

If you have a balcony you can grow on the balcony but you want to be facing the sun.

Growing Vegetables on the Deck by Ruth Hartnup

As long as you have adequate sunlight, Levenston says, the space requirements for a balcony or backyard garden are minimal.

You can start with a square foot and grow something in a square foot, and then you can expand that to whatever size you want.

Many people will build their own raised beds for planting out of a few pieces of wood, although if you prefer a professionally-made product, Levenston adds that there are companies that can make raised beds for you to match your exact specifications.

Community Gardens

For those seeking garden space outside of their own property, community gardens are a common solution. However, community gardening has become so popular in Vancouver that finding space can be a real challenge. According to O'Neill:

There are so many people who want to garden in the city and many of our community gardens have several year wait lists.

Davie Village Community Garden by Daryl Mitchell

According to City Hall, there are over 110 community gardens within the City of Vancouver which can be found on city-owned land, at churches, at schools, and on private property. Even this number of gardens, however, is not enough to satisfy the city’s growing population.

But just because a community garden is full, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get your name on the list. Levenston explains that spaces can open up when someone moves away or stops using their garden plot, or when a new community garden opens up.

There’s usually a lineup but that’s not to say you shouldn’t put your name in.

Garden Sharing

While not everyone who wants to plant a garden will have access to one, not everyone who has a garden will be interested in planting it either. That’s why many Vancouverites have turned to a shared space model to meet their gardening needs.

In past years, people who wanted to share gardens in Vancouver could do so through an online forum, but the website is no longer functioning due to lack of funding, Levenston says. These days, garden sharing in Vancouver often occurs through informal networks, although Levenston adds that City Farmer often acts as an intermediary for these sorts of arrangements as well.

I get calls from people who say I’ve got this patch of land, can you find someone?

In addition, residents can look to international websites such as yardsharing.org or even Craigslist in order to connect with others who might want to share a garden space.

Vancouver Greens by Ruth Hartnup

Boulevard and Street Gardens

Another option the City has been actively promoting for gardeners is the option to plant on City land in places like boulevards and traffic circles. As O’Neill explains, any resident who has a boulevard in front of their property is encouraged to use that space for growing both edible and ornamental plants.

The boulevard is defined as the place between the curb and the sidewalk. For those who don’t have access to a boulevard, another option could be to become a volunteer with the Green Streets program, which allows volunteers to plant gardens in traffic calming areas such as traffic circles and bulges.

Initially, both the Green Streets and boulevard gardening programs only allowed for decorative gardens, but both programs have now expanded to allow for food growing as well, as long as gardeners follow the guidelines set out by the city. These guidelines include making sure plants don’t reach more than one metre in height in order to preserve sightlines for drivers and pedestrians, and taking precautions to minimize the effects of airborne toxins such as vehicle emissions.

City Beet Urban Farm in Mount Pleasant by Ruth Hartnup

Greening the Greenest City

Year after year, Vancouver has been recognized by surveys such as the Siemens Green City Index as one of the most environmentally-friendly cities not only in Canada, but around the world. In 2016, Vancouver was ranked second overall in North America on the Green Cities Index, and ranked first based on air quality and CO2 levels. And despite the city’s continuously increasing density and growing population, creating green spaces has remained a priority. O'Neill confirms this:

We try to encourage as much food growing and gardening in the city as possible. We’re trying to remove barriers as much as we can to allow it to happen through developments, through multi-family buildings, in high density areas, and also in single-family home areas.

For residents, these varied options for gardening and food growing mean that everyone can have their own role in making the city a more beautiful and eco-friendly place, even if they don’t have a garden space of their own.

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