Garden grows community

Garden at Oak Bay United Church helps foster new relationships

Emily Zabel

Emily Zabel

Having a church in the community means more than just attending Sunday morning fellowship.

That’s according to a group of about a dozen members of the Oak Bay United Church who have been working on building a community garden at the church since last spring.

“We want to be clear that we’re a church in the community, and accordingly, it isn’t just all about coming to church on Sunday,” said Carol Martin, church administrator, who is also responsible for community development. “We have other things we can do and share.”

Staff and volunteers of the church hope that the garden will help build a sense of community within Oak Bay.

“We know that when people work on projects (together), they form relationships and we think that the garden is a way of supporting these kinds of relationships,” Martin said.

The project is based on several partnerships involving volunteers from the community, including people from the church, youth, local artists, and charities that have donated to the garden.

The landscaping was done by Brenda Costanzo and Pauline Hubregtse, both trained landscape designers. Many of the native plants were donated to the church by local societies, such as the Native Plant Society, and private gardeners.

The church is also working with Habitat Acquisition Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting lands in the Capital Region.

“We’ve agreed to be pesticide free and to try to plant native plants that are good for the environment; and remove invasive species,” Martin said.

Martin estimates the project cost less than $2,000, including the cost of artists’ materials and honorariums.

“We haven’t spent a lot of money so far,” she said.

While volunteers have been working hard to remove invasive plants and weeds, and planting native plants in their place, Martin said the garden is “far from done.”

“I’m not feeling rushed because if we get the right engagement in the community, it will happen at the pace it should happen,” Martin said.

Many invasive plants and trees still need to be removed, she said, noting that more volunteers are welcome.

“The garden was simply an overgrown, heavily weeded space full of invasive plants,” said Emily Zabel, one of the project leaders.

Zabel, a student from the Restoration of Natural Systems Program at the University of Victoria, is also working with a group of youth from the church to build a permaculture garden, which will consist of four to five garden beds.

Any vegetables or herbs that grow in the garden will be available for the public to use.

The permaculture garden is, however, only one of the additional projects sprouting from the garden. The garden will include a memorial rockery area, where people will be able to plant flowers or display small plaques in memory of loved ones.

There are also hopes for a walkway through the garden, connecting it to the Brighton Walkway, Martin said, noting it would allow easier access for people in wheelchairs.

A section at the back of the garden that is more naturally wooded and protected will also act as a more “contemplative” spot for people.

“Lots of people identify connections with nature as spiritual for them, they don’t think church per se, they just think spiritual,” Martin said.

Another project that’s stemmed from the community garden is a mural painted by artists Quinn Gilgan and Justin Kaczmarek.

Gilgan and Kaczmarek collaborated to create a mural under the theme of wind, water, fire, and land, as well as union and togetherness.

“We felt that this was the most appropriate general theme to work under,” Kaczmarek said.

The wall that the mural was painted on had previously been covered in graffiti.

“We are hoping that people will come and enjoy the plants and mural, and maybe even use the site for picnics and weddings in the future,” Zabel said.

Visit the garden at 1355 Mitchell St., or call 250-598-5021, ext. 0 for more information.

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