Putting green space to work in Victoria

Guerrilla gardeners flourish despite Victoria bylaws

Mike Large and Margot Johnston stand in front of Haultain Common

Margot Johnston and Rainey Hopewell are too busy feeding their neighbours to wait for the City of Victoria.

More than four years ago, the couple founded the Haultain Common, by converting a boulevard between the sidewalk and roadway into a public garden.

Ever since, they’ve been stumbling around awkward and outdated bylaws while transforming the publicly owned land at the corner of Haultain and Asquith streets.

“We realized that, in order to go forward, we had to bring the parks department along with us. We weren’t going backwards,” Johnston said.

But the city has been dragging its feet on the creation of a boulevard garden bylaw for two years, a delay not likely to be resolved in the coming months, said Kate Friars, City of Victoria parks director.

“I doubt we’re going to get back to council much before early next year,” she said. “There’s been some interruptions in the consultant’s ability to get some of the work done with everything else we’ve had on the go.”

Johnston and Hopewell have become de facto advocates for food security, and their experience has only fortified their belief that public gardens are integral to building a healthy community.

“We realized what a small percentage of the food we eat here is actually grown here, and how vulnerable our food supply really is,” Johnston said.

Mike Large, a lawyer and green advocate, noticed the boulevard garden on a bike ride earlier this year and is now an active volunteer.

“I thought, ‘OK, this is new lawmaking. This is new social norm-making in its infancy, just doing it and hoping that it catches on and becomes the new normal,” he said, pointing out artichoke, kale, broccoli, strawberries and various other vegetables and fruit in the garden.

“It’s intended to work like blackberries on the Galloping Goose. Anyone who walks by can feel free to eat,” he said.

Johnston plans to continue educating others who want to create their own boulevard gardens, but cautioned the city does have legitimate concerns around safety and liability.

There can sometimes be gas and power lines buried underground along boulevards, she said.

A call to B.C. One Call at 1-800-474-6886 can help identify where such lines are buried on individual properties.

“We didn’t even think about that when we started and we were fortunate all of the utilities were in the boulevard on the other side of the street,” Johnston said.

To learn about urban gardening in Victoria, visit urbanagriculturehub.ca.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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