With water views and bounded by a row of maple trees, a grassy field in Gorge Park in Saanich will become a community allotment garden in the wake of a 15 month effort driven by community volunteers.
A park for more than a 110 years and once a major recreation spot for swimming in the Gorge, Saanich council on Monday approved giving over 1,600 square metres of Gorge Park for a garden. It will give $20,000 in funding to prepare the 60-bed site, likely next spring.
Volunteers Gabe Epstein, with the transitional garden committee and Rob Wickson, president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, led the effort to establish the garden, based on Saanich planning documents that call for community gardens in each of the 12 neighbourhood zones.
“When we first started the vision was about beds to grow food. As we had more meetings, it became a more diverse vision,” Epstein said. “We are trying to establish the garden with strong links to the park and with the wider community.”
The Gorge Park Community Garden is the first new allotment garden established in Saanich in more than 30 years, although the Agnes Street garden was expanded a decade ago. The Gorge Park garden is designed without fences and as wheelchair accessible, and will have allotment for rent and community spaces for all.
“There will be community space where anyone can harvest. There will be a range from personal use to community use,” Epstein said.
“There will be no locked gates. The idea is a porous garden, not only for members but for everybody else. We envision a place where people can come in and sit and talk.”
“I hope to bring my guitar down,” Wickson said.
Over the past year, the community groups found neighbourhood support for the garden through workshops, information sessions and a survey, but they had their share of opposition too.
Some in the area feared a garden would dominate the park’s open space and didn’t want to lose the field for walking their dogs. Some criticized Saanich and the community groups for a lack of public consultation.
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said some residents had legitimate concerns about the loss of open space, but others used the debate as an opportunity for ongoing criticism of the Saanich parks department.
“Others were out to rehearse the tennis meeting,” Leonard said, referring to the controversial clay courts tennis proposal at Cedar Hill recreation. “They are very active on the clay courts debate and migrate it to everything else in the parks department. I think it’s night and day.
“Volunteers responded to our initiative of wanting a community garden. And they get Saanich citizens criticizing them for doing it. I think the allotment garden proposal is on the right track.”
Wickson said the community needs to go through a healing process and people who have been opposed will be invited to further planning and discussion meetings.
The garden will draw more people to the park, Wickson and Epstein say, helps people get to know their neighbours, and ultimately building a stronger sense of community.
“It combats isolation. The place will draw people together, especially those living in condos and apartments who might not know their neighbours,” Epstein said. “This is an opportunity for people bump into each other.”
The organizers say a path around the garden will be wheelchair accessible and planter boxes built at varying heights for accessibility – lower for children and children in wheelchairs and higher for people with mobility limitations.
“There is a lot of work to create a garden accessible to everybody and do special adaptations to the site,” Epstein said. “It costs us more but we’re committed to making it accessible to everybody. We’ve got to do that.”
Under an agreement with Saanich, the GTCA will assume liability and financial responsibility for running the garden, and a Gorge Park Community Garden committee will build, fundraise and manage the space.
The garden has 29 people signed up for allotment spaces, although remaining spaces will likely go fast. Other allotment gardens have waiting lists of a year or more.
For more, see gorgetillicum.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.