It’s a one-hectare wedge of greenspace, covered in grass and brush alongside the Patricia Bay Highway. For a group of Royal Oak residents, its the perfect location for Saanich’s next community garden.
The plot has long been an field between the highway and West Saanich Road, across from the Royal Oak Centre. Over the past two years, the small but determined group held workshops and gathered signatures to highlight community support for a garden in the space.
But when Saanich announced new potential spaces for new allotment gardens last year, the Royal Oak community garden wasn’t on the list.
“The Agnes Street gardens have a two year waiting list to get a plot there. Capital City (allotment garden) has a long waiting list,” said Ian Crawford. “These were built 40 years ago and nothing’s been added since.”
Saanich is considering installing new community gardens at Commonwealth Place and in Gorge Park, but Crawford, Greg Holloway, Carolyn Herbert and Doreen Webb are pushing to get the Royal Oak land into consideration.
“Our objective is to have an open discussion,” Holloway said. “Look at the numbers of people growing veggies at home. And other aspects come together – building community and getting others involved. Community building is a big part of this.”
As outlined in a proposal and a petition delivered to Saanich last year, the group envisions a terraced series of about 100 garden plots with trees and deer fencing along West Saanich Road and the Fireside Grill boundaries. Parking is indicated on the southern tip of the municipal land.
The group points to the petition with hundreds of area resident signatures, letters of support from 45 nearby businesses, and also from a number of non-profit groups that advocate for more local food production. The Saanich Allotment Gardens Advocates Association agreed to lend its expertise to develop the garden.
“There’s overwhelming support from the business community. It’s not residents versus business,” Holloway said.
“We want to open discussion for pedestrian access and parking requirements. … We want this to be an open process.”
Webb and Herbert point out that people growing their own vegetables continues to be popular, but difficult, in higher-density housing.
“There are so many young people concerned about what’s in their food and where it comes from,” Webb said. “If you live in an apartment, growing your own veggies can be difficult.”
The land has plenty of open space, but it’s not perfect. As of now it has no parking and is only accessible by crossing West Saanich Road from the shopping centre. Holloway admits that some people don’t like the look of garden boxes.
“There are ways to address the esthetics along the border with the Fireside Grill, to plant trees,” he said.
Paul Whitworth, president of the Royal Oak Community Association, said the association hasn’t come out for or against such a garden, and at one meeting members were indifferent at best.
“This (residents’) group is quite keen,” Whitworth said. “I’m not sure they’ve look at all the practical implications. The site itself is sloping, is between two busy thoroughfares with no ready access.
“If it became popular, what would you do with all the people trying to get there? It doesn’t lend itself to access for wheelbarrows. You’ve got a major road crossing.”
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said the land is zoned for commercial use and could possibly be sold in the future. He said the property didn’t make the cut for future community gardens.
“Royal Oak (community association) doesn’t support it, the Fireside Grill doesn’t support it. That land is zoned commercial, but its surplus to our needs,” Leonard said. “Some day it will be put to use, but the municipality hasn’t decided what that is. It will ultimately become an asset to the people of Saanich.”
For more on the Royal Oak garden proposal, see FriendsAFT.ca.