I was inspired to reconsider the uses of my own little plot of earth five years ago when I first visited the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Located a half-hour walk from the ocean and close to the Spirit of the Pacific Trails, Wesbrook Village on the UBC campus is still under development. Although I am often saddened by the loss of green space, the urban planners got many things right here. One of the features I find most interesting is the inclusion of three community gardens.
When the first garden opened in 2008, residents could rent more than one plot for about $20 each a year. Now they are limited to a single plot per family. The waiting list to get a space in one of the community gardens is up to three years long. Residents don’t just plant vegetables, they plant flowers which attract pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
So why are urban gardens so popular?
1. Meet the Neighbors
In busy urban areas it is sometimes difficult to connect with others. When I have bonded with my next-door neighbors, it has always been over a shared interest in gardening. Lloyd and Rosemary gave me great garden tips. Meeting them also gave my daughter a chance to connect with their granddaughter and enjoy play dates.
2. Mental and Physical Health
After a day at work, a long commute and family chores, I look forward to spending quiet time in my garden watering, weeding and harvesting. Robin Jacobs recently shared 6 Unexpected Health Benefits of Gardening.
3. Grow Organic
People are becoming increasingly aware of what they eat and drink. Gardening allows you to control how your food is grown. You make your own compost and fertilizer and avoid pesticides and herbicides.
If you grow your own pesticide-free crops, you can help the butterflies, bees and other pollinators that are vital to crops. The City of Toronto website offers some great tips.
On a weekend in Whistler, I was treated to an Urban Garden Workshop with Chef Rob. Formerly a chef at Acorn in Vancouver, Rob had been a volunteer chef with Growing Chefs! Chefs go into classrooms, plant windowsill gardens and teach children how to prepare the produce they grow. Their philosophy is that children will eat healthier if they know and grow their own food.
6. Saving Money
This past summer my sister-in-law produced masses of peas, romaine lettuce and 75 huge tomatoes in her one small plot in BC. When I visited a couple of weeks ago, many of the gardens were still thriving with herbs, kale, root vegetables and green onions.
So how has community gardening influenced my own gardening? My former 15’ x 10’ flower bed is now a flower and vegetable garden. Last summer I added lettuce, zucchini plants and tomatoes in with the flowers. I am planning to add herbs to the mix next summer.
As winter settles in Canada, I will be sharing inspirations from gardens I have visited during my travels. I am looking forward to recalling those warmer locations as the weather here cools off.
Whether your holidays take place in a warm or cool climate or somewhere in between, have fun and remember that getting your hands dirty can have many benefits.