Natasha Van Bentum has had a garden plot at the Montreal Street Community Garden in James Bay for the last seven years. She said tending her plot helps her to get away from screens and enjoy the sunshine. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Natasha Van Bentum has had a garden plot at the Montreal Street Community Garden in James Bay for the last seven years. She said tending her plot helps her to get away from screens and enjoy the sunshine. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Victoria’s community garden plots a hot commodity

Eager gardeners could wait three years or more for plots in local gardens

With dense multi-unit housing in Victoria on the rise, a huge amount of residents are without access to personal green space – and local community gardens aren’t keeping up with demand.

The majority of spaces in Victoria’s allotment gardens have significant wait times – up to and above three years.

Available community garden plots are hard to come by in Victoria, where most gardens have wait lists of 20 or more people. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

“There just aren’t enough community gardens,” said Rachel O’Neill, manager of communications and development at the Burnside Gorge Community Association, which operates a 23-plot community garden.

The City of Victoria has the highest proportion of apartment units in the region at 63 per cent, and the lowest proportion of ground-oriented dwellings at 36 per cent – meaning a huge number of residents are without yards.

And the number of apartment buildings is expected to continue growing. The city’s official community plan forecasts a need for an additional 13,500 apartment units over the next 30 years.

“If you look at the number of high density buildings, there is not enough green space,” O’Neill said. “There are lots of folks that aren’t living in single family houses.”

Burnside Allotment Garden has no available plots and at least 50 people on the wait list.

“Everybody has wait lists, there seems to be more demand than there are spaces available in the region,” O’Neill said. “I think there is more awareness of food security on a local level [and] the health benefits … it’s also really therapeutic to get your hands in the dirt.”

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The Montreal Street Community Garden in James Bay is the oldest in Victoria. Started in 1977, the 54-plot garden has about 60 people on its wait list, and continues to get five to six plot enquiries a month. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

But gardeners hoping for their own plot will have to be patient – a majority of the city’s allotment gardens are full.

The Montreal Street Community Garden, formerly the James Bay Garden Association, was started in 1977 and is the oldest community garden in Victoria.

The garden has a rich agricultural history – called “Lekwammen” or “the land of the winds” by the Songhees First Nations, the traditional Coast Salish territory was harvested for camus bulbs, berries, and pacific willow.

Post-colonization, the land was also used for farming by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and by 1977, before it was transformed to a garden, was a neighbourhood dump site and the location of a hydro transformer.

The garden now boasts 54 plots, roughly 12 by 15 feet in size.

READ ALSO: Honeybees find a home at Gordon Head community garden

“We have a long waiting list,” said garden chair Christina Mitchell in an email. “There are 60 people on the waiting list. We get around [five to six] enquiries a month. It can take up to three years before a plot becomes available.”

The Rayn or Shine Community Garden, run by the Vic West Food Security Collective, was built on a gravel parking lot in 2004. The small, nine-plot garden is full and has a 20-person wait list.

And the 80-plot Yates Street Community Garden is also full, with a wait list of about 20 people.

O’Neill hopes more gardeners take matters into their own hands and create more gardens in the city.

“We live in an arguably very stressful time for a lot of folks. Being able to unplug and be in a natural space is great with this activity,” she said. “[Gardening is] healthy and calming.”

“I think gardens are a wonderful addition to the community, I would encourage for people to start more gardens.”

The City of Victoria has developed a land inventory to identify city-owned land with community garden potential. Those interested in starting a garden can fill out forms available on the City of Victoria website.

READ ALSO: City of Victoria offers funding for neighbourhood enhancement projects



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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