Community gardens work blossoms at Saanich’s Gorge Park

More than 100 names currently filling the wait list for the approximately 60 plots at Gorge Park Community Gardens

Gorge Tillicum Community Association board member Gabe Epstein stands in the Gorge Gorge Park Community Gardens

Gorge Tillicum Community Association board member Gabe Epstein stands in the Gorge Gorge Park Community Gardens

With communal area planting already under way and plots marked in preparation for construction, Saanich’s newest community garden is taking shape on a sunny south-facing site along the Gorge Waterway.

The Gorge Park Community Gardens, a 1,600-square-metre allotment garden at the southeast end of Gorge Park, is a collaborative project spearheaded by the Gorge Tillicum Community Association. During a tour of the site last week, board member Gabe Epstein commended the municipality and residents for their vision.

“Saanich has been amazing. It’s been an excellent collaboration between Saanich, the community association and the greater community,” he said.

Community response has also been significant, with more than 100 names currently filling the wait list for the approximately 60 plots that will be available to community groups and residents later this spring.

While the plots have been marked out, the next step is building the raised beds and with some wood already donated, fundraising is under way to secure the remaining supplies, Epstein noted.

In addition to traditional beds, several higher beds will be available for those with mobility challenges and the entire property will be linked by an accessible path.

A public gathering area, children’s play space and seating area are also being installed.

“Everybody is welcome. ‘Everybody’ is a key piece of this garden,” Epstein said, noting that membership in the community gardens is open to anyone, not only those who want a plot, meaning anyone can lend their support to the project.

“It’s a gathering space for people – for a whole diverse range of people – to meet each other, to talk about food and to share knowledge,” he said.

An initiative 14 years in the making, serious discussions began in 2011 as the community explored how to use the largely under-utilized area, asking “how can we bring people into the park for positive, proactive, recreational activity,” Epstein says.

The community garden also ties into Saanich’s Official Community Plan, which calls for greater food security support.

While a similar proposal in Royal Oak failed to fly following insufficient neighbourhood backing, early comprehensive outreach to park neighbours and the Gorge-Tillicum community helped build a positive response.

In addition to being functional, educational and accessible, the park’s proximity to the adjacent condominium buildings meant it also had to be beautiful, Epstein said, pointing out the flowering plants to be added to attract vital pollinators like bees and butterflies.

And, with its sloping site on the shores of the Gorge Waterway, the garden also needed to be organic – no herbicides or pesticides allowed – and to address the issue of run-off, achieved through a rain garden, also planted with edibles, berms and swales.

In addition to individual garden plots, which will be allocated to both individuals and community organizations like Saanich Neighbourhood Place, communal areas for members are also included are planted with herbs, strawberries, rhubarb, garlic and more. Today, visitors will notice broad beans and clover, sown as nitrogen-fixers to improve the soil. Outside the allotments, there’s also plans to plant edibles that will be accessible to the greater community, Epstein said.

A shed to house the garden’s communal tools is completed, topped with a metal roof from Irwin Industries that allows for rainwater collection, and a toilet will also be installed.

For more information about the Gorge Park Community Gardens, visit facebook.com/gorgeparkcommunitygardens or email gorgegardens@gmail.com.

Support Gorge Community Garden

Coming up Saturday, April 11 is a benefit dance at Saanich’s Les Passmore Centre for the Gorge Park Community Gardens, with music by Rusty and Roosters, live and silent auction, chocolate potluck feast and more. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets are $20 in advance from Gorge-ous Coffee or $25 at the door. Children under 12 are free.

For more information, email gorgegardens@gmail.com.