Monday, July 28, 2008

Greening the dump

Downtown Vancouver is shaped like the belly of a seahorse, with Stanley Park being the head. It swims between Burrard Inlet and English Bay; False Creek bathes the lower back.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the water continued down and around the tail as tidal flats. A dam was built at Main Street, the "land" was deeded to the CPR (who later gave some of it back, as unusable) and the wetlands were slowly drained and filled. What is left now, is a large, barren area, partly wasteland, partly scarred by railway lines and warehouses. I have marked it on the map in pale brown.

On the north side of this blot, a small bright green V marks the Strathcona Community Garden. This was originally part of the tide flats; over the better part of half a century, the city has been gradually filling it with soil, garbage and gravel. In spots, the water still surfaces.

The flats have seen varied activity over the decades: railway parking, industrial landfill, city garbage dump, "Hobo Village" during the Depression years, and later on, the site of the main city firehall and mixed industrial use. All of this, of course, was laced together with the irrepressible blackberry thickets.

Since the end of the 1970s, residents of the area have been working towards creating a shared garden on the dump. It has not been easy; between the difficulties of the terrain, the encroachment of the city, conflicts with other worthwhile projects, and the on-again, off-again battles with the city government, it took ten years to formalize a temporary lease on the property, in 1985.

The garden at first covered 3.5 acres; in 1993, it was expanded to include the Cottonwood, along the street to the southeast, and the Environmental Youth Alliance garden (on a blackberry-infested garbage heap), bringing the total area under cultivation up to 7 acres.

Enough stats; on to the photos. Follow our footsteps:

The sign on Hawks Avenue does not encourage visitors; it doesn't even mark an entry-way. Up at the corner of Prior, a narrow wood-chip trail cuts through the blackberries and bindweed.

This wild border serves a useful purpose or two: it insulates the garden from the smoke and racket of Prior Street, and provides a safe habitat for birds and other wildlife. Besides, it disguises the garden, discouraging non-garden-oriented visitors. It almost discouraged us; we passed the corner several times before we noticed the trail.

Around a gentle curve, the garden dozes in its sunny enclosure. At first, we wander among the expected allotment fare.

Lettuces and other salad greens.

Big blue cabbages.

Herbs in containers.

Nasturtiums and dillweed. With a chair for the weary weeder.

With the occasional decorative element thrown in. Here, crab shells on poles.

The plots go on and on, and we went around and around, up and down the rows. A few gardeners worked quietly on their squares of land; a woman showed us her neighbour's grape vines, woven together with flowering purple clematis, white bindweed, and laden with green grapes.

Heading for the garden shed, for another tool, perhaps. Scarlet runner beans bloom overhead.

The plots petered out. We passed a row of tall boxes; beds raised to waist height.

I learned later that these beds were built for the use of disabled gardeners, who would not be able to handle the stooping and lifting that most ground-level gardening entails. (Oh, my aching back!)

A few picnic tables under fruit trees, and this round "dining suite" in a sunny spot. And just beyond, the orchard; apple, pear, and crabapple trees.

And across the orchard, the beehives, housing the pollinating crews.

Doing the map dance.

To be continued: water features, solar panels ...


  1. That's great that they're coming up with ideas like this.-We have a similar project going on near where I live.

  2. Every inner city needs at least one!


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