How We Do It

How Can We Boulevard Garden in Victoria?!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe City wishes “Victorians [to] have access to…resources to produce and process their own food in urban areas” (Official Community Plan, 17.B).  In keeping with this goal, boulevard gardens have been popping up for years. In July 2014, City Council approved a set of boulevard gardening guidelines on an interim basis. In February 2016, Boulevard Gardening Guidelines were approved “for good”, to support and shape these micro-projects.

Technically, leaving anything on the boulevard or removing anything from it still runs off-side City Bylaws.  Through the Boulevard Gardening Guidelines, the City is essentially saying that it will not enforce these outdated Bylaws against those who garden safely and responsibly. As a matter of policy and practice, the City allows immediately adjacent property owners (and others acting with the informed consent of adjacent property owners) to pursue street-side gardening.  The City anticipates amending its Bylaws in the not-too-distant future.

Victoria’s Boulevard Gardening Guidelines are based primarily on Vancouver’s Boulevard Gardening Guidelines, which were reworked to better suit Victoria’s unique wants and needs. Victoria’s Guidelines offer plenty of helpful direction in relation to boulevard gardening, including how to avoid underground utilities, how to find maintenance help, and how to cope with soil contamination. The City’s permissive posture is encouraging and exciting!

CAUTION: Before pushing your shovel into the Earth, push buttons on your phone. Call BC One Call for information on underground utilities, at 1-800-474-6886.

How Do You Boulevard Garden in Victoria?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy answer takes the form of a question:  How would you like to do it? There’s plenty of room on city boulevards for different gardening styles. It can be helpful to learn by doing, and to teach by showing. At the same time, if you pursue boulevard gardening as a group project, I’d recommend a high degree of communication and consensus within that group. To me, it’s a lot more fun to work as part of a team when everyone concerned can share diverse opinions, then find a way to pull together toward a common vision.

If you’re interested in permaculture gardening, I’d recommend a book called Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway. Permaculture is short for ‘permanent culture’ or ‘permanent agriculture’. Sustainability is the goal, and that means working in harmony with natural processes, not against them. For example, if you are constantly pulling weeds in a garden and leaving bare soil exposed, you’re pitting yourself against a force of nature. Seeds from pioneering plants love bare soil, so holding open that habitat is a sure-fire way to invite them to return your way, creating needless weeding work. If we cover bare soil with thick mulch, like dead leaves, we mimic a forest ecosystem. We add fertility, retain moisture, and discourage weeds from getting a toe-hold.  And if they do take root, is that so terrible?  On deeper reflection: Maybe the hard part isn’t reshaping the garden; maybe the hard part is reshaping ourselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt may shock you, but cutting-edge permaculture principles say to welcome ‘weeds’ to a degree, even dandelions. As one of my gardening mentors once said: “If you want to be a permaculture gardener, you’ve got to learn to love the dandelion!” Dandelions send deep roots downward, drawing nutrients upward. Chopping-and-dropping dandelion leaves into the garden makes fertilizing mulch (the flowers and seed heads can be sent to a hot compost bin, to avoid spreading dandelions more widely than you want). Dandelion parts are edible, and dandelion wine delightful (or so I’m told). Dandelions bloom early in spring, when bees need them most. Dandelions are just dandy!

Walk in a forest, and drink in the diversity. Notice how hard it is to find any wild things growing alone, or in straight lines. In a garden, I cringe when I see the same plant marching in regimented rows. Sow in straight lines if you like; it is your garden after all, and rows of kale are much better than blades of grass. But if the goal is to mimic ecological processes, consider one of Alfred Kinsey’s gardening slogans: “Straight is the line of duty but curved is the line of beauty.”  Neat rows might be more efficient, but why should efficiency trump everything else?

Planting the same plant shoulder-to-shoulder is an invitation to infestation.  Pests move in, and hop happily from meal to meal.  I’m drawn to diverse plantings loosely organized into small patches, using curvy strokes and colourful splashes. I want the gardens where I work to look like an artist’s canvas, or at least an artist’s palette. To me, that looks more appealing to many passers-by, less appealing to many pests.

I also like to consider how different plants can support one another in ‘guilds’. A comfrey plant I don’t eat, but I plant comfrey in the garden next to dwarf fruit trees because the flowers attract bees, and the leaves create mulch.  Adding multi-purpose plants to your garden, especially native varieties, can whittle your workload and double your pleasure. Grass offers none of these benefits.  Lawn?  Yawn!

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