›› Alysha Punnett
“Isn’t it illegal?” “I heard you’ll get fined.” “We would love to grow food on our boulevard, but won’t the City remove it?” Does this sound familiar?
I smile as Mike Large pedals his bike up to the Compost Education Centre’s gate. Here is the unassuming, hard-working lawyer who has taken boulevard gardening out of a gray area and into the realm of acceptable and encouraged. It all started in 2012 when Mike biked past the Haultain Common boulevard garden and was inspired by the bottom-up change he saw. Here was tangible, community-level action towards reducing fossil fuel use and growing food in the city. Mike started volunteering with Haultain Common founders, Margot and Rainey, and eventually developed two more boulevard gardens: the Haultain Annex and one near Mike’s home, dubbed Fair Field.
Mike was working in Fair Field one day when Councillor Ben Isitt biked past and inquired about the garden. Isitt suggested Mike put together a document that the City might use in its efforts to meet Official Community Plan goals, such as innovative approaches to urban food security, food education, and adaptive climate change management. Numerous coffee dates with City councillors, community groups, and other stakeholders, eight revisions, and six months later, the Interim Boulevard Gardening Guidelines (IBGG) were approved and published on the City of Victoria’s website on September 3, 2014.
One of the main concerns brought up in the consultation process was about abandoned boulevard gardens. The Compost Education Centre will be playing the role of “match-maker”: pairing boulevard gardens that need help with plot-less gardeners. If you are a boulevard garden owner who needs help or to pass your garden on to new hands, or if you are looking for a gardening space, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, contact information, and location.
Just as important as providing valuable information for beginner and experienced gardeners alike, the IBGG also clarify the City’s position on boulevard gardening. The answer to “Isn’t it illegal?” is now an enthusiastic “No—in fact, it’s encouraged!” and the “City of Gardens” is on its way to using public green spaces to produce food, increase biodiversity, create habitat, and reduce fossil fuel use.
If you are considering installing a boulevard garden, please see the guidelines for “know before you grow” info: victoria.ca/EN/main/departments/parks-rec-culture/parks/boulevards-program/interim-boulevard-gardening-guidelines.html.
For real-world boulevard garden examples and nifty tips, see Mike’s blog StreetGreens.