Thursday, September 30, 2010

Green Streets of Vancouver

My street garden, a City of Vancouver Green Streets initiative.
Grey asphalt, grey concrete, faded litter, dead grass and cigarette butts - now contrast that image to daisies and cosmos dancing in the breeze, lush borders, fragrant flower beds and happy, buzzing bees. What would you rather walk past on your daily commute?

A lanky evening primrose waiting to take root (and then get pruned!), asters, verbena and hebe
Green Streets is a City of Vancouver initiative that employs volunteer gardeners to tend for and create "street gardens" along corner bulges and within traffic circles to beautify our urban neighbourhoods. A volunteer myself since last winter, I have to say that being given stewardship of city property with the expectation of making it beautiful is a real privilege. I applied to the programme in the usual manner - I had walked by another garden in my block that had a "This Street Garden is Available" sign in it, e-mailed the coordinator and asked to be signed up. I had been beaten to the punch for that garden, but she suggested another close to my home, which I happily adopted.

A haven to honeybees, hoverflies, bumble bees and this pretty bottlefly
Vancouver's Green Streets programme is truly unique to our city - in fact, I was interviewed only this morning by Ingrid, a Swedish graduate student looking to start up a similar programme in her home city. There seems to be no drawbacks (only benefits) to beautifying these unloved plots of land for all to enjoy. People passing by are always grateful to me for the flowers that grow. It feels funny to receive praise, because as all gardeners know the plants did all the work. I just put them where I knew they'd be happy.

Year one: just getting established!
My motivation for becoming a Green Streets volunteer was simply one of not having a backyard to plant in. I tried to find a small plot at the Cypress and Maple community gardeners up near City Farmer, but was told very plainly that there was "no point" in adding my name to the waitlist. There was a year-long waitlist for the other, which apparently is refreshed each year but fills up in minutes and vacanies never arise. Hmmm. I figured my vegetable container gardening would have to suffice - I was grateful to have a sunny balcony at the very least.

Old-fashioned favourites: petunias and alyssum
Unfortunately, growing edibles is not an option in a Green Streets garden, but I have to say that the disappointment was only momentary. Being able to grow beautiful perennials like euphorbias, echinaceas and fescues that do not do well in containers, and to grow large clumps of windy, dancing cosmos edged with trailing verbena and alyssum along an otherwise plain and depressing curbside instantly excited me, and I've been digging in ever since.

Tools of the trade.
I've had some help, though. The kindly caretaker of the building next door to the garden has offered me use of their garden hose (which is fantastic! Merci, Dante!) and even watered the garden periodically for me during the hot, dry weather we had this summer.

Sonata mix cosmos - Alex may say he sowed the seeds, but I transplanted seedlings, too!
And I've also been the victim of the Cosmos Outlaw, an older German man named Alex, who has strewn cosmos and calendula seeds willy-nilly throughout the gardens of Vancouver (Kits, downtown, Pt Grey, UBC, and everywhere inbetween). He carries the seeds in his pockets and plants them everywhere, including in existing gardens, much to the chagrin of the owners! You can see his work outside the Starbucks at Burrard and 3rd Ave. According to Ingrid who was interviewing me about my garden, the infamous Alex is mentioned in the Green Streets book (and no, he's not an enrolled volunteer)! He's been working well ahead of the latest trend: guerilla gardening. (Incidentally, I want to meet the person who's been gardening under the Burrard street bridge (near Beach Avenue) - it's amazing, and their sweet peas smell so heavenly!)

Lady's Mantle in the foreground, just taking root after transplantation.
Ironically, I had purchased the same Sonata mix cosmos seeds for my garden, and had also transplanted calendula and a few cosmos seedlings. You can imagine my surprise when a week later there were cosmos seedlings sprouting up all over the plot! I met Alex when he walked by my street garden a few weeks ago. He introduced himself by saying, "Oh, so you garden here, too?" Dangerous words, my friend, dangerous words! But all's well that ends well, and I agreed to let him continue to toss seeds in my garden so long as he kept it to calendula and cosmos and along the roadside edge in exchange for regular dead-heading, which I know he has done just by the perfusion of pink flowers that have gone on for months and months.

Everyone loves the cosmos. How can you not?!

For the poor student without a backyard of their own, the Green Streets programme allows you free creative reign with few guidelines (just height restrictions, nothing prickly or offensive, and no veggies) on your own borrowed plot of land for everyone to enjoy. Freecycle is a wonderful resource for free plants and thanks to Margarethea, a friendly and community-minded neighbour, my garden now has lady's mantle, columbine, evening primrose and hardy geranium. Now if I could just get some of the less scrupulous citizens to quit digging up and stealing my plants, I'd be ecstatic!

Contact Green Streets today to find out if there's a garden in your neck of the woods that could use a friend, or to see if a new one can be made up for you (because there's a good chance they'll help you out with that!).

Additional: "Do you have a bulge hiding somewhere?" Imagine being asked this question seemingly out of context! I nearly died laughing internally - it was a sweet elderly man who also gardens with Green Streets who I sat next to at the screening of the Green Streets documentary last month at Van Dusen. I've been dying to share that line for ages! So much potential for offense!

1 comment:

  1. P.S. If you garden in the Greater Vancouver / Surrey area, you may be interested in David Hunter's 57th Anniversary sale (30-70%) this weekend (Oct 2 & 3) only.
    Link here: