Home gardens are community builders

Use gardens to build a network of friendship, neighbourhood and trust that enriches the community.

Credit: iStock

The thornless blackberries that push their way over my back fence each summer are a feast for the neighbourhood. I planted them there to be enjoyed by the diversity of strangers who live in my part of the city. And the other afternoon I was rewarded – an unknown passerby paused at the vines and then, hand to mouth, he feasted in an intense celebration of the season.

Like the community garden down the road, my free-for-all blackberries produce food to share. But they also build a network of friendship, neighbourhood and trust that enriches the life of my community.

Helping people set up neighbourhood gardens has been a priority for Michael Levenston of Vancouver’s City Farmer organization since 1978. In February 2007, City Farmer initiated the Sharing Backyards program to match people who want to garden with property owners across Metro Vancouver who are willing to share their under-used backyards.

“We were inspired by Patrick Hayes, from the LifeCycles project in Victoria. Together we realized that, when you live in a growing city, you have lots of people who want to get their hands in the soil but don’t have access to it because they rent or live in high-rise condos.”

Neighbours now connect online through the City Farmer website (www.cityfarmer.org) and then share plants and weeding and watering in backyards across the city.

Neighbours are also working together to plant and maintain traffic circles and corner bulges in Vancouver and in other cities across the province.

“Green Streets is an incredibly valuable neighbourhood-building project,” says Terry Dixon of the city of Vancouver Greenways Program. “When we first envisioned this civic project in the early to mid 1990s, we thought it would create beautiful gardens. But the true benefits are that people have taken on gardening the traffic circles as a neighbourhood project. One person would get out there and work the soil and a second neighbour would join her. Eventually you’d have several neighbours who hadn’t known each other before, all watering and caring for the traffic circle.”

The informal social contact that happens in these gardens helps to bridge our community. You could say that keeping up with these gardens is the neighbourly thing to do.