How to Plant a Successful Community Food Garden

An edible boulevard garden in Victoria has transformed its community.

Credit: GardenWise

When Rainey Hopewell and Margot Johnston planted a “help-yourself” edible boulevard garden, it changed their lives and the face of the community

Planting a boulevard food garden is an easy way to utilize space and give back to the community

Three years ago Rainey Hopewell looked out of her kitchen window at the street boulevard outside and had a revelation. “We should make a veggie garden on the boulevard, and it should be a public garden because that’s public land,” she said to her partner, Margot Johnston. The Haultain Common garden has come a long way since then, and has had a profound effect on the neighbourhood and surrounding community. 


Planning your boulevard garden

When planning a boulevard garden, Rainey and Margot learned they needed to carefully consider public safety, as well as their own. “You need to know where the gas, water and power lines run before you dig. This can easily be done by calling 1-800-474-6886, found under “B.C. One Call” in the white pages,” says Rainey. 

The Haultain Common garden

Another safety factor involves access to pathways across the boulevard garden, an important concern when people get out of their cars and need to get off a busy road. There has not been one complaint though since the beginning, only lots of questions and compliments, reflect Rainey and Margot, who also say that planting a food garden on the boulevard and in their front yard gave them hope for the world and changed the neighbourhood in unexpected ways.


Building community, changing the world

In the beginning, their experiment tempted them to peek out of the kitchen window to view the reactions of people to the free food offered from the boulevard garden. At first, passersby were hesitant to take any food, even though a friendly sign invited them to help themselves.

Rainey and Margot in their garden
Rainey Hopewell and Margot Johnston
in their garden in Victoria.

Then Rainey and Margot handed out veggies to every person who walked by, talked about the Common, and invited folks to help themselves anytime – and this helped their neighbours become more comfortable with taking food from the boulevard.

Now one mom sends her daughter, Grace, over at dinnertime to pick salad greens or dig for potatoes. Grace now considers this garden her garden too, and happily joins in during the planting season and harvests food and flowers without prompting. She even brings friends to the garden to share pickings with them. Children love seeing food growing.

People passing by wave and chat. “We have hundreds of great conversations about food security, locavorism, traffic calming, place making and the Common,” laugh Rainey and Margot. Awareness about local food security has spread in the community, bringing neighbours together and inspiring the creation of colourful food gardens in front yards and boulevards across the road, along the street and around the corner.

“There are 120 miles of boulevard in Victoria alone. Just imagine how much food could be produced on that amount of land,” reflects Rainey.


How to plant a boulevard garden

Lasagna gardening is ideal for boulevard gardens. Just start piling 5-cm (2-in.) layers of mixed organic waste over the area where you want to grow food, on top of large plain collapsed cardboard boxes (freely available behind many stores).

When you have 30 cm (12 in.) of material piled up, finish with a 5-cm (2-in.) layer of screened compost or topsoil, and either direct seed or transplant. Water in to moisten the bed, and one month later I guarantee you will be amazed at how much free food is growing. 


More on small food gardens

Recommended organic materials for building a lasagna bed

– Plain cardboard boxes (no coloured ink, with staples and tape removed)

– Compost

– Grass clippings

– Manure, aged

– Spoiled hay

– Leaves

– Coir (coconut peat)

– Leaf mulch

– Sawdust

– Wood ash

– Seaweed

Easy-to-plant fruits and vegetables for community gardens


This year I grew ‘Russian Blue’ potatoes – purple right through. I was impressed by the attractive contrast between the dark stems, purple flowers and serrated foliage – altogether a very attractive groundcover.



My friend Kathleen harvested 6 kg (13 lb.) of the biggest and best garlic from a front-yard raised bed that was just 1.2 by 1.8 m (4 by 6 ft.). With this many bulbs one could easily plant up their whole boulevard and still have lots left for eating!


'Five Colour Silverbeet' chard is both gorgeous and delicious‘Five Colour Silverbeet’ chard is both gorgeous and delicious


Try ‘Five Colour Silverbeet’ or ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard to brighten up the boulevard. Chards produce all year round before they go to seed. They make great cut-and-come again greens, and check out those multicoloured stems for a conversational side dish! 



Perhaps lower-growing varieties make better choices for a boulevard garden, as some can grow to 1.8 m (6 ft.) tall and may block the view! There are many colours and textures of kale from light-green curly, grey-green crinkled to stunning dark purple. 


Lipstick strawberries produce showy flowers and sweet fruit‘Lipstick’ strawberries produce showy flowers and sweet fruit

Alpine Strawberries

My friend Danka gave me a gift packet of alpine strawberries last year. I sowed the tiny seeds in late March, and was amazed that I was eating edible fruit in only three months from seed! ‘Lipstick’ has very showy neon-pink flowers and produces really sweet fruits all season long.

Mixed Lettuces

There are so many varieties to choose from in all textures, colours and shapes. Create a patchwork quilt of different lettuces and pick tender baby lettuce leaves for colourful salad greens all summer long. Especially recommended for shade.



In hot spots, bush varieties of cucumbers such as ‘Marketmore’ will produce ample harvests of juicy, non-bitter cucumbers. They are easy to grow and do not need staking.



Lycopersicon esculentum var. pimpinellifolium or currant tomatoes are perfect for boulevard gardens. They sprawl as groundcovers and with no staking produce fruit the size of a grape. Try ‘Hawaiian Red Currant’ or ‘Coyote Yellow Currant’ with tangy crisp flavour. The fruits are borne in clusters on prolific, indeterminate vines, which grow and produce all season. Kids love them!