Loving a Community Garden

Grow a community garden with your neighbours

Credit: Jackie Connelly

Wait-listed for city garden plots

I love to garden and wanted some garden space in Vancouver,” says Terri-Lyn Storey. As do a lot of people in her neck of the woods. For the past six years, this 35-year-old has lived in East Vancouver where there are lots of condos and apartments, and where even those living in houses are often tenants whose landlords might not be thrilled if they plow the yard to plant peppers. Hence the three-year waiting list for community gardens.

In keeping with its objective to become the greenest town in North America by 2020, the city of Vancouver created 2,010 new allotment plots before the 2010 Olympics. When the city offered the chance for a community garden to be created in an old park, Storey was ready to dig in.

“There was no funding attached [to the program],” she says, “but they gave us the space.”


Creating East Vancouver’s South China Creek Park plot

Terri-Lyn’s friend Gavin Ross had started community gardens before – South China Creek Park is his fifth – but Storey was a rookie. Nevertheless, as a teacher of theatre to elementary schoolchildren, she was used to applying creativity to new situations. 
She and Ross began compiling to-do lists.

Because South China Creek is in East Vancouver, the project qualified for a grant from the U.S.-based Heifer Fund, whose mission is to assist food-related projects in poorer regions of the world. Another small grant from a credit union filled the kitty and the designing began in earnest.


Executing plans

For the 3,000-square-foot area, Storey and Ross planned paths and 100-square-foot garden plots. Once city workers stripped away the turf, Storey and a crew of volunteers upped tools, and in nine days they created a fence, paths, 21 plots and even a shed. 
“I’d never made or fixed anything before in my whole life,” says Storey. “I’m so proud of it!” 

In spite of their planning, sometimes the hands-on action guided the design, rather than the other way around. While digging fencepost holes, for example, Storey kept running into rocks so she simply moved the augur. As a result, the fence line is a little . . . fluid. 

Nobody seems to mind, and the fence isn’t designed to keep people out, anyway. “It makes me happy when people stroll through,” Storey says. “It was an old rundown park until the city renovated it three years ago. Now all these people in the neighbourhood are getting to know each other.” And what they sow shows their interests as much as their conversations. 

Diversity in the community garden

“One guy grows hops for homemade beer,” Storey says. “It’s really pretty, almost like a centrepiece.” Another brought his child’s grade one class on a field trip and every child got to plant a bean. 

Part of the deal with the Heifer Fund is an agreement to pass along the gift. South China Creek gardeners honour that by contributing the produce of one 50-square-foot plot to a local food bank. Some gardeners go a step further, like the woman who donated her entire potato patch.

Occasionally, though, someone less generous wanders through. Storey once lost every cucumber from her vine. “I didn’t mind someone taking one, or even two,” she says, “but taking three broke my heart.”

Feeding people both literally and figuratively

While Storey encourages a mix of flowers and edibles, she loves being able to feed herself from her garden.
 She grows heirloom tomatoes of all varieties. “I’m in love with tomatoes,” she confesses. “I love love love tomatoes and people are always so happy when you give them a gorgeous tomato just because,” she says. She planted nine different kinds last season, as well as zucchini, Swiss chard, onions, green bush beans, yellow wax beans, beets, carrots, celery, kale, and she keeps the harvest going into the winter with some plastic piping and tarps.
 “I was eating my own lettuce in December,” she says. 

But Terri-Lyn is growing more than greens – her spadework and vision are feeding the spirit of a community.