The Urban Learning Garden
Food for People, Food for Pollinators, Food for Thought
It all started with the seed of an idea: a beautiful, biodiverse garden in downtown Victoria, an outdoor classroom and a community space for all to enjoy. A place that celebrates food and sustainability in the heart of the Food Eco District!
Having dreamt about creating a space like this for a long time, we finally began developing the Urban Learning Garden in the courtyard of the downtown library (940 Blanshard St.) in the summer of 2018 in partnership with LifeCycles Project Society.
This food forward initiative is a multi-garden experiment in urban placemaking and will become a collection of mini-learning labs over the next few years, bringing diverse plants into the city to remind folks that food grows from the Earth. We want to celebrate this truth, so we are experimenting and hoping to find ways to bring our consumption back into balance.
We describe the project as a “multi-garden experiment” and a collection of “mini-learning-labs” for many reasons, including the following:
We are trying something new. We are community minded individuals, a few of us working for forward thinking organizations, who want to create a different way of growing in the city. We’re not satisfied with the status quo and we want to experiment with different ways of doing things. We are trying to learn how to do this work well, in this place, at this time.
We are learning as we go. Many of the species of plants we are planting are unaccustomed to such extreme urbanized environments. We are not playing with the usual, heavily domesticated, urban street plants you see in most downtown cores.
We are playing with plants. And we’re trying to learn which plants like playing with us in this bizarre anthropic landscape. We’re also really hoping to learn which plants attract the attention of people who have forgotten the joy of playing with plants.
We are trying to create together. We are experimenting with different ways to engage people in this work. We want diverse individuals and groups to come into this space. We want this to be more than a place to pass through, or to stop for a smoke. We’ll be offering workshops, events, tours and the like but we really hope people will come to spend time here in their own ways, and to find ways to make the space theirs. We want diverse people to become involved in helping us make this space.
We believe the learning is in the process. Each “zone” we create is unique, with its own set of challenges and possibilities.
In 2018 we: 1) refurbished the existing concrete planters in-front of the library and planted a collection of over 30 native plant species and 2) created a perennial herb garden and seating area with a collection of gentle medicinal and culinary herbs (as well as 2 kiwi vines).
In 2019 we installed a pollinator garden with nesting habitat for native bees and other pollinators, and this year, we will be installing an ‘outdoor living room’ gathering space for the community, with 2 more gardens to come!
We are open to each evolving and changing as we go. We do not have a fixed end state in mind. We are more interested in the process.
Concrete cities are blossoming. Amid this jungle, we need solutions that work for many. Solutions that help us un-learn some things, and re-learn others.
Thanks to the generosity and enthusiasm of our supporters including the Greater Victoria Public Library, the City of Victoria, the Province of British Columbia, Co-op Community Spaces and Vancity, this big idea has found the nourishment it needs to take root. An extra special thank you to those who took the time to vote for the Learning Garden during the City of Victoria’s Participatory Budgeting Process! Because of you, this project is coming to fruition.
Be sure to keep your eye on the space to see what comes next!
Workshops set to begin soon!