Good neighbours: Garden grows more than vegetables

by Jeff Bell, TimesColonist |  AUGUST 26, 2012

Four months after planting, a new garden at the Seven Oaks mental-health facility is bursting with life.

The project got started through a horticultural fund established for the Parks and Recreation Foundation of Victoria with a donation from Ian Back. The first grant went to the John Howard Society to create the Seven Oaks garden, an initiative called Feeding Ourselves and Others.

The Backs created the horticultural fund to give financial assistance to local garden projects. Ian Back said the city is blessed with beautiful gardens and considerable gardening knowledge, but there has been a gap in the availability of money for adding to that legacy.

“My hope is that other garden enthusiasts in Greater Victoria will recognize the benefit of having such a fund and will provide additional capital, so that the horticultural fund can quickly grow to [such] a size that its annual earnings can help to enhance Greater Victoria’s reputation as a city of gardens,” he said.

Foundation president Ann Geddes said the Seven Oaks garden will be presented to the public at an event in September. Details are pending.

“It’s a lively garden, doing good things with people,” she said.
Project co-ordinator David Stott said there are currently 14 people working on the garden, including Seven Oaks residents and people from the downtown area dealing with struggles in their lives. He said the idea is to teach them about nutrition as well as gardening, and to encourage mutual support.

“The activity here is a great way for them to become more engaged in the community,” said Dave Johnson, executive director of the John Howard Society, which works with people who have been in prison or in trouble with the law.

“It’s something that happens on a regular basis, and the staff that they’re working with are able to help maintain the involvement.”

He said the produce from the garden is spread around. There is a variety of vegetables, and plans call for edible native plants to be put in during the fall.

“Some of it goes to the participants,” Johnson said. “A lot of it goes to [Our Place] and also to the Mustard Seed.”

Knowing that they are giving something to the community is a real boost for project participants, Johnson said.

A total of $50,000 has gone into the project so far, including the money from the grant and other donations. It is also being helped along by people with gardening expertise who volunteer their time.

“We hope that this project will become a permanent community facility,” Stott said.