Byron resident campaigns for new community garden amid heavy competition for plots

Avid gardener Becky Ellis wants to start a new community garden in Byron, given that there are few spots available at the city's existing gardens.

Community garden season runs from May 1 until the end of November

Becky Ellis says taking part in a community garden is a great way to get to know your neighbours and pick up new gardening skills. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Avid gardener and Byron resident Becky Ellis thinks her neighbourhood is the perfect spot to build London's newest community garden.

Gardens, she said, aren't just about growing fruits and vegetables, but also about growing connections — something many people in the car-dependent neighbourhood are hungry for.

"A lot of people who live in Byron and other suburban neighbourhoods tend to drive to work and drive to a lot of activities, and I think that cuts against a sense of community," said Ellis.

"It can affect your ability to know your neighbours in a deep level and I think community gardens can cut against that."

Few empty plots

As London's community garden season kicks off May 1, proposals for new gardens — such as the one Ellis is proposing— may be key to getting more gardeners in on the fun. Of London's 17 total community gardens, all but a few are already booked solid for the season. 

That includes the garden at Byron's Reservoir Park, Ellis said.

"It's the oldest garden in London but it has a lot of long-term gardeners there, it can be hard to get a plot," said Ellis, who added that the level of accessibility at Reservoir Park can also leave something to be desired.

"It's at the very top of Snake Hill, which I don't find to be particularly bike or pedestrian friendly," she said.

Flowers dot the ground in Jorgenson Park, where Ellis wants to start a new community garden. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Ellis is now in the process of gathering community support for the new garden, tentatively planned for Jorgenson Park.

To get a new community garden approved, would-be gardeners must produce the names of 10 supporters in their application to the city.

Ellis already has the blessing of Ward 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins, who agrees that Byron needs more communal space.

"I don't think we have enough community gardens and have enough places for the community to participate and be a part of," said Hopkins.

"It's a gathering place, and I think the more we can do in Byron, I think the better the community will be."

City wants community garden 'in every neighbourhood'

Vanessa Kinsley, the city's supervisor of community gardens and neighbourhood support, said she's glad to see people like Ellis working to get new gardens off the ground.

"Ideally, we would like to have one in every neighbourhood," said Kinsley.

Creating new, hyper-local gardens in Londoners' neighbourhoods is particularly important as a form of inclusion, Kinsley said.

She pointed out that many newcomers and immigrants don't have access to cars, and can't travel to community gardens outside of their neighbourhoods.

"So we really want to get the word out there about the process to get new gardens in, so that immigrant and newcomer populations are able to participate in the process and get a garden in their neighbourhood," Kinsley said.

Kinsley said the city tends to throw "100 per cent support" behind proposed gardens, barring any unforeseen site problems. If a proposed site doesn't work, she said the city aims to help applicants come up with a new plan.

Last year, she said the city received two applications for gardens in West Lions Park and Waldorf Park, and hopes to open both gardens later this spring.


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