Barring a reversal from the Town of Lake Cowichan, the Cowichan Lake Community Garden is going to be relocated — and soon.
Last week at the town’s finance and administration committee meeting, superintendent of public works and engineering services Nagy Rizk confirmed that the final plan for upgrades to Centennial Park requires the garden be demolished. He said preserving the garden in its current location would make it impossible to fit the two baseball diamonds and soccer field planned for the Centennial Park.
On Saturday, gardeners and garden supporters gathered to share their thoughts and to view the two proposed alternate locations, one on Point Ideal Road and one near the tennis courts on Cowichan Avenue.
Cara Smith, spokeswoman for the community garden, said the news took her by surprise.
“It was pretty devastating. It’s like losing a child,” she said.
Smith and other representatives had several meetings with town staff last week to discuss what kind of assistance the town can offer during the relocation process. The town is willing to provide two public works employees and some machinery for two days plus the new land.
Moving the garden will entail dismantling the fence, the pergola and the many garden boxes, not to mention transplanting as many plants as possible. But whichever location the group settles on, Smith pointed out it’s not as though they’re moving plants from one garden to another — they will be starting from scratch at a new location.
“I’m thinking — and this could change — maybe we’ll dismantle the boxes, set them up temporarily at the new site and put a lot of our perennials in them for over the winter and then we’ll have time to design the beds and all the rest of it,” Smith said, adding that with some plants they will have to hope for the best. “I mean, moving the trees there isn’t a guarantee they’ll survive. It’s the worst time of the year to move them.”
There are some parts of the garden that definitely will not be making the transition. The fence, for example, can only be partially saved. The wooden posts were not set in the ground with concrete, so they can be removed by public works staff and transported to the alternate location, however, the wire fencing itself cannot be salvaged and reused.
The irrigation system — including the drip irrigation setup around the fruit and nut trees — and water lines cannot be moved either.
Funding for the community garden since 2014 came in the form of three grants: $10,000 from Island Health, $5,000 from Tree Canada and another $10,000 from Island health. This money is now almost all gone.
“We only have a couple hundred dollars in the bank,” said Smith. “We’re going to have to work really hard, not just for [this move] but over the winter to try and do some fundraising and find some financial support.”
The current garden was designed by Cowichan Green Community using the initial Island Health grant. Even when the group chooses a new location, it will take some time before they have a new layout designed.
“You don’t just pick a tree up, dig a hole and plunk a tree in it. You have boxes to configure and beds to configure. There’s just not enough time to do that before we move,” said Smith.
At the gathering on Saturday, garden members and supporters expressed outrage and sadness at the prospective relocation, with some even moved to tears.
“Is there any way we can ask the community to come and ask the town to amend the plan to work around it and make the field a little smaller?” asked Katherine Worsley. “So much work and labour and time and money went into this garden… There’s nobody getting paid here. It’s supposed to be part of our sustainability and it’s going to be wiped out from under us within less than a month.”
Some garden members advocated a protest, demanding the town modify its plan for Centennial Park.
In discussing the pros and cons of the two potential locations, some members expressed concerns about the Point Ideal Road option because they felt it is too out of the way.
“It doesn’t have to be hidden away. It should be out there for everyone to see,” said Maureen Loebus.
Smith said the group has until Aug. 15 at the latest to come back to the town with its decision about a new location. They have yet to make a decision on which location they prefer.
They will be hosting a community meeting tomorrow (July 21) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Upper Centennial Hall to go over the garden’s history, to outline the garden’s options and review the timeframe. Smith said the meeting will also determine whether there is enough support within the community to start all over.