The patio

Gardens of Cormorant Island

Our Bee's Knees columnists pay a visit to the gardens around Alert Bay.

We visited Alert Bay to see for ourselves the garden enterprises developing there.

Our first stop, the Kwakwalatsi Demonstration Garden on Atli Street, aims to reach out widely with information to promote a healthy community. Chris Joy, the coordinator, met us with a stunning smile of welcome and guided us up the steep slope which forms the lower part of the garden which is being terraced. The upper, level, area comprises a patio, a greenhouse and a round bed divided into pie-slice segments by narrow clam shell paths. Herbs, fruit and vegetables are flourishing throughout the garden. The greenhouse is a sturdy yet elegant building remarkable because it is built of recycled windows and warmed overnight by “solar collectors” – plastic containers filled with water.

Sociability is the keynote here. The garden is fun, Val Hunt, a core group worker emphasised. It was started in October 2011, with a greenhouse project for mums-to-be and now has a core of incentive workers who tend the garden. A group notice board carries fliers for community events as well as lists of crops planted and desired and a map of the crops in the garden. Produce goes to people in need – they cut and carry what they want – and to the child care centre.

Challenges relate to shallow top soil and invaders: rabbits, cats, caterpillars and slugs. In outreach to the wider community the group has created six gardens at people’s homes. The group is considering winter/all-year round cropping and more companion planting.

We were joined by Mel Alfred a UVIC student, home in Alert Bay for the summer, who had a vision of a garden for the Whe La La U community, waved her wand and created it! She took us to the site, where the garden about twenty-feet square was developed in one week, largely by “female power”. It is on a large parcel capable of expansion to include a greenhouse and terraces on the slope behind it. Planted with strawberries by kindergarteners, tomatoes, peppers and onions by a youth group, there are also thyme, comfrey, cabbage, oregano, parsley, petunias, marigold, peppers, tomatoes, rosemary and peas. The garden is cared for by the community – and they can harvest at will. We were struck by the attractive driftwood and fishing net fence.

The U’Mista Cultural Centre maintains a native plant garden in front of the building. Kelsey Nelson helped us find the descriptive signs. Some years ago, the plants seemed to be struggling, but now they are strong and healthy. Assuming they were transplanted here, their survival is instructive and encouraging. The garden incorporates many plant species described in “The Living World”, an excellent guide to native plants and animals.

Up the hill at the Alert Bay campground, Bill Gomm was working on the little gem of a garden, as he has for the last 15 years. This garden fits perfectly into its surroundings. The setting, the layout, the choice and placing of plants compliment the beautiful campground.

Our last stop was not a garden but a small, trim building at the airport housing the Cormorant Recycling Depot. The island has curbside recycling pick-up. With more people catching on to the responsibility of recycling, the service has just expanded to two days a week to meet the demand.