Even though the Healthy Minds Community Garden behind the District Office in Fort St. James wasn’t supposed to be open until next year, volunteers were able to get enough beds ready to accommodate several users this year. The result is a tranquil and colourful spot near the shore of Stuart Lake, bursting with colour and life thanks to the efforts of those who created it and those who have started filling it with vegetables and flowers.
The garden started life last year at Dog Creek, and was a project of the Healthy Minds Peer Support Group, enabling patients with mental health issues to become involved with gardening. This year, however, Sandi Taylor and Greg Kovacs of Healthy Minds decided to create a new space closer to town where people could get together.
“We began looking for a suitable space in town, and asked the District Office if they knew of anywhere we could use,” says Taylor. “They said ‘What about the empty space behind the office?’ which belongs to the District but was full of dirt and weeds.” Council was approached, and recommended making the space available. The organizers quickly seized the opportunity, committing to looking after and maintaining the site. “It’s really nice to see the unused space turned into something beautiful,” said Economic Development Officer Emily Colombo.
In addition to the District giving them use of the land, Healthy Minds also received a grant from the Fort St. James Community Foundation, while KDL donated the logs to construct the beds. Volunteers quickly got to work clearing the land, constructing beds, and creating paths through the space. Some 20 students from David Hoy Elementary came and sifted soil, while the grade 9 shop class at the high school built some planters.
“We went to the schools to get in touch with them and let them know about the project,” says Kovacs. The initial plan was to tell them about growing opportunities for next year, but the students’ enthusiasm was such that they came and did some planting in the spring. Taylor has been maintaining the beds over the summer, and when the students come back to school next month they’ll be able to harvest the fruits (or rather vegetables) of their labours. “We’ll also sit down and discuss with them what they should be planting next year, so that things aren’t ready to harvest before September,” says Taylor.
In addition to the students there are several community members who heard about the project back in the spring, and took advantage of the space provided to grow flowers and vegetables. As a result, several of the beds are brimming with produce, from tomatoes and corn to zucchini and squash, with bright yellow marigolds providing splashes of colour. The remainder of the beds will be completed next year, with at least one built so that it’s at a convenient height for someone in a wheelchair. The paths are also wide enough to allow wheelchair access.
It’s a peaceful spot, separated from the lake by a row of trees, and pleasantly cool and shaded late on an August evening. Whimsical metal butterflies adorn the fenceposts, while colourful ceramic tiles and stones decorate many of the beds. Two planters are overflowing with petunias and marigolds, while a small Japanese garden invites contemplation and a chance to slow down for a few moments.
Taylor and Kovacs say that the garden is available for use by anyone in the community who would like to have access to somewhere they can plant whatever takes their fancy. “It’s open to all,” says Taylor. Anyone interested in putting their name down for next year can contact Sandi Taylor at (250) 996-8271 or Greg Kovacs at (250) 996-8827, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone who wants to help is also encouraged to contact the group. Some 650 volunteer hours have already gone into clearing and landscaping the ground and building the beds, with more work needed to get everything completed for next year. “Volunteers are always welcome,” says Kovacs.