Four years ago, it was an empty water-logged field collecting water drainage from the towering homes in Sunriver. Now, it is a flourishing, decorative, and productive garden.
The success of the garden has been against all odds.
Maywell Wickham, one of the visionaries and architects behind the creation of the Sunriver Allotment Garden, remembers a group of academic experts who did an analysis. A garden would not grow here, they surmised. Too wet; it could not be done. With vision, persistence, and a lot of hard work by gardeners and volunteers, the community-focused group made it happen. It is a now a thriving community hub for people who share a passion to meet and bond over one of the most fundamental aspects of life — growing food.
On Wednesday, March 27, visiting management from EPCOR dropped by to present a $5,000 cheque to Sooke Region Food CHI Society through a Community Essentials Grant, so that the Garden can complete the site drainage project and undertake an upgrade for future food-production plots. The cheque was received by Phoebe Dunbar, Sooke Food CHI volunteer and driving force behind the project, and Anita Wasiuta, the allotment garden’s president.
When he presented the cheque, Christian Madisen, an Operations Manager at EPCOR, said that EPCOR looks at many funding applications. When EPCOR evaluates a submission for funding, they look at three core elements that build strong communities and families: water (for the food it can produce), energy (for providing shelter and safety), and education. The Sunriver Allotment Gardens factored strongly in two of those three pillars, primarily water and education. That, and the entire context of the gardens embraces both community and family in it’s very structure.
What appeals to EPCOR are projects that deal with food, water and sustainability, but mostly, said Madisen, they look for community. The Sunriver Allotment Garden goes miles beyond the traditional garden-plot rental spaces. The development of community was the real factor in receiving the funds.
After the presentation, Glen Thelin provided a tour of what was formally known as “The Wetlands,” and showed how gentle swales had been built to channel water into a newly developed pond. A swale is a landscaping term for a low tract of land used to manage or direct water. The former wetlands would be developed into an orchard, for both demonstration purposes as well as growing heritage fruit trees. The apple trees planted last year, Thelin said, are expected to yield 100 pounds of apples this year. Three trees were planted by the “visiting dignitaries,” which included Sooke Counsillor Rick Kasper and Vince Corkery, the Director of EPCOR’s Municipal Water Operations. First, the Esopus Spitzenburg went into the ground. Tracing back to Esopus, New York in 1770, this tree was a favourite of Thomas Jefferson. According to Thelin, this is one of the best eating apples
in existence. It is also a great dessert and cooking apple.
“We have a very old ‘Spitz’ specimen growing right here in Sooke, on the Woodside Farm, owned by Peter Wilford,” says Thelin.
Second was the Tetovski, a Russian apple imported into the Eastern U.S.A. around 1835 by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. A medium size apple, yellow base colour/striped crimson. A very hardy apple variety., ready to pick from late July to early September. A good cooking apple, especially if you like a tart flavour.
Third was a tree of unknown origins. It’s temporarily being called ‘Old Esquimalt Rd,’ named for the location where the original tree was found.
Thelin elaborates, “The original old tree is long gone and this is one of only a few grafts ever made. It produces large bright red apples, and all the fruits ripen at different stages from September through October. From all accounts we’ve heard it is a wonderful dessert apple and makes great pies. We are pleased to give it a permanent home at Sunriver Heritage and Demonstration Orchard, to help remember (and taste) these wonderful varieties of heritage fruit trees that are quickly disappearing, as development continues in our communities. At some point, we will find out the true identity of this young tree and give it a more noble and accurate name.”
One tree that was not planted on that particular day, was highlighted by Thelin as their most precious tree to date: It was the only known surviving cutting from Captain Grant’s infamous Lemon Pippin.
After planting the first tree, Kasper offered his “sincere thanks to those involved over the past few years.” He went on to say, “We are getting back to our roots in so many different ways.”
This garden strongly demonstrates that in both the food and the community that it ever so gently nurtures and harvests.
EPCOR’s grant provided an affirmation of what the volunteers and coordinators of the garden already know to be true: The Sunriver Allotment Garden is a living, thriving demonstration of a local return to community. There is a cob fire place for warmth, a gazebo for shelter, naturally-grown food for nourishment, and a whole host of wonderful people for good company.