New Westminster's city hall community garden a big hit

The grand opening of the Gardens at City Hall community garden on the front lawn of New Westminster city hall might have been celebrated Thursday, but gardeners there have already been busy at their plots for a month – and it shows.

Elena Pilon’s plot was a tangle of green by the time a small crowd gathered nearby for a celebration that included refreshments and presentations by the Honeybee Centre and indigenous plant diva Cease Wyss.

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“I’m very happy, although it’s too thick right now,” Pilon said of her plot, bursting with eggplant, chillies, beans, squash, okra, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, carrots and bitter melon plants.

Pilon has lived in a highrise near the Pattullo Bridge since 2004 and had been looking for a community garden plot for years, when her husband saw the garden being built this year and went into city hall to make inquiries. 

“I grew up on a farm in the Philippines, and we have land of course for garden and rice and you name it and I miss that, especially if you live in a highrise,” Pilon said. “When we finally found this community garden in here and (my husband) told me, I got so excited.”

At a plot near Pilon’s, Rubana Ahmed is growing sweet pea, basil, sage, oregano, squash, tomatoes, chillies, parsley, zucchini, eggplant and Habanero peppers.

“They’re too hot, the worst hottest pepper,” she said.

Ahmed lives in a condo at Sixth Street and Royal Avenue that doesn’t have enough space to grow vegetables.

“I want some organic vegetables,” she said. “I want to grow something because I was born in Bangladesh. Everywhere we have a backyard and vegetable gardens and front yard that’s for flowers. We grow up like that way.”

Like Pilon, Ahmed walks to the community garden most days to tend her plants.

Not having enough space to garden at home was a common refrain among those gathered at the community garden last week. 

Steve Forster lives in an apartment uptown.

“You can only do so much on a balcony,” he said.

Now he’s growing corn, beets, cabbage, cucumber, dill, beans, parsnip, peppers, bok choy and Swiss chard right on the lawn at city hall, often bringing his two-year-old daughter Hazel along.

Kevin McConnell, one of the organizers who lobbied city hall to build the garden, is pleased at the way the project is coming along.

“It’s awesome to have the space in front of city hall,” he said. “It’s awesome to have it be a used space instead of just grass.”

The Community Garden at City Hall project was initiated by the New Westminster Environmental Partners and is run by the New Westminster Community Gardens Society.

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