By Kathryn Pankowski

James Bay Neighbourhood Association Gardening Advocate

This is your foreign gardening correspondent reporting in. At the moment, I’m in London, hot in pursuit of the latest and best gardening ideas to steal for James Bay. (I didn’t think you’d believe that. And you’re right – I’m just on holiday. But snooping around in gardens nonetheless.)

Here are some of the most interesting and inspiring projects I’ve seen

Pollinator-friendly Meadows

These seem to be popping up everywhere: I saw them in road roundabouts; replacing swathes of lawn in city parks and around apartment buildings; on outbuilding roofs; in containers. These aren’t restorations of historic meadow ecosystems; they are mixes of plants specifically designed to give a long season of bloom and support pollinators in urban areas. Mostly, they are managed rather like our own Holland Point Park: mowed once late in the growing season, after the seed has ripened. If done right, switching lawn to meadow can, I am told, reduce maintenance costs for municipalities and apartment owners. And they look gorgeous, (or do so at least from what I saw in May and June.)

An Edible Bus Stop

This is an open-to-harvest-by-anyone food garden, built where people are waiting for the bus (fruit snack, anyone?) or getting off on their way home after work (a few salad leaves for dinner perhaps?). The idea is slowly expanding into a whole ‘Edible Bus Route’: there are now gardens in place at three stops along the number 322 route in South London.

Moveable Gardens

London is undergoing an even bigger building and redevelopment boom than BC, and that has spawned some innovative ideas for gardens that pop up where they can and then move on to a new site when the builders arrive. Victoria and Vancouver already have commercial urban farms designed to do this, but in London I saw other types of portable gardens as well.


Colourful meadow planting and community fruit trees transform what was formerly a bit of unintended wasteland at a council housing estate in East London.

The Skip Garden, for example, is now in its fourth location within the massive redevelopment going on around King’s Cross. It’s a small food-growing demonstration garden and café (food so fresh I had to evict a rather rambunctious beetle from my salad) which plants in skips (the British version of a dumpster), gets most of its building materials from skips, and ‘skips’ out of the way of the next high-rise going up.

The inventive folks behind the Edible Bus Stop project have also come up with a pre-fab modular system of portable garden beds and green-roofed retail kiosks, designed to be easy to move (and remove). They can be used to create instant “pocket parks” or turn a piece of property awaiting development into a temporary garden.

Gardens as ‘Medicine’

We all know that gardening has health benefits, both physical and mental, but I was surprised by the way that this idea is going more mainstream within the British health care system. I visited one charity which runs a program for heart and stroke patients (among others), who are referred by their doctors for a half day of gentle gardening each week as part of their recovery program. Other charities run therapeutic gardening programs for military veterans with injuries, people with mental illnesses, and for residents of long-term care facilities. There is even a family medical practice in Lambeth which has set up its own food garden, tended by patients who attend their clinic.

Food and Drink

What could go better with a garden? Almost every garden I visited offered food, drink, and a place for people to gather. My favourite was The Midnight Apothecary, a small, round garden adjoining the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, perched above the Thames. Open two evenings a week, you pay a modest entry fee, which also gets you a supply of marshmallows to roast over the fire in the centre, plus admission to the museum if desired. There’s a menu of interesting cocktails, incorporating botanicals from the garden, a pop-up food vendor grilling souvlaki, and a beautiful, rustic garden lit by torches stuck into the beds. Magical! And the addition of food and drink has turned the garden into a regular neighbourhood gathering place on summer evenings.

There’s lots to think about here, while we tend to our own gardens this summer. Obviously, none of these ideas are directly ‘stealable’. We have a different climate, society, and regulations about such things as open fires and cocktail bars, as well as local ecosystems to guard (watch those meadow mixes!). But projects like these can inspire us to ask how we can use gardens to make a happier, healthier, more beautiful and more connected community. Think that over while you wrestle with your bindweed and Himalayan blackberries.