New Stories From 'Urban Agriculture Notes'
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Vancouver’s Strathcona and Cottonwood Community Gardens Threatened

Click image for larger view.

Cottonwood provides about 150 plots, including accessible, raised beds, to a membership of 167

By Len Kydd and Beth MacLaren
Cottonwood Gardeners

A consequence of the city’s plan to remove the Dunsmuir and Georgia Viaducts is a plan to divert traffic off of Prior Street to an expanded Malkin Avenue (the Malkin Connector). Malkin will be extended to Main Street and at the east end, an overpass will be built over the tracks to connect to Clark Drive. Malkin Avenue is the right-of-way for the downtown freeway that was never built. This right-of-way is 12 lanes wide and parts of Cottonwood Garden, Strathcona Garden and Strathcona Park have all been developed on this unused right-of-way. Technically this is not park, but has been developed as such and the expansion of Malkin Avenue will seriously erode what many in the community regard as park.

Road allowance lines cutting through the garden. Click image for larger view.

Cottonwood Community Garden will be most affected by this decision. Cottonwood is a long, narrow garden lying along Malkin Avenue and about 40 per cent of Cottonwood was developed on the Malkin right-of-way. The rest is Parks Board land. Community gardens are run on user permits issued by the Parks Board and tenancy is not secure for any of the community gardens in the city.

Cottonwood and Strathcona are among the oldest, are the largest and certainly the most interesting community gardens in the city. Because they are so large, each approximately 3 acres, there was lots of room to experiment with themed gardens.

Cottonwood tried to integrate itself into the neighbourhood by creating an Asian garden to acknowledge the Asian community’s influence and heritage in the downtown eastside and a Native garden to acknowledge the Native community in the area.

Cottonwood has a large Asian garden with a kiwi arbour, 6 asian chestnuts, 3 persimmons, 3 asian pears, 5 mulberries, 2 asian plums, 2 medlars, 3 paulownia, magnolia, 2 koelreuteria, davida, sorbus hupehensis, ginkgo biloba, katsura trees, 7 varieties of bamboo and an understory of hibiscus, rhododendrums, azalea, deutzia, viburnum, beauty berry, hypercium, kerria, tree peony and berbis. This Asian garden was the foundation planting in Cottonwood and the trees and the kiwi arbour are 20 years old and approaching maturity. We cannot think of another place in the city that you could see a collection like this without paying an entrance fee.

The Native garden began development about 12 years ago and the trees and the understory shrubs are planted and doing well. We are now attempting to establish ground cover of ferns and kinnikinik, sorrel, camas, etc. In the Native garden we have planted red and yellow cedar, birch, native crab apple, vine maple, Douglas maple, black hawthorn, arbutus, yellow pine, sour cherry, bitter cherry, oregon ash, mountain ash, cornus nuttallii, spruce, fir, and yew. The understory is of Oregon grape, wild rose, Saskatoon, elderberry, snowberry, hardtack, pacific ninebark, cranberry, blueberry, mock orange and Indian plum. The idea of the Native garden is to integrate ourselves into the environment, into the community and to provide habitat for native birds and insects.

Cottonwood provides about 150 plots, including accessible, raised beds, to a membership of 167. In addition to the Native and Asian gardens, we have a collection of fruit trees and shrubs including, apples, plums, sour cherries, sweet cherries, quince, gooseberries, raspberries, blueberries and currants. The Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA) has a greenhouse, nursery and demonstration garden at the eastern end of Cottonwood.
Tens of thousands of hours of volunteer effort over 21 years has transformed a toxic dumpsite into an interesting, compelling place for the gardeners, the neighbourhood and the city. To negate this effort and to destroy a unique, successful experiment is tragic. For a city that has a target to be the greenest city, this sends the wrong message.
If you feel as we do, that Strathcona and Cottonwood Community Gardens should be left intact, please contact the Mayor and Council and register your concern. The only way this project can be stopped is if enough people make their voices heard. You can contact the Mayor and Council at

See “Rr 2 Presentation” – “City of Vancouver proposal to demolish Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts and replace them with a ‘super road,’ more park space and housing opportunities” here.

Save Cottonwood Community Garden Petition!

Save Cottonwood Community Garden website here.

Cottonwood Community Garden

Strathcona Community Gardens.

Update Nov 19, 2012

Dear Fellow Community Gardeners,

At the October 30, 2012 Vancouver City Council meeting, Councillor Adriane Carr presented a motion, seconded by Councillor George Affleck, asking for “long term security” for the City’s community gardens; in the interest of the Greenest City 2020 mandate – see full text of motion below.

Council voted unanimously for holding public hearings on this motion:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
9:30 am
Council Chamber, 3rd floor
Vancouver City Hall
453 West 12th Ave (12th & Cambie)

This is a rare opportunity for all the Community Gardens in Vancouver to impress on City Council how important our gardens are – for growing food and planting shrubs and trees, for the liveability of our neighbourhoods, for the community solidarity they foster, for being fundamental to the City’s plan for the greening of Vancouver. All community gardens would benefit by the security of knowing that they have tenure in their present location.

The motion contains a special mention of Cottonwood and Strathcona Community Gardens, which as many of you know are threatened by the construction of a truck and commuter road through the lands our gardens are on, see and Gardeners from both gardens will speak about this. If City Council can arbitrarily choose to destroy much of two of the largest and oldest community gardens in Vancouver, what security could any other community garden in Vancouver expect?

To get on the speaker’s list, please call the Council Meeting Coordinator, tel 604-873-7657 or 604-871-6399 . See also

We hope we will join us at City Hall on November 28! We would be grateful too, if you would let us know which members of your garden have signed up to speak.

With kindest and greenest regards,

Rose-Marie Larsson
tel 604-215-5580 ,
Beth MacLaren and Len Kydd
tel 604-253-7036 ,
Cottonwood Community Garden


2.    Long Term Security for Community Gardens

MOVER: Councillor Adriane Carr SECONDER: Councillor George Affleck


1.    Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan includes increasing the number of Community Gardens and garden plots towards the goal of a resilient and sustainable local food system;

2.    Longer-tenured community gardens, such as the 22-year-old Cottonwood Garden on Malkin Avenue, offer more security and sustainability for gardeners and plants alike, enabling the growth of perennials, fruit and nut trees, seed- saving gardens and teaching gardens;

3.    Community gardens, especially those lasting over decades, contribute to the health, well-being and community engagement of Vancouver residents;

4.    Many of Vancouver’s community gardens are temporary: established on lots awaiting development in exchange for property tax write-offs, and their loss would negatively impact our Greenest City, Healthy City and Livable City goals.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back on options to increase the long term security of Vancouver’s Community Gardens, especially older gardens such as Cottonwood Garden;

FURTHER THAT staff include in its report the cost of foregone property tax revenue from temporary community gardens on land slated for development.


1 Rose-Marie Larsson { 09.01.12 at 11:11 am }

Thanks so much for posting this story! It will help us a lot. Would be great if all who read it could forward the link to their networks. And super-great if all who read it would fire off a letter to Mayor and Council!

Rose-marie Larsson, Cottonwood gardener

2 Beth MacLaren { 09.01.12 at 5:25 pm }

Hi – Where did you ever find that Bio-diver City graphic for Cottonwood Garden? It’s an old map, but the graphic still looks great.
If anyone who reads the story would like to come and see what Cotton Garden looks like now — you’re welcome to come through anytime. And if you’d like to go on a guided tour and learn about our collection of trees and shrubs, we’re now having a tour every Saturday morning from 10am to noon, led by Len Kydd. The meeting place is the East entrance to Cottonwood Garden, on Raymur Avenue at the corner of Raymur and Malkin and right across from the City Pound.

3 Deborah Scott { 09.01.12 at 6:58 pm }

I am deeply saddened by the thought of such a terrible idea, I have enjoyed the Cottonwood Gardens, the hospitality and enthusiastic sharing of the collection of knowledge by the E.Y.A. group and volunteers, a truly inspiring experience. I definitely recommend it.
When I’ve looked at the forward thinking cities in our world I noticed the abundance of environmental projects infused with building modern, green based infrastructures. The want to relearn sustainable ways of a living community. I think it would be a step backward if the decision to go ahead with this proposal was pushed through, and that every effort should be made to save this pulsing, growing, beautiful community garden.
I would question the true merits of the City Council and Mayor of Vancouver, thinking that visitors and locals alike require a place of serenity, and hope, a peaceful escape to what reality should be, peacefully productive and sustaining and it should be protected. I truly hope it is there when I revisit Vancouver. Thank you for your efforts.

4 Athenaise { 09.02.12 at 7:44 am }

My life has been enriched and inspired by this place and its people. What about Vancouver s goals? Livable, green, walking friendly, biking, local food, jobs? This its how . don’t go back on promises and good ideas! The people have spoken! This is what we want!!