Planting Community

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mC:t 2015.05.26 #makecalgarytalk


Panorama of the Silver Springs Community Garden 


As the local food movement has gained momentum in our city, a resurgence of community gardens have popped up in our neighbourhoods. These gardening initiatives are locally funded and volunteer maintained. Individuals can purchase the use of a plot for the year and can grow veggies, flowers, and just about whatever they please. However, a drawback from this design is that for the average Calgarian, a 2 x 3 foot raised garden bed will not yeild enough produce for their rate of food consumption during the short summer months.

community garden tunnel garden







Silver Springs Community Garden                         Detail of a tunnel cover used in a rented plot

Anyone who has made it through one year’s worth of Calgary weather knows that our climate is at best unpredictable, and at worst a continuous interjection of winter’s misery at any given time of the year. Calgary will have spring-like conditions in January and winter squalls in August. It is no wonder then that we have the largest Horticulture Society in Canada- it’s not unlike AA for disillusioned gardeners. It is an interesting force that pulls gardening folk together. Two months of hard work could be wiped out in a single hail storm or cold snap. Little is grown from the miniature garden plots, yet year after year, people continue to garden in Calgary with great enthusiasm and resilience to difficulties of urban farming in the foothills of Southern Alberta.

longshot of the garden


I began my uphill battle with gardening in 2013. Each season I have toiled in my small front yard plot, only to have squandered my time on crops that were low yielding and high maintenance.

This year, I did not have the time or the inclination to start my seeds indoors. As a result, my garden is  far behind in germination. At this rate, it appears that I won’t obtain a harvest until mid- October which is six weeks after the first frosts.

My plot is about all that I can manage and yields just enough to provide veggies and broad leaf that we can get by from mid-June until mid-September without purchasing salads, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs.

It takes hours a week to maintain this garden. If you were to factor in that time at minimum wage, it is more cost efficient to purchase produce from countries half way across the planet at the near by grocer then it is to grow my own vegetables two feet out my front door.

So why do I bother fighting the poor growing conditions, short season, and fussy heirloom seeds?

My neighbours.



Author’s garden


At first it was a little awkward when a bright eyed outgoing 12 year old girl popped out her gate and explained to me that she was a really good helper, and if I ever needed help with anything in the yard she would be excellent at it. Three years later, she can identify all the crops in the garden and is always excited to water everything. I see my neighbours almost every day when I am working in the garden and we briefly chat, often sharing our gardening woes. I strongly suspect that it is a similar sense of belonging among the volunteers and participants in community gardens.


Community gardenig is nothing new for Calgary communities. The Vacant Lots Garden Club  began in 1914 and was the earliest organized collective gardening club in Calgary. The Club dissipated in 1952 but it benefited thouands of people in the City who were struggling in poverty improving the overall esthetic of Calgary neighborhoods. The focus of these garden initiatives were both successful in communal and practical manner due to the size of land available along with the motivation to cultivate crops that would keep yourself and your family from starvation throughout the year.

Calgary community gardens










Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Museum Archives


Calgary no longer has the mixed blessing of vacant lots, land has increased dramatically in value since 1914. The interest of maintaining such large open areas has also greatly diminished. Fostering community through gardening  is a movement that is gaining momentum in Calgary.  For those of you who place value on the success of growing locally as much as the relational aspect of communal gardening- please allow me to highlight the Calgarian grass roots movement known as the Leaf Ninjas.

the guys of the ninjas










Founders of the Leaf Ninjas


The Leaf Ninjas have seemlessly blended urban farming and landscape in harmonious blend of permaculture. They began farming on the borrowed land of homeowners and selling their produce to local restaurants and at the Market Collective. In return, the home owners get a share of the harvests. The Leaf Ninjas have expanded into edible landscapes, food forests and ecological restoration, completely transforming the way we think about garden design for our yards.

food forest in action


Edible landscapes


Community continues to cultivate with the installation of these edible landscapes, primarily because of their unique design and functionality. The Leaf Ninjas have revolutionized the way Calgary produces local crops, adding vibrancy to the city’s communities with their unique mantra of bringing paradise to earth. Working with Calgary’s fickle environment in collective efforts yields stronger communities and steps towards a sustainable future.




For more information about the Leaf Ninjas, click their icon below.




1. “Bridgeland Gardens”. City of Calgary. Accessed May 26, 2015.

2. “Forces of Nature”. Leaf Ninjas. Accessed May 26, 2015.


Next: Where will Calgary be in 50 years?




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  1. mooonunit says:

    I also struggle with the conflicts that the capricious, short growing season and low vegetable yields provide me when gardening in my backyard. Maybe it is the nostalgia or false sense of some accomplishment that keep me planting on my lot. One approach I have taken that I have found very productive has been to predominantly plant perennials in my yard. If you can survive on (lots of) berries, apples, rhubarb alone then it will help you get ahead of the weather.

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