Save Cottonwood Community Garden!

Sep 10, 2012 by     12 Comments    Posted under: blog

A consequence of the city’s plan to remove the Dunsmuir and Georgia Viaducts is a plan to divert traffic from Prior Street to a widened Malkin Avenue – the “Malkin Connector” – which will be extended west to Main Street and east to Clark Drive via an overpass across the railroad tracks.


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. Cottonwood Community Garden will be most affected if the plan to widen Malkin goes ahead.

There’s still time to do stop Cottonwood Community Garden from being bulldozed and paved over. The City planners at Mayor Robertson’s request are preparing a “Malkin Connector” reportIt’s not yet clear when it will go to Council for a vote. Vancouverites will of course not be able to vote, but we can make our voices heard to our elected representativesIf enough of us speak up, Council will not be able to ignore us.


If you feel like we do that Cottonwood Community Garden must not be sacrificed to facilitate traffic to the downtown core, please e-mail Mayor and Council and let them know! You may want to remind the Councillors of their commitment to make Vancouver the Greenest City in the world. If you want to write to individual Councillors you’ll find their e-mail addresses here. It’s a good idea to send a copy of your letter to the Parks Board Commissioners as well. And, if you want to send us a copy of your letter, that would cheer us up immensely.


We urgently need word out about what Cottonwood is up against and to this end have created a Facebook page, Save Cottonwood Community Garden Please “like” this page to stay updated and get new tips on how to help and please share it widely! We feel sure that the more people know about what a unique ecological green space Cottonwood Garden is, the more they will want to join us in protecting it. If you haven’t signed our online petition, please do so, and if you would like to print a hard copy to hand out at events in order to gather more signatures, you can download it here.


We are doing free tours of Cottonwood Garden every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. to show the great variety of trees, shrubs and plants planted there and the rich bird, bee and insect life. Also to share its over twenty year story, how it began and how it was created by many hundreds of dedicated volunteer gardeners over the years. We meet at the east entrance on Raymur Avenue, across from the dog pound. Please join us – and do bring friends and family along. If you belong to a group and would like to arrange a group tour at another time, please call us at 604-253-7036.


If you’re not able to take the tour, but would like to learn about Cottonwood’s story, you can read about it online in Oliver Kellhammer’s history of how the garden was started  - complete with many wonderful photos from back in the day.


We welcome all ideas and offer of help to make our campaign to Save Cottonwood successful!

12 Comments + Add Comment

  • thank you for sharing this! I am a member of Cottonwood Garden and would hate to have it paved……

  • I have enjoyed the gardens for many years and think they are great but this situation is something that has been looming for years since the gardens have always been on shaky ground. So it seems a compromise should happen. You can’t quiet down Prior street and save the gardens at the same time since an alternative road is needed. But there is a solution that would increase Strathcona property values and be a big permanent win for the gardeners. That is to redesign an old outdated park adjacent to the gardens to meet the needs of people living in 2012 not 1960. The park has had a skate park added and a place for kids top play and that is it, which is kinda lame as a master plan for such a large space. If a landscape architect specializing in gardens was brought in there is more than enough space to build a new “PERMANENT” garden three times as big or bigger.
    The old running track is never used and the ground in the middle is just a field, the baseball diamond at the other end is not needed since there are three and they only occasionally get used. The city could help move valuable trees and build a great community garden with the possibility of having an area for a seasonal farmers market, central buildings to run outreach educational tours. The space is there, lots of it. Just redesign the old park. Baseball can be kept and there is lots of room for other activities just give the adjacent area by the community gardens to gardeners. This is what a contemporary park in this century is about, gardening wildlife and involving people. The park is vacant most of the time and baseball is very seasonal and not happening in the winter rain. A garden is all year round and far more involving than seasonal sports. But like I mentioned there is more than enough room there for everyone and to make the garden three or four times as big by relocating it in a sensitive way. There could be celebrations regarding the new garden and the move and it could be a positive thing and a BIG win for gardeners. It could be far better than what exists because of the massive space involved. Many areas lately have been poorly designed and designated for sports like the artificial grassed soccer fields near this area with the chain mail fencing and intense light pollution from lighting towers that cater to sports that are not ongoing every day, all year round. These sports areas are important but so are other activities like gardening, one could argure that it is even more beneficial to Stratchona.
    Creating a garden meets the needs of people that would use the park every day, even in winter.
    Gardners that have been there for many years could get first dibs on plots based upon seniority and then new gardeners could get plots with what is remaining which would be a massive area.
    The city needs to help the “garden grow” in size.
    So redesign the old park to include the needs of 2012 and the future. let the road go in and let prior St be quietened. Everyone wins. Fight it and you could loose and not gain any garden.
    I say make is bigger and permanent by redesigning the old poorly used Strathcona Park.
    Brian Boulton

    • Dear Brian,

      Everyone would not win under your dream scenario. Actually, I think rather that everybody loses, except maybe the property owners along Prior Street, whose gain you so astutely mention.

      Cottonwood would lose. We can’t move 20-year old mature trees and shrubs. We can’t recreate the intricate web of a multitude of trees, shrubs and plants, cultivars and Native that supports such a variety of birds and insects that make up the deep green space that is Cottonwood. We’re not talking about a row of carrots here.

      Strathcona Park is not poorly used. It’s used by many East End sports team, all through the playing season, by adults and kids. The baseball diamonds used to the to Longshore Workers little league home base. I don’t know if it still does, but the kids need those diamond. There’s no reason we should infringe on space that’s needed for sports and recreation to preserve green space – particularly not the Cottonwood green space which by its history and practise forms THE green space brain trust in Vancouver, having pioneered the community garden movement.

      There’s every reason we should infringe on the City’s going back on its Greenest City 2020 mandate. With it they’ve forsworn business as usual, i.e. build more roads as cheaply as you can and let automobile traffic rule politics, and we need to hold them to their promise. What is democracy for? There needs to be another solution for ferrying traffic downtown. Calming Prior included.

      As for “Fight it and you could loose and not gain any garden” – where have you been? Read any history, ever? Don’t you know that anything worth while, we always have to fight for? Don’t fight and you’ll be sure to get nothing.

      With best regards,

      Rose-Marie Larsson
      Cottonwood gardener and East End resident

      P.S. Do you live in Strathcona by any chance? I’m just on the border, near Adanac and Clark.

  • What are you thinking Brian

    This is a ridiculous idea it will never work

    There is NO WAY to relocate sensitively or otherwise any of the garden areas at Strathcona park

    BIGGER and BETTER are not in the vocabulary of this situation

    The 20 something plus year old gardens should be left to flourish as they have been doing all this time.

    If you knew anything about this community you would not suggest this for one minute,

    I invite you to get involved enough with the area to at least try to appear you know what you are talking about because from the tone and content of your last lengthy comment you obviously do not have a clue.

    Try to enlighten yourself , please, before you post again.

    Thank you,
    Dahlia G.

  • As a resident of Prior street in Strathcona I must say; Cottonwood garden in the most beautiful place in our neighborhood! It is irreplaceable and the notion of destroying it is nothing but shameful! I know countless people that live in Strathcona and none of them want to see any harm come to our community gardens. To anyone who is actually pushing for the Malkin connector in hopes of boosting their real estate value, SHAME ON YOU! Your greed is misrepresenting our community.


    Julian Maree

  • I attended the calm Prior Street rally, signed their petition, got their mail-outs etc. I did not ONCE hear any call for calming Prior Street in order to inflate property values. I would argue that nearby community gardens add as much to overall property values as a calmed Prior Street, furthermore any value increases on Prior would likely be offset by losses on Atlantic, who will likely experience more noise, etc. The property value argument is tacky and disingenuous, it’s a red herring put forward to tap into anti-gentrification sentiment. The gardeners would do well to avoid that line of thinking, because all it’s doing is alienating the potential allies who actually live in Strathcona and (ironically) have to cross Prior to get to the gardens.

    This Malkin plan has been on the books for years. The City right of way Cottonwood sits on is for a 12-lane road, my understanding is that the City is proposing a six-lane replacement (not the full 12 lanes), with widening at both the north and south sides. It’s unfortunate that is will inevitably result in some loss at Cottonwood (I note that Strathcona Gardens wisely chose to do their permanent plantings quite clear of the existing right-of-way) but the fact that they were gardening on borrowed land has been known and apparently ignored for years. Seems like it was a planning blunder when the gardens chose to put easy-to-move raised box plantings on the non-right-of way (north-east corner) and permanent plantings on the right-of-way.

    I think there is some room for compromise by reconfiguring Strathcona Park to allow more garden space. The large gravel field on the Raymur side is almost never used (in fact, as a daily park user for at least 15 years I cannot remember the last time I saw it in use), surely that can be turned into a grass field, and then the field inside the oval turned into gardens. Further, the city just built the new astroturf Trillium fields two blocks away, there are plenty of resources for sports teams.

    I get that Cottonwood will be upset at the loss of some trees and are worried that increased noise will disrupt the tranquility of the garden (although, the produce terminal trucks and compressors don’t seem especially tranquil as it stands now). That said, lots of people are upset that they won’t be able to get to downtown 2 minutes faster over the viaduct. Everybody needs to compromise. The all-or-nothing approach Cottonwood is taking doesn’t seem to be especially productive or strategic.

  • Hello Jerry,

    I read your post with some interest and I believe I can clarify things for you on a couple of points.

    Cottonwood Garden has been in existence for 21 years, and the Malkin Connector may have been on the books, but the garden wasn’t aware of the existence of the Mallkin Connector until just this year.

    Maklin Avenue is currently a two-lane road with two lanes of parking, making it a four-lane road. You many not know that all 4 lanes are now used for the trucks to back up into the produce warehouses on the south edge of Malkin, across from Cottonwood. What this means is that the expanded road would be at least 2 lanes (one in each direction) for commuter traffic, but it could be 4 extra lanes (two in each direction). We never thought that there would be 12 lanes of traffic, but all 12 lanes of road allowance may well be needed for the lanes of commuter traffic, plus the sidewalks, plus the bike lanes, plus the expanded curb pullouts for the buses that would run down Malkin.

    If the full road allowance is taken then Cottonwood would lose at least 40 percent of the garden along its length and much more than a few trees. Quite simply, Cottonwood would no longer be Cottonwood. Strathcona Garden wouldn’t be as affected because of the shape of that garden and how the road allowance runs through it. They would still lose a major portion of their orchard, which I consider to be permanent plantings.

    And those easy-to-move raised boxes? Those are accessible plots built in the newest part of Cottonwood, which was added about 4 years ago. They were not built to be movable, they were built so that gardeners in wheelchairs, or those with back problems could access the plot and grow vegetables.( And they are not easy-to-move.)

    Cottonwood gardeners support the calming of prior: for us it’s not an either-or proposition.
    We don’t wish to see a major arterial run through our garden: we want to see both Strathcona and Cottonwood gardens left intact and preserved for future generations.

    We have confidence in the intelligence, creativity and forward-thinking of City planners to believe that they can find another option.

    Beth MacLaren

  • In response to a few comments here. My intent was to open a dialogue that in my opinion could increase the size of the gardens and create more biodiversity. I yes, know “we are not talking a row of carrots” and I find there is no need to be rude when suggesting some ideas .I am 57 years old, almost half of my life has been lived in Strathcona and I have gardened all my life, first with my grandmother in the 50′s and dad after that and still do with my 85 year old mother. I am also an avid bird watcher and truly miss some of the diversity lost in some areas so my suggestion is to try to increase the garden size to create more diversity.
    I am concerned about the legality of land ownership and people fighting for something that is not legally secure. My suggestion was for securing, for the future more space for the garden and gardeners. I feel it could be a model for other parks in the city, reinvent them and give areas over for people that need to create biodiversity by gardening.

    As for people asking “what are you thinking Brian” Well I outlined what I was thinking in my first post. It is just a discussion, an idea and I do not think it is ridiculous. Relocating plants is possible. When Cambie street was torn up to create a tunnel all the trees along Cambie were taken out and then replanted months later, some of these trees were gigantic and had been there for far more years than ones in the gardens. I am not attacking anyone here I am just offering up an idea. And, yes, I do think “bigger is better” in this situation. If you want more biodiversity then logically something bigger, more secure and better would be a good idea, much like stablishing a garden in the first place 21 years ago. This could be a chance to establish more.

    As for “knowing anything about this community” I have lived here in Strathcona for 25 years and was around for the inception of the community gardens. I have been involved for years in activities in Strathcona as an artist and gardner and seen it grow and change drastically. More people need more gardens and this is a golden opportunity to create that.

    I am aware the park is used by sports teams but with some redesigning the baseball diamonds and tennis courts can be kept. The large gravel area in the park seems to be a poorly used area and the running track would make a great orchard and field with possibly corn or berries growing or more plots.

    To have people presume that I do not know anything and say I do not have a clue and inviting me to get involved in my own community, then tell me to get enlightened before I post again is rude and insulting and not what I expect from a discussion from my neighbours of 25 years in Strathcona. I do not own a home in Strathcona I have rented for the last 25 years so to also suggest I am trying to boost my real estate value on Prior Street is unfair. I do not own a car and haven’t in 20 years because I can’t see myself driving where I could be riding a bike or walking. When the gardens were established 20 years ago is when I took the initiative to walk my compost to the gardens composting area and recycling was part of my vocabulary long before a recycling plan was established in Strathcona.

    I would love to see more biodiversity by having the gardens grow in size. I hope to see more people creating a garden where they can enjoy each others company.

    This will be my last comment on this subject and also my last visit to the this site.
    Good luck

    Thank you

  • Well, Brian Boulder. For someone keen to start a dialogue you are very quick to end it. And for someone who wants to help Cottonwood, you are curiously uninterested in the responses from those you say you want to help.

    You write one post suggesting the idea of moving Cottonwood to Strathcona Park, listing reasons for why this would be good for Cottonwood. When gardeners and supporters write back and tell you it’s not a good idea, you get mad, cry foul – you have been treated rudely! – and leave in a huff.

    Nobody has been rude, Brian. There’s been a frank exchange of thoughts and feelings on a hot topic.

    Repeating what others have said, in the hope you will hear me, I’ll say it again: Cottonwood Garden can not be moved.

    They moved mature trees on Cambie Street? Well. It’s one thing to move individual trees on a boulevard and quite another to move a whole forest – even if it’s a small one, lets say a large grove – a whole ecosystem of trees, shrubs and plants which have grown together, intertwined and interacted for a long time, changing the soil, the climate, recreating itself constantly. The soil itself, which the garden thrives in, you couldn’t move. It’s been carefully built up over 22 years by gardeners.

    Cottonwood is a place. Not a collection of individual trees or rose bushes. Nor “a row of carrots,” as I said in my original response to you, to drive home the point – perhaps not very effectively.

    You can’t move a place. To move Cottonwood, you would first have to destroy it and uproot the vegetation. And, like Humpty-Dumpty, you couldn’t put it back together again. Even if you gave it 22 years, the length of time it’s taken to get the garden to what it is now. And even if you did manage to transplant some of what’s there – let’s say for argument’s sake – by the time you’re finished, it wouldn’t be Cottonwood any longer, as Beth MacLaren pointed out in her post. It would be a completely different place.

    So why do that? Why destroy a perfectly wonderful and successful place of biodiversity – which you believe in; I have no reason to think otherwise. You want us to abandon our effort to protect and keep Cottonwood intact, a place that is already an inspiration to community gardens everywhere, and start chasing after some idea of a garden in Strathcona Park, God knows how it would turn out?

    Doesn’t it make more sense to join us in calling on the City to put the road somewhere else?

  • With apologies: that should be Brian Boulton.

  • What happens to the produce buildings across the street? Right now that road is constantly blocked by trucks backing in. Are they being kicked out as well?

  • Don’t you think that it’s absolutely crazy not only the suggestion to pull all those gardens and also pave it for having MORE cars and MORE POLLUTION that cause diseases??
    We won’t let it happen!

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