A small plot of land at Grant St. and Chambers St. has been dubbed “Arlo’s Garden” for four years after Andrew Poucher planted a public vegetable garden. Recently School District 61 realized the plot belongs to them, and the area is now at the centre of a dispute. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

Fernwood garden in the middle of land dispute with school district 61

School board wants to demolish garden that a Victoria man has been using for four years

At the corner of Grant and Chambers streets in Fernwood sits an unassuming garden with a hand painted sign that reads “Baby Arlo’s garden.”

Just underneath that sign there’s another post that reads “notice of eviction.”

The 500 sq. ft. plot is the creation of Andrew Poucher, who, four years ago, planted its first seed, shortly before his son Arlo was born. Poucher and his wife had just moved to Victoria when they realized they were pregnant.

Without any jobs they realized they needed to settle down and try to establish themselves; the garden was one way to help out.

“We didn’t need it to survive, but it was an affordable way to get some vegetables and an inexpensive hobby,” Poucher said.

Andrew Poucher plants a cucumber seed in his garden in Fernwood. Poucher thought the garden was on public property when he started it four years ago, but recently discovered it belonged to School District 61. The district has threatened to demolish the garden. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

The couple looked at nearby community gardens, but most had wait lists of a year or more. That’s when Poucher noticed the corner in a park near their home that was disheveled and covered in glass and needles, but that appeared to have once been a garden based on some overgrown boxes and loose stone walls.

“We poked around and asked some neighbours and everyone seemed happy with the idea,” he said, of bringing the greenery back to life.

Poucher said they never reached out to anyone from the City of Victoria. “We didn’t do our due diligence in research, I take full responsibility for it.”

So they started the garden, and have continued to grow fruit, nuts, hops, and edible flowers. Poucher thinks of it as a community zone that he wants other people to use, and he encourages people to take some of the food if they’re hungry.

Arlo Poucher shows off some plants he harvested from his garden in Fernwood. The garden is at the centre of a property dispute after School District 61 realized it belongs to them. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

But in late April he went to the garden to find a business card from School District 61 asking him to call them.

Poucher was told that the property belonged to the school, that he was trespassing, and that the garden would be removed within the week.

“I started calling around, apparently someone had made a complaint to the City,” Poucher said. “The school board didn’t realize it was their property until they pulled out their land survey and saw their property lines.”

Poucher said he was told the school board was going to bulldoze the lot and cover it in grass seeds. He was later told he would have some additional time until a board meeting takes place, possibly as soon as May 15.

In the meantime, Poucher has started a petition to save the garden that has gathered more than 500 signatures.

Tom Ferris, SD61 vice-chair said the district and the City will need the property for future plans, including a rebuild of Victoria High School.

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“We’re looking at a new community plan for that area, and I suspect the City and the school board will be working together to see what that will involve,” he said. “With that in mind, it probably would not be a good thing for us to have somebody cultivating the land.”

Ferris said that it’s not an unusual situation because the school board owns a lot of property, some of it quite small and in remote places, that the school board doesn’t have a budget to regularly maintain. He said one of the main concerns now that they are aware of the garden is liability.

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While no official decision has been made yet, Ferris said he believes the board will let Poucher finish harvesting for this season before getting rid of the garden.

“We don’t want to be mean spirited,” he said. “We’re people too, and understand that he has an attachment to the garden… it’s just on our property.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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