The Greater Victoria School District has ordered the removal of Baby Arlo's Garden which sits on Victoria High School property. Photo by Mands Burnette

Fernwood residents are banding together after the Greater Victoria School District (SD61) gave notice to remove a community garden that sits on school property.

Baby Arlo’s Garden is a self-funded garden that is kept on an unmaintained patch of land located on the corner of Chambers and Grant Street in Haegert Park.

On Friday, April 27, SD61 notified Andrew Poucher, the founder of the garden, that he was to remove his plants from the property by May 7 so that the district can uproot and replace it with grass.

But Poucher says he’s not letting Arlo’s Garden go without a fight. “It’s not something I can just let happen,” he tells Victoria Buzz.

Garden has been in community for years

Poucher and his wife Mands Burnette adopted the space around the same time that their son Arlo was born four years ago.

“Long before it was Baby Arlo’s Garden, it was a dried up patch of contaminated earth that was overgrown with weeds and a place where the homeless slept,” Burnette says in an email to Victoria Buzz. “[Andrew] saw this bit of abandoned earth as a plot full of potential.”

Four years later, the garden is now home to over 30 varieties of herbs, vegetables, and flowers. Burnette says the garden teaches neighbourhood children about growing food and hard work. Arlo himself loves to help around the garden, according to his parents.

“Hundreds of conversations have been had with members of the community while my husband works away at 6:00 a.m. before work, when he gets home at 4 and all weekend long,” Burnette says.

“We’re heartbroken to see the garden be ripped up only to be yet another unmaintained space in our area.”

Poucher agrees. “It’s a place where people feel safe.”

School board says land used without permission

When asked for comment, SD61 spokesperson Lisa McPhail told Victoria Buzz that the district has “no specific plans for those parcels [of land] at this time.”

McPhail says the district was made aware of the garden after a member of the community notified them. “The District received concerns from the community about what individuals presumed was a public park. They were put in contact with the District, who owns the land,” she says.

McPhail says that the district has regularly allowed land to be used for gardening purposes. Springridge Commons, the Compost Education Centre, and the new Vic High gardens were given as examples, all of which had signed agreements for that purpose.

“In the case of the lots at Haegart Park, to our knowledge the District has not been approached nor given permission for the use of lands for these purposes,” she explains.

Poucher acknowledges that the garden is “100% on school board property,” but hopes some sort of understanding can be reached to allow the garden to stay in place.

McPhail did not respond to Victoria Buzz when asked if there were any prior discussions about a potential agreement.

Neighbourhood comes together to show support

For now, Poucher and Burnette are circulating a petition around the neighbourhood to change the district’s mind. As of Thursday afternoon, they’ve got around 60 signatures.

“We’ve had local businesses reach out in support to help sponsor the garden to make sure that we can keep food alive within the community, and [who] are willing to even offer to maintain the grass surrounding the garden,” says Burnette.

She also says they’ve emailed city councillors and Mayor Lisa Helps, who lives around the corner from the garden, in the hopes that they can help out.

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