The Food Garden is a formal space where visitors are encouraged to explore our connection to food through display and demonstration. Partially enclosing the garden are espalier trained apple and pear trees. Within the espalier screen, soft fruits are grown in ground-level beds surrounding a series of raised beds where vegetables and culinary herbs are cultivated. The raised beds allow the soil to heat up earlier in the spring, provide needed drainage and are easier to work than ground-level beds.
Plantings in the Food Garden are worked in a sustainable manner without the use of synthetic pesticides, using organic gardening techniques, including a variety of cultural tools, such as companion planting, mulching, and crop rotation to maximize performance. The Food Garden is managed by the Botanical Garden's professional gardening staff, and the produce is picked by volunteer Friends of the Garden (FOGs). This local harvest is packed in the garden and shipped to a soup kitchen on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside where it benefits the hungry and homeless.
Spring is an exciting time in the garden, when newly germinated seedlings and the expanding flower buds of trees and shrubs hold the promise of lush growth and bountiful yields. The time of greatest, most obvious productivity in the Food Garden is in summer, with the majority of vegetables and small fruits ripening and being harvested during the time of warmest weather. Many vegetable crops continue to produce late in the growing season, and fruits like apples, pears, kiwifruit and melons are usually only ripening when autumn rains begin. Some crops are protected by cloches, frames or tunnels at both ends of the growing season, both to conserve heat for establishment or ripening, and for protection against water-borne fungus diseases. When the garden remains frost free into the winter months—such as frequently happens during el Niño cycles—leafy salad crops and cold-hardy brassicas continue to be productive well into the new year.
Only about half of the plants in the Food Garden are permanently planted. This includes tree fruits, berries, perennial vegetables (e.g., asparagus and rhubarb), and culinary herbs. Some vegetables are sown directly in the garden, while others are grown from seed in the Botanical Garden Nursery and transplanted to the Food Garden once the soil warms sufficiently.
Of all of the Botanical Garden's components, the Food Garden probably elicits the greatest response from the widest variety of people. It's easy to talk with people in the garden, and even children who have only been exposed to grocery store-bought food, immediately become engaged by real food plants, growing in the ground. Harvesting food probably represents one of our earliest social activities as human beings, and some people think we're hard-wired for it.
Inaugurated in March 1983 by Botanical Garden Director Roy L. Taylor, the Food Garden demonstrates the culture of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables for the home garden. The garden was designed by Justice & Webb Landscape Architects and the Garden Club of Vancouver provided special funding to support the acquisition and planting of the permanent collection.
Over the years, the Friends of the Garden (FOGs) have provided research and assistance in assessment of varieties, and general help in the development and maintenance of the vegetable program. Currently, FOGs coordinate harvesting of the produce, all of which is donated through the Salvation Army to Vancouver’s homeless and disadvantaged. A least-toxic materials approach to pest management is adhered to, and the Food Garden is working toward organic certification. Visitors are kindly asked to not remove any produce from the garden.
Espalier has come to mean a compact, ornamental style of training fruit trees for increased productivity, but its original meaning refers to the framework upon which such trees were trained (Ital. spalliera: a lattice-work or row of stakes). Espaliered trees are normally grafted on “dwarfing” rootstocks and trained as young plants along wires or stakes. Designs include three-dimensional vase, pyramid and goblet shapes, and the more common two-dimensional cordons, fans and horizontals.