Learning garden sprouting back to life

Volunteers have big plans for land behind Grand Forks Aquatic Centre

“If we can grow in this then we can grow in anything,” gardener and “bee queen” Liz Huxter said on a Thursday evening as she dragged a garden hoe through sand, pebbles, dirt and a bit of manure, trying to turn an old parking lot into a vibrant pollinator garden. Together with a handful of volunteers, Huxter’s goal has been to revive the plants and original plan for the community learning garden that sits on a plot of land behind the aquatic centre on 70th Avenue in Grand Forks.

The plan sprang up over four years ago, when there was an excitement about the possibility to showcase a variety of plant-growing techniques. But despite a fence provided by the Grand Forks Credit Union and the odd pile of hay, outsiders have had little to look at in the years since.

Even recently, volunteer CloAnne Morasse was asked by someone with a truck-full of yard waste: “Is this the place where I dump my compost?”

“No,” she replied, though his assumption was understandable at the time.

From outside the fence this spring, you could see a pile of bucked-up logs, mounds of weeds and what looks like a garbage dump for old car tires and styrofoam. According to the original plans though, the logs are the base for a hugelkultur garden (a German gardening method where decaying wood covered by soil warms and provides a consistent stream of nutrients) and the stacked tires actually form part of a wall for a sod-covered shed that will insulate the garden’s irrigation system through winter. The weeds, admittedly, have to go.

That’s what, according to the Grand Forks and Boundary Region Agricultural Society, motivated the group to take over the project from the former guiding committee, which disintegrated from illness, burnout and other priorities over the past few years.

It was a situation of “make it happen or watch it wither on the vine,” said the society’s secretary Helen Worth. All together, the volunteers are mounting an effort to make the patch of land look like a sprouting garden by the Grand Forks Fall Fair, Morasse said.

What’s unique about the learning garden is that each corner is unique. Already, Morasse has taken charge of 13 nitrogen-enriched hay bails that are sprouting mushrooms, petunias, pumpkins and other plants. Huxter has been cultivating rows of peas, sunflowers and buckwheat with the hope of attracting pollinators and feeding the soil to make it richer. With some more tilling, there’s also the matter of waiting for worms to wriggle over from areas like the Dick Bartlett ball diamonds to begin their work on the soil being created.

Elsewhere, under layers of cardboard and hay, fungi are doing their best to eat through the tenacious roots of unwanted grassy weeds.

But just as a garden needs everything from microbes to sunlight to grow healthily, the community project has also needed to be fed by a variety of groups. Outdoor education classes from Grand Forks Secondary School have helped weed and haul materials around the garden, companies like Y & R Water Sales and the Grand Forks Credit Union have made donations and Morasse assured that any help is good help.

“Come out, pull a weed and ask questions,” Morasse said, emphasizing that the garden is meant to be a place to learn from other volunteers, (the plan is to also have plaques that explain the various gardening techniques).

“The original vision was just to have a nice place where people could come and enjoy gardening and share their experience and their passion for gardening,” added Worth.

“Once the rest of the community sees what the potential is, I think it’s going to be great.”

Those interested in working in the learning garden can get access information by contacting the Grand Forks and Boundary Region Agricultural Society on Facebook. The society is also hosting their AGM on July 6 at Selkirk College in Grand Forks.


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Peer through the fence at the community learning garden and you’ll see a variety of plants sprouting out of a straw-bail garden. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Liz Huxter turns the rocky dirt of the community learning garden with a smile because she says she sees the great growing potential for the space. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

The original version of this article in the June 26 edition of the Grand Forks Gazette falsely wrote Liz Huxter’s last name as “Hunter.” The Gazette apologizes for this error.

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