A group of gardeners gathered in a semi-circle for a summer solstice ritual to welcome the new season and reflect on the past year. Conveniently, their most significant accomplishment lay just a few feet to the south.
Wattle Tree Place, a nonprofit holistic wellness organization, has been searching for a new outdoor setting to hold its various programs after being forced to relocate last year. On Sunday, the organization celebrated the grand opening — including the solstice ritual — of a community garden on the grounds of the John Stanger house off Evergreen Highway.
Danielle Gorman, who often serves as a ritualist for the group, recalled that during the last summer solstice, the group was housed on 16th and C streets, which included a spacious backyard.
“This year, we’re here,” Gorman said. “This is all here because of choice, because of passion, because of commitment.”
Wattle Tree was launched in 2016 by sisters Anna Phillips and Sophie Wegecsanyi at the 16th Street location. It quickly became a popular relaxation spot where adults could meditate, listen to music, enjoy a massage, eat and drink as children explored the backyard.
Shortly after earning the “Best New Business” award from Vancouver’s Downtown Association, however, the group needed to vacate the building at the end of its monthly lease to make way for a redevelopment of the property. The group moved into a new building at 1920 Broadway Street, with a ceremonial procession involving drummers and fire dancers from the old building to the new one. While it had a new base, the group still lacked the outdoor area for activities such as drum circles.
Lisa Jacobs, who works with the organization, came upon the John Stanger house — built on farmland in 1867 by a former Hudson’s Bay Company worker — while searching for new locations last year. She made contact with Friends of The Jane Weber Evergreen Arboretum, which manages the property.
Earlier this year, the friends group reached an agreement to donate part of the property to the nonprofit for a community garden.
“People are always searching for places in nature,” said Karon Haddaway, Wattle Tree’s board secretary. “Just coming out and walking on this property, it’ll change your outlook for the day and, hopefully, more.”
After digging in nearly two months ago, the main garden — about 70 feet long and 70 feet wide and L-shaped — is already growing fruits and vegetables. The organization also plans to surround it with smaller gardens for medicinal plants, native species and plants that can grow in shade. A children’s garden — in the shape of a Chinook salmon — will allow adults to bring younger growers, and gardeners will maintain fruit trees on the property.
“We’re kind of creating history in our own right as well,” Haddaway said. “It’s lovely.”
The garden includes fully organic produce, much of which will be donated to charity, according to members of the organization. While the trees in the arboretum can block sunlight and weeds are prevalent, the soil is rich due to its proximity to the Columbia River, master gardener Michael Wegecsanyi said. Tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers have thrived so far.
“We see this garden becoming, sort of, the beating heart at the arboretum over the years,” Wegecsanyi said.
The garden had 22 members by Sunday afternoon, and the organization is looking for more. Working hours at the garden will be held on Saturdays.
“It’s not just an urban environment,” Phillips said as passing trains and cars could occasionally be heard and planes flew overhead. “It’s an urban oasis.”
During the ceremony, Gorman made some statements that could apply to the seasonal change as well as the new garden.
“It’s celebrating the abundance of the season,” Gorman said. “We want to celebrate what has been cultivated in your life so far.”