To Pick or Not To Pick

By Kathryn Pankowski

That is the question. Or at least a question, and one that gets asked a lot. “Is it OK to pick this?” “Are you sure?”

And the situation IS confusing. Things called ‘community gardens’ pop up: some you can pick from and some you can’t. Is a boulevard garden private or public? What and where can you forage?

So, for your shopping convenience, here’s a guide to where you can pick (up) free groceries in James Bay.

You can pick fresh rosemary all year round at the Fishermen’ Wharf herb gardens. The flowers are edible too. Photo by Kathryn Pankowski

You can pick fresh rosemary all year round at the Fishermen’ Wharf herb gardens. The flowers are edible too. Photo by Kathryn Pankowski

Fisherman’s Wharf Park Herb Garden

The herb garden near the corner of Erie and St. Lawrence Streets is run by the City of Victoria. It was created specifically as a place for people to go and harvest. The garden is in the process of being renovated, but there are still lots of rosemary, sage, and oregano plants for picking, as well as a selection of berries and some other edibles, such as figs and artichokes. You may have to arm-wrestle your neighbours to get an artichoke. The competition is fierce.

Boulevard Chestnuts

Most of the ‘chestnut’ trees along Victoria’s streets (think Cook Street village) are really horse chestnuts, Aesculus hippocastanum; they produce ‘conkers’, which are not edible. But there are some sweet chestnut trees, Castanea sativa, which bear the edible nuts of “roasting on an open fire” fame. You can find sweet chestnuts growing on boulevards along a couple of the small side streets off Boyd Street and on lower St. Lawrence; the fallen nuts are up for grabs in autumn.

Tennis Court Apples

There are five young apple trees along the north side of the tennis courts on Montreal Street. They were planted under the Neighbourhood Food Tree Stewardship Program, and anyone is welcome to harvest the fruit.

Charles Redfern Green Hazelnuts and Apples

Charles Redfern Green on Quebec Street has a small group of hazelnut and apple trees planted last year. They’re a bit young to be producing yet, but their fruit and nuts will be available to anyone who wants them.

Himalayan Blackberries

Normally I would say “Don’t pick in parks” (except where that’s the intended use of a planting) but Himalayan blackberries are an exception. They’re non-native, thuggish, and choke out native plants. It’s practically your civic duty to eat as many as you can. They grow wild along the waterfront and anyplace that hasn’t been weeded for a few years. Did you know they aren’t Himalayan, but were bred by botanist Luther Burbank in California and named ‘Himalayan’ as a marketing gimmick, and advertised as “a vigorous variety especially suited to the Pacific Northwest which is not only truth in advertising, but possibly understatement?

There also places not to pick. Keep your hands in your pockets when passing:

People’s yards

This should go without saying, but I have seen my first iris bloom of the season disappear into the coat pocket of a very proper-looking elderly woman. Even if fruit is hanging over the sidewalk, let it be. For most gardeners, the biggest problem is not the loss itself but the damage done to the plants by grab and pull collecting.


James Bay has two allotment gardens – the Montreal Street Community Garden and the Neighbourhood Garden of All Sorts on Niagara Street. These are confusing, because they are called community gardens, and the public is welcome to visit – but essentially an allotment is a collection of small private gardens in a communal setting. Each plot holder pays a fee for use of the space and buys all their own plants and supplies. Let them get a chance to harvest what they grow.


Gardens made on boulevards are usually an extension of someone’s home garden. Don’t pick unless you are invited to.

Other community gardens

Many other James Bay institutions – churches, schools, New Horizons – have gardens open to the public. Again, don’t pick unless there’s a clear invitation to do so. If in doubt, ask.

Neighbourhood Gardening News

The James Bay Plant Swap & Sale will be back on May 11, 10-12 in Irving Park. Start some extra seeds or pot up those perennials you’re thinning out, and bring them along to trade or sell.

The Victoria Seed Library is now open every Saturday until May 11, 10-1 at the Central Branch Library. You need to become a member by attending a free orientation to use it. Master Gardeners often are at the library during the same hours (check the GVPL website to confirm dates) and can help you with gardening questions and problems.

Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.

Guide to the Flowering Trees of James Bay

Letters To The Editor