Meet The Bees: The Garden Project

In this week’s Meet The Bees, we’re featuring two long-time HiVE members collaborating on a new project that’s dear to their hearts.

MTB - The Garden Proj

Hi ladies. Let’s start with introductions. Tell me a bit about yourselves.

Marybeth: Professionally, I’m a designer. I like to create, not only for aesthetics, but more importantly for functionality. I’m also a sustainability consultant, as sustainability means a lot to me and I always try to incorporate it into the projects I design as much as possible.

Personally, I’m a pretty big adventurer. I like to explore and I love to travel. I’m very much interested in learning about different cultures and discovering new people and ways of life. I am originally from Ohio and have been living in Vancouver for seven years now.

​​Julia: I’m originally from Ontario and it’s really adventure that has led me to British Columbia. I’ve been in Vancouver for almost 4 years now. My parents took me on my first canoe trip when I was two-years-old and since then, I’ve just really gotten more into adventure travel in other countries and all across Canada. I love to climb and to snowboard, and even recently, I’ve gotten into dirtbiking. I love trying out new things and challenging myself.

Right now, I’m entering and navigating the field of green design. Basically, I’m really interested in the built environment from the scale of something like a small courtyard garden to a building to a city.


What is the Garden Project?

​​M: The Garden Project is a courtyard garden located in the DTES. It’s on Powell and Gore – the actual address is 331 Powell St. Currently, there are three buildings on the site that make up the courtyard: Powell Place, which is a women’s shelter that’s currently being renovated; Santiago Lodge, an assisted-living residence for the mentally disabled; and May’s Place, a hospice.

The Bloom Group is the non-profit society that manages all of these residences, as well as many others in the DTES and all over the city. They are the ones conducting the expansion of Powell Place and also looking to renovate this courtyard garden at the same time.

​​J: The building is currently undergoing construction, which is being done by an architect, separately. We were engaged when they realized that the scope of the work for that project does not cover the courtyard, which right now is just a paved but derelict spot that’s about 2000 sqft. It has a lot of potential to be something cool. There are limited funds for the project and we’ve been engaged to connect with the community, with the residents and staff, to figure out what this place could be; to turn that into a design; and eventually, construction. Essentially, we are there for the entire process – from the community engagement until the construction. We are hoping to pull in as many interested people as possible, whether to help with the design, development, programing, or actual construction. Anything. There’s a lot of opportunity to bring the entire community together to make it happen.


How are you approaching this project? What is your process like?

​​M: Julia and I have done a lot preliminary research and brainstorming, and our research has pointed us to the idea of a healing or therapeutic garden for the residents, staff and visitors of these buildings. We have been doing workshops and engagement with the residents and staff – talking to them about the garden, their ideas, their wants, their needs and concerns.  We’ve attended a few barbeques, art classes, and will be going to a dinner with the residents too. Simultaneously, we’ve continued our research and have been visiting other healing gardens in the Lower Mainland, connecting with other garden designers, horticultural therapists, and organizations that have been a part of similar projects.  We also have a design charette coming up where anyone that wants to be involved in the project has the opportunity to hear about the project and help out where possible.

There’s a bit of a challenge given certain differences with the profiles and needs of the involved communities. Most of the residents of Santiago Lodge have been there or are going to be there for a long time, while the women in Powell Place tend to be more transient.  While the residents of May’s Place likely won’t go into the garden, they can still enjoy it from their rooms.  Their staff and the residents’ families and visitors also have the opportunity to enjoy the garden too.

​​J: They also have varying needs as well. For example, for the more vulnerable women of Powell Place to stay in the courtyard only to have access to an outdoor space; whereas Santiago Lodge would most likely utilize it for their own programming as their backyard. We’re learning all about these needs and are trying to navigate them. We are hoping to also consult with other professionals to get some opinion and advice as well.

​​M: Also, right now there’s very limited funding for the project and we’re officially functioning as volunteers, with a stipend when the project is accomplished. We have some donors and contributors, but another part of the process is also helping to find additional funding.


What is the significance and importance of getting involved in this project to you?

​​M: Personally, I would like to become a part of the community contributing to the Downtown Eastside in a positive way. I view this project as a way of aiding and empowering the residents and staff of these three places, helping them get involved in the conceptualization, design, or maybe even the construction of this project as part of the community. I am also excited to connect with so many people who are passionate about projects like this all over the city. I find that it’s a very meaningful project and I love that.

​​J: I would say that I am thinking along the lines of what Marybeth has just said. I’d say it’s a young designer’s dream – I find that with this project, we’re getting to do everything at once and we’re really getting to realize the full potential that this project has.


How has being at the HiVE helped with the coming together of your work so far?

​​J: Marybeth and I met at the HiVE through work, and I think we both have a similar vision for what is possible with this project. How we’re both plugged into the HiVE, to be more involved in the Downtown Eastside community, which is generally the neighbourhood we work in. It’s just energizing to have all these things work out, since at the HiVE, I work with SSG doing green building consulting and community planning and I’m really excited how this project gives me the opportunity to put all these pieces together.

​​M: It’s great to be working together at the HiVE, as we’ve been working there for quite a long time now. It’s an opportunity for us to use the HiVE’s culture and goal for its members to be collaborators.

​​J: To draw upon the honey of the HiVE! To draw upon other people’s ideas, experiences, skills that we probably don’t have as a way of giving everyone a chance to be involved as well, while feeding off each other’s ideas and learning from one another.


Since you’ve mentioned the bringing of people together, what sort of help or contribution are you looking for? How can interested people get involved?

​​M: On the garden front, we’d love to chat with people who have experiences designing, working, and/or constructing gardens. We’d also love help in spreading the word about the project or the story about the garden. Either through media resources or by helping build a website to house all the information related to the project.

​​J: Any connections or even ideas for potential funding or sponsorship opportunities would be very helpful.

​​M: We’re also accepting donations – monetary donations or also in kind, such as plant material, soil, mulch, stones, and maybe pavers.

​​J: Or even other organizations or individuals who might want to partner with us. There’s a lot of opportunities and we’d be thrilled to connect with anyone who’s interested in getting involved in some way.


Let’s end this with a silly little garden question: If your garden can grow one plant only, what would it be and why?

​​J: I would choose bamboo. Because I really love the forest that it makes and I can also harvest it and make things out of it.

​​M: I’m thinking about the plants that I’ve grown on my balcony and I think I would choose my lilies. Because they’re so resilient, so beautiful, and their process of regeneration is beautiful.



If you would like to know more about The Garden Project, come to Marybeth and Julia’s Coffee Morning session on May 15th at 10am, or send them an email at mbwelty[at]gmail[dot]com and jmeyermac[at]gmail[dot]com. You may also visit their Facebook group and the Bloom Group website, as well.


Marybeth on LinkedIn.

Julia on LinkedIn.