At FCG, we routinely reflect on the many ways gardens can go beyond our personal spaces to serve our neighbourhoods. Faith groups often have outdoor properties and these can be sacred green spaces for all the community to enjoy and benefit from.
A conversation with researcher and author, Karla Winham.
“With limited resources, places of worship can help the communities around them develop and heal. They can nourish people and accompany people. They can be models of what it means to walk gently on the earth.” Tom Urbaniak, Director, Tompkins Institute – Cape Breton University and Chair of the Board, Faith & the Common Good.
Thus begins the preface to researcher, Karla Winham’s study of 10 faith communities that have created gardens at their places of worship and the benefits such gardens entail. You can read her full essay, Gardens Built by Love: Faith-Based Community Gardens on our Resources page. Download the report here.
Communications Manager, Beatrice Ekoko sat down with Karla for a conversation about her research. We’ve condensed the conversation below.
*Note, this resource is not a guide about how to grow a garden. For ‘how to guides', click here.
This research examines the enabling conditions and reported impacts of community gardens hosted by faith communities. Community gardens are one way for faith communities to demonstrate good stewardship of their land and contribute to local food security. In the context of declining membership and financial hardship, faith communities might be concerned about their capacity to take on such a project. Through semi-structured interviews, participant observations, and document review, ten Canadian faith-based community gardens were studied to identify factors contributing to their success. The results highlight that community gardens and faith communities are mutually beneficial. Faith communities can provide many prerequisites for community garden development, and the presence of a community garden provides exposure and neighbourhood connections for the faith community. Based on participants’ experiences and the existing literature, recommendations are made regarding best practices for faith communities considering community garden projects, with particular emphasis on sustainable leadership structure.
Gardens Built by Love: Faith-Based Community Gardens, by Karla Winham, 2021.
Breton Books Tompkins Institute Faith & the Common Good
The Beit Tikvah Synagogue hugglekulture garden is a superb example of permaculture, polyculture and regenerative agriculture on a small scale in Ottawa. Permaculture garden design is a “whole systems” approach to growing food by maximizing the benefits of natural ecosytem principles into the landscape. Using natural water flow movement, the benefits of woody material decomposition (both for nutrients and water storage) and increasing the seasonal biodiversity of food crops, this hugglekulture garden optimizes nature’s cycles and reduces the work for the synagogue’s gardening community.
(Beit Tikvah's Orchard and Gardens, Title photo reproduced with permission by photographer (2020))
The Orleans United Healing Biodiversity Garden was created to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the church. The focus on both biodiversity and healing came from the desire for this new garden to provide both habitat and shelter for wildlife and offer a relaxing space for meditation and prayer for community members including those benefiting from a new healing ministry program. Nature itself offers healing benefits and this garden provides a designated space to sit outdoors and enjoy the wonder and beauty of being outdoors.
(The Haven Community Garden - Multifaith Housing Initiative, Photo Credit: Nancy Moir)
The Haven’s two-year old community garden is a LEED gold component of the Multifaith Housing Initiative’s (MHI) newest development in Barrhaven. Growing local produce and helping with food security is one of the garden’s tangible goals but participating in this outdoor activity offers residents much more: an opportunity to strengthen the connections in this neighbourhood and build trust and confidence between members.
Read how other faith communities are expanding their mission outdoors through various gardens including xeriscape, labyrinth, pollinator, sacred medicine wheel, and wildflower gardens.
To support the Faith & the Common Good Outdoor Greening program and the Ottawa Interfaith Sustainable Garden Network program, the following case studies have been created. Within these resources you will find examples of both larger suburban projects along with small urban sites including sidewalks. Some gardens were initiated with very little money, while others sought out grants and other financial support. Find out how your garden team can do the same with a review of our case studies that include lessons learned and keys to success! A special thanks to our funders the Ottawa Community Foundation and the City of Ottawa (CEPGP) and all the faith communities who shared their stories, photos, and enthusiasm for their Care for Creation outdoor projects with us!
These Outdoor Greening Case Studies are available both as ONE BOOKLET (see final link below "All 10 Outdoor Greening Case Studies") or they can be downloaded INDIVIDUALLY if you only want a few specific case studies.
We recommend you download the BOOKLET (which is the last pdf file below) unless you only want a few. Each individual case study must be downloaded separately - so this may take some time. If you do want the set of 10 individual case studies please contact Katherine Forster and she can send you the set (phone: 1-866-231-1877 x 107, email: [email protected]).
Kitchissippi United Church - Depave Project
Kitchissippi United Church transformed a grey asphalt courtyard into a green lush entranceway that parishioners and building tenants benefit from and enjoy. Green landscapes can help soak up rainwater and lessen the burden of local storm water and sewer systems while also cooling down microclimates that add to the heat island effect of cities… Download PDF (2.5 MB)
Trinity Presbyterian Church (Kanata) - Pollinator Garden
The Trinity Presbyterian pollinator garden in Kanata is home to native plants that provide nectar and pollen to beneficial insects and birds. Native pollinators are an essential component to the ecology of plants, ensuring that flowers are fertilized and food can grow. Supporting a variety of pollinators promotes a strong, biodiverse local ecosystem… Download PDF (3.5 MB)
Trinity United Church – Wildflower Garden
Trinity United Church’s wildflower garden initially conceived by their Church in Society Committee, was installed in the back lawn of the faith community’s property and has evolved over time.time. Native wildflowers are better able to survive local conditions including temperatures and drought and require less maintenance including pesticides than their more exotic counterparts… Download PDF (2.5 MB)
First Unitarian – Meditation Garden
The First Unitarian Meditation Gardens have been designed and maintained by the First Unitarian church over the past twenty years for the benefit of all groups on the sixacre campus plus visitors from the entire city. It was designed to be an urban oasis for “relaxation, restoration, observation and meditation”… Download PDF (3.0 MB)
Centretown United Church – Sidewalk Community Garden
At Centretown United Church, raised sidewalk planters that held trees for more than 30 years have been transformed by the installation of a community garden. Something valuable has been created from the derelict empty planters for the church, the community and for Centre 507, a downtown Drop-In… Download PDF (1.95 MB)
St. Luke's Anglican – Sidewalk Community Garden
Empty spaces that had once held city shade trees for more than 30 years have been transformed by St. Luke’s Parish through the installation of gardens to grow fresh produce for the local St. Luke’s Table meal program. These gardens are now a valuable community asset and have brought back to life a… Download PDF (1.8 MB)
The Anglican Parish of March_St. John's Church_Outdoor Labyrinth
St John’s Church in Kanata provides an outdoor meditation experience for both its congregation and the larger neighbourhood community with their labyrinth garden. An outdoor labyrinth is a versatile addition to a faith community. A labyrinth walk is a spiritual and meditative tool that can be used for various purposes. It’s also a pleasant and unique landscape design that… Download PDF (3.2 MB)
Glebe St. James United Church – Medicine Wheel
The Glebe-St. James United Church Sacred Medicine Wheel garden is a visible sign of the faith community’s allyship with First Nation communities. A Medicine Wheel garden represents the cycles of nature and is grown for medicinal purposes and harvested to be used as peace offerings. The First Nation relationship with… Download PDF (2.8 MB)
Knox United Church – Community Garden
With a large expanse of lawn, support from the City of Ottawa’s Community Garden Network Fund and a generous bequest, Knox United Church has created a wonderful local gardening space that is open to both congregants and community members. Community gardens such as these allow people to grow local healthy fresh produce that doesn’t have to… Download PDF (1.15 MB)
Special Faith Community & Cultural Gardens
This case study shares some of the details of three other special faith community and cultural gardens found in Ottawa. They are an inspiration for their ingenuity, community spirit and cultural significance. Each has a unique focus and approach and have been successful in gathering local support and volunteer dedication… Download PDF (2.98 MB)