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Edmontonians embrace ‘boulevardening’ as city program allows for gardening on boulevard land

For those interested in adding a personal touch to their home, the City of Edmonton’s Residential Boulevard Gardening Program allows residents to create a garden space on the boulevard land in front of their house. 

The city launched the program to beautify neighbourhood streets. The program, which is in its second year, has had 123 applications to date.

“We wanted to open up some space to incorporate planting areas to citizens. It allows them to add a little bit of character and flare into their neighbourhoods,” said Jodi Ehrman, In Bloom program lead with the city.

Ehrman said that boulevard gardens can also have ecological benefits, providing water retention and food for pollinators. 

While the city owns the boulevard land in front of a house, homeowners are responsible for maintaining this space.

But not everyone knows the program is around.

Street lines with elm trees, boulevard garden below.
123 applications have been received and approved for the boulevard gardening program — all for a declaration permit. (Emily Williams/CBC)

“I think that there are still some not aware that the program exists and they’re just kind of doing something that they’ve maybe done for a few years,” said Ehrman.

Candas Jane Dorsey is one of them. Dorsey and her partner have been “boulevardening” for 21 years — without a permit. The pair learned about the program after CBC News contacted them.

Once Dorsey heard about the program, she applied online and got automatic approval.

“The declaration part is really easy,” she said. “So I got declared — as of moments ago, I am a legal boulevard gardener.”

There are two permits available. A declaration permit is for low-impact projects and is automatically approved. Rules include no large items like benches or raised beds and a two-inch digging maximum.

More ambitious gardening projects can be approved under a licence of occupation permit — but the city has received no applications for this stream yet.

When asked what happens if gardeners are in contravention of the rules, Ehrman said that is not the program’s primary concern.

“The program is definitely more about education than it is about harsh enforcement.”

Ehrman said there may be a conversation about rules if a complaint is made or a home is found not to follow regulations.

Pink flowers, tree behind, surrounded by woodchips.
Pink flowers grow on a residential boulevard garden. (Emily Williams/CBC)

“Within the two years the program has been running, there’s been no fines, there’s been no enforcement issues so far.”

Ehrman said the city focuses more on communicating the program’s existence and receiving feedback. 

As for Dorsey, her boulevard garden in McCauley is blooming with native plant species. 

She said that while her garden is not likely to win a Front Yards In Bloom nomination, it adds colour to her community.

“People just really like going by and seeing flowers … and seeing something cheerful,” she said. “In an inner city neighbourhood, sometimes there isn’t a lot of cheerfulness in someone’s day.”

Sign that reads: "have a great day! Always appreciate your flowers. From the midnight skulker. Tee hee!"
Candas Jane Dorsey was surprised by a note and three extra plants left in her boulevard garden this year. (Emily Williams/CBC)

While Dorsey and her partner have experienced some plant theft, they have also received a pleasant surprise in their garden. Someone stopped by one night and gifted them three plants and a thank-you note.

“It was just a really nice thing from people who were appreciating the flowers.”

Dorsey said she is glad the city program exists.

“I think it’s really cool that the city is kind of encouraging it now. We’ve always been responsible for this strip of land.”

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