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In conversation with Jacquie Lowe- Landscape Architect & Divine Ndemeye- Landscape Designer

Landscape design and gardening as methods to strengthen communal practice.

The process: How Nora Hendrix Place Landscape Garden came to be

Jacquie Lowe: When the project started, the land was looked at by the architect and planning department of WSP. They figured out the right test fit and we provided comments on which trees will be good trees to build the gardens around. And so once they found the right orientation for the building then they established setbacks and things and figured out, at a functional level, the amount of garden space available walking space that could work within the development.
And then at that point, BC Housing had retained Portland Hotel Society as an operator, so they were also brought in as an additional stakeholder and at that point, they also engaged Hogan’s Alley Society for consultation on the design.
That’s where we got to meet Divine.

Divine Ndemeye: I came in when the design had already started and my role was to look at the proposed design and to make it better through a cultural lens to reflect the identity of the people who will be occupying the space. And so from there on I came up with plenty of palettes, colour schemes and some different shapes for the proposed design. Working with Jacquie, she was very receptive, and that’s how we came up with the space.

Inspiration behind the design of the garden

Divine Ndemeye: When you look at the way a lot of African cultures gather, a lot of people naturally gather in circles. I also took a lot of inspiration from Burundi, which is where I’m from. And looking at the way we used to build back in the day, the buildings were circular and they only came to be rectangular with the influence of colonialism.

“I remember June telling me about the opening ceremony and saying that the circular area here, with the paving that was made, people just naturally gravitated towards the area for the drum circle. That really went to show how significant it was to have spaces like that in the garden.”

The heart of community

Jacquie Lowe: I really believe that food production and accessibility is at the heart of communities now. You know we’ve really seen it quite a bit with COVID, you know there’s been a blossoming and love for gardening that is really grown. The regional centres, the garden centres have been absolutely packed for a few months now with people who are really engaging with the land again. And I think, you know, food is something that really brings people together, right?

Lama: Food is life

Yeah, it’s life, it’s nourishment, it’s community. So when you can have these garden spaces that you’re actually able to have opportunities to interact with each other, grow things together, you’re actually not just growing the vegetables and the fruits, you’re growing relationships and that is really important.
And it extends into the community in different ways whether it’s putting available food out in landscapes and parks so people have destination trees, fruits at certain times of year that become destinations within cities.
That could be fantastic.

Divine Ndemeye: Now that we live in urban areas, tight spaces, we really do have to start thinking out of the box and how to start bringing food back into our lives. First of all, it’s good to acknowledge that especially in a lot of African communities, farming is an intrinsic part of their identity and their everyday lives. So that close relationship that happens with the land is something that defines how people interact with each other. Having that taken away impacts the social relations that happen.

“Culturally speaking the value of ornamental gardens was foreign to a lot of African cultures. People were not just having ornamental places and building passive relationships. To be able to have that reciprocity with the land that nurtures us and then nurturing it back through gardening is very important.”

Jacquie Lowe: Priority to food with nourishment and access to fresh food is incredibly important.

“My experience with working with gardens is that it’s not just abstract and something to be looked at and admired from afar, it’s actually something to interact with and create those bonds and relationships while you are doing it.”

Divine Ndemeye: And I think we need to embrace that a little bit more. I think beauty is important, it’s great, we need it. But there’s also a way to have beauty and functionality come together. And hopefully that is the future of landscape design and gardening especially in urban spaces.

Posted on: 11th March 2022 Written by: Sola Olowo-Ake

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