Tiny veggie patch

In New Westminster, a Canadian city where 70% of the residents live in apartments and 25% qualify as low income, Diane Cairns had to think creatively about how to improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables. As director of the Living Well program for the community services organization Fraserside, she couldn’t advocate backyard victory gardens -- not when most of the population didn’t have a backyard.

There was only one solution: Bring the dirt to the people. Despite having no gardening background, Cairns designed a compact, three-tiered planter made of a handsome (and rot-resistant) cedar -- just the right size for a small balcony. The 32-inch-wide planters are narrow enough to squeeze through small apartment doors, raised high enough so no stooping is required for planting and picking, and built with a trellis on the top tier to support bean and squash vines.

The garden, soil and plants are delivered for free to whomever opts into the program. In return, participants promise to water and weed and to share leftover produce with neighbors.

Cairns hoped to have eight to 10 pilot Biggest Little Gardens in 2007, but the project was so popular in that first year, she wound up with 54. Two years later, 108 gardens are in operation and Cairns has secured funding for an additional 70 in the coming growing season. A community service group in nearby Surrey is planning to copy the program.


The Biggest Little Gardens got a smattering of media attention after winning an award from the United Way for most innovative project, and people who didn’t live in New Westminster wanted to know how they could get a planter of their own. The resourceful Cairn saw a fundraising opportunity. Now, the Biggest Little Garden is available for purchase locally from Fraserside for $175 Canadian (about $140 U.S.). Those who live outside the Vancouver area can buy the plans to build their own Biggest Little Garden for $25 Canadian (about $20 U.S.). All proceeds go to the program.

For details, call Cairns at (604) 522-3722, Ext. 117, or e-mail