The x̱aw̓s shew̓áy̓ New Growth 《新生林》garden is part of the Semi-Public outdoor space operated by 221A and is located at 271 Union Street, in Chinatown, Vancouver, near the intersection with Gore Avenue. It is designed with Indigenous permaculture techniques, Hügelkultur, and Coast Salish symbolism. This small, intentional forest inhabits a portion of what was formerly Hogan’s Alley, before it was mostly demolished for the introduction of the nearby viaduct.
The x̱aw̓s shew̓áy̓ New Growth 《新生林》garden lives in a narrow space between a two-story shop and a tall residential building, both with orange brick facades facing the street. They’re tall enough that direct sun penetrates the space only up to two hours a day at the most. Pedestrians regularly pass by on the sidewalk, sometimes slowing or stopping to glance in through a closed tall metal gate as they discover the secret garden, just 25 feet wide and almost 121 feet in length. Cyclists and motorists travel past.
You’ll be able to enter through the simple metal gate from the sidewalk on Union Street, as it will be pulled open, folding on itself like an accordion. The brick walls facing into the garden are painted white, directing sunlight into the cozy space. To your left, a bench stands against the western wall, providing a rest spot right away. Midway down, on the right, eastern, wall is a set of panels that includes a schematic drawing of the garden as seen from above and descriptions and the philosophy of the space in Traditional Chinese and English. The back of the garden is also gated, and a small parking strip and two-story faded red brick building are just beyond.
Now that you’ve passed through the gate, at first, you’ll notice the shapes in the landscaping evoke Taoist imagery such as the Yinyang, with garden beds nestled and curving together along shared lines. A spiral garden is to your left, to the west, with smaller arcs of garden beds radiating from it. Further down and to your right will be a hearth built of a cob oven with garden arcs radiating. Along the eastern wall, two cameras are perched, providing a real-time video view of the garden from above, but not so high that the crows overhead will fly into the video. Please feel welcome to stroll through the space, taking your time, gravel crunching quietly beneath you as you move. As you explore the luscious plants and Indigenous medicine, you may come into view of the live-stream cameras, becoming a part of the garden itself.
The length of the garden is a five-foot deep bed of grey gravel, with small islands of plants situated in low hugel mounds: mounds that are built up from decaying wood, like Red Cedar, and sticks, leaf debris, and soil. The planted hugel mounds turn the gravel into winding, riverlike trails. Each island is filled and spilling over with low plants including wild strawberries, cloudlike oxalis oregana, and small-leafed, purplish wood-sorrel. Grey rocks create borders around parts of these planted areas. Other small plant patches rest against the brick walls. Most of the trails are wide enough for visitors and gardeners to stroll side by side, but in places, plants have overgrown and spill into and greatly narrow the short trails.
As you’ve reached halfway down the garden, near the east wall is a small working red cob domed oven set atop stacks of grey stones. Arcing out from the oven on two sides is a low stone wall also covered with red cob. Pictured from above, it resembles an octopus-like creature extending two arms out to hug you. From ground level, the arms create a semi-circular sitting area built around the hearth. Directly across from the cob oven, against the western brick wall, a second bench. The oven itself is small, but easily able to cook a bannock, pie, or other small meal for a group that relaxes together on the benches.
Many of the plant islands throughout the garden also have taller plants breaking through the tufts of thick low plants. The taller plants include Oregon grape, fireweed, wild roses, ocean spray, a young yew tree, native plum trees, red osier dogwood, and canes and bushes of red huckleberry, snowberry, and salmonberry as well as found art like a broken, semi-carved stick discovered on the garden site and placed standing among a sea of wild strawberries. A cook stick plant bursts forth down the path from a dripping snowberry plant, its stalks to be used when cooking salmon.
While most of the plants were brought in intentionally, volunteers such as a young, broad-leafed fig tree, tomato plants, an oak tree, and deadly nightshade have made their way into the space, taken root, and are flourishing. You might happen upon a small apple tree (lovingly nicknamed Rapple) thanks to one of the local rats carrying in the apple core and seeds on one of its forays through the space. Tiny clusters of tan mushrooms peek up in spots amidst the low plants.
When your visit is complete, take your time wandering back to the Union Street gate. Visit the panels on the east wall to learn more information about the plants you communed with and the young Indigeous people who built and steward the garden with T’uy’tanat Cease Wyss. Have the spots of light and shadow changed during your visit? Are some plants that were in sunlight now in the shade or vice versa? Did the cloud cover change or rain fall? Did you visit with insects or birds or other animals as you visited? Were people from the 221A community tending to the garden? Did any Eastside Works Chinatown Stewards come to clean the space during your time there? Did you notice other people passing by, stopping to look in, or going about their day nearby? Did they stop to chat with you about the garden’s lushness? Did you notice any neighbors maybe fixing a bike, starting their commute, or hanging laundry out to dry in the building next door?
This description was written by Cheryl Green with support from the Semi-Public community. To hear more about the contributors to the description and the artists, please choose Menu Option 8.