On a blue-sky September Saturday when many Calgarians head to the Rockies, a group of thirty volunteers – including ten children – met at the Parkdale Garden where Audrey Smith gave a brief tour and showed them the prepared empty beds that they would be planting over the next few hours.
This was no ordinary group. They were all from Brookfield Residential Calgary and they had all responded to a call for volunteers to save an entire laneway garden. They would be transplanting and moving dozens of perennials to the Parkdale community garden so they it would not be ruined during Brookfield’s construction of The Henry which will be launched in the fall of 2015.
The idea for the volunteer work day was spawned during a neighborly visit by Brookfield’s Justin Seguin and Ryan Moon to my beautification project that began eight years ago, when I started replacing weedy patches of grass along the lane with hardy perennials and native plants.
I began with a few plants and expanded to a c.150 foot long garden outside my fence along the shared laneway between my home and garden and Brookfield’s project site. In an email I sent Justin in August I had described how I had found it hard to maintain the grass along the laneway fence because of gravel from the lane before I started doing the lane improvement project. Having the perennials there with lots of mulch really helped with weed control and almost eradicated a littering problem.
With the garden in place, cars slowed down, especially when I was working outside the fence. I met so many people, including most of my neighbors, with my outside-the-fence garden. Over the years some of the perennials colonized more space on their own. I kept adding to it too so I would have at least some plants in from May to October, and in some good years, from April to November.
By August 2015 the laneway beds that I call Country Lane in the City and Lilac Lane, spanned about 150’ in length and included over 35 species of hardy and drought resistant plant species
Justin, who has his own award-winning garden, made his appreciation of this garden clear. While sipping tisane made from rose petals, stevia and mint from the garden he and Ryan considered ways in which they could help. After their visit emails were exchanged, lists of materials such as soil amendments were drawn up, tagging and flagging plants completed and beds in the Parkdale garden were prepared.
Early Saturday morning, September 19th, Chris, a Parkdale volunteer, levelled the beds and dug in the final layer of compost. Within minutes after their arrival, the fully-equipped volunteers, wearing matching Brookfield T-shirts, had already begun digging up perennials. Mike was on hand to oversee the work and everyone participated, even a toddler who worked with a little spade on a patch of wild strawberries.
Shiny white trucks moved the tagged plants quickly to the community garden site. Within a very short period of time we were all working at the newly prepared beds. I could barely keep up with eager volunteers as I pointed out the matching tags and flags showing where each plant was to be placed. They still managed to have a great barbecue break with games and to visit Green Calgary’s booth who partner with Brookfield and were invited to be onsite for the duration giving mini-composting workshops and worm bins for the kids!
The Brookfield volunteers worked overtime and there were still dozens of plants that had not been planted. With a final rally and a burst of energy within twenty minutes a group of about a dozen people had dug trenches and placed these remaining plants in twenty foot rows on the west bank.
There were so many highlights of that day. I really enjoyed the way families worked together. One of Ryan’s sons who clearly enjoyed the gardening experience talked about it with much enthusiasm and said that a garden was like a neighborhood of plants. As their new neighbor this is a really great beginning. I will no longer need to maintain the lane way as it will be completely covered in gravel and eventually paved. And I look forward to the spring of 2016 so I can visit the nearby community garden and watch the flowers grow.