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Roncesvalles United Church Garden

Eden on Roncy

I’ve been going to Roncesvalles United Church (or Emmanuel Howard Park United Church as it used to be known) on Roncesvalles at Wright Ave. more or less regularly since about 2003. This past year I took an interest in the grounds and garden spaces and started puttering around. From there one thing just led, somewhat miraculously I must say, to another, and to another… It has been truly amazing to see how people respond to green, growing things, and to the promise of positive change in the landscape. There’s a spirit to gardening (no surprise to Hort members I’m sure) it nourishes the soul.

I’d like to say that I came into this project with a thorough plan but the fact is (again, as I’m sure you know) developing a garden is an organic, growing process. In a communal context like a church, the challenge is to discern the strength in the many ideas that come forward, which takes patience (probably the biggest lesson that I’m learning personally from all this).

In terms of ideas, we’ve been so fortunate to have Anne Karpynczyk involved. Anne, as you know, has formidable vision that naturally inspires confidence, a super-meticulous eye and a tireless energy that’s infectious. She was the one who suggested we add a bench to the plan, which will make the garden more than a garden, but a very special place.

Polly O’Keefe at the church made an important contribution telling us the fascinating story behind the stained glass window that is just above the garden, which led to including it in the plan; the window will be backlit so it will be a beacon representing what our church aspires to be, a radically welcoming place, not just open but inviting to all.

The removal of the large sign was, as you might imagine, much debated. It had been there forever and carried the church’s name. In the end, one feels that the desire for change really took hold with the decision to let it go. Through all this process, Reverend Anne Hines has been patiently leadingworking behind the scenes, listening, bringing people together and gently guiding decision-making.

So at this point the bed at the southeast corner has been prepared and Anne has started building her vision. Big thank yous are due to Sara Jameson at Sweetpea’s for her offering of plants and also to a benefactor who will help us acquire a bench. We are presently looking over catalogues to find a suitable design, and would welcome information about manufacturers or sources.

We are also sorting out how to light the stained glass window from inside the church. Watch for it to be lit by the beginning of December, an auspicious beginning to Advent. Reverend Anne is planning a sermon about gardens, vision, and this particular garden for the First Sunday of Advent, December 1st. Please drop in to say hello. (I’ll wear a flower in my lapel so you know who I am!) The service starts at 10:30am, the sermon is at about 10:45 and coffee is served afterward, around 11:15.

Like all gardens, ours is very much a work in progress. At many times in the beginning it seemed like nothing was going to happen, but then, as it turned out, the seed had been planted and just took time to germinate. The shoots are peeping out now, strong and full of promise. We are blessed indeed!
Rob Labossiere, 2013

Garden Design Thoughts

Walking home one day I saw a poster outside the Emmanuel Howard Park Church asking for volunteer gardening help. I called to leave my number and almost immediately received a phone call from Robert. I invited him to come by to look at plants in situ in my garden to help visualize. Early on in my gardening journey I learned that garden tours are extremely useful as they show you the entire plant versus just the tantalizing flower on the label.

As the church garden is on busy Roncesvalles Avenue I felt it needed to generate a sense of calmness and beauty amongst the hustle and bustle of city life. So I chose a Monet-inspired garden palette of pastel blues, pinks, whites and soft yellows. Silver/blue foliage will help knit it all together.

I’ve tried to create a garden to delight all the senses. It also includes addressing the variables of: long blooming flowers, winter interest, movement, hardy, low-maintenance plants, attracting butterflies and bees (Clement would be proud), creating interest for children, being mindful of the busy street and its various pedestrian festival traffic, interesting foliage for multi-season interest, allowing room for stepping stones so the enormous hedge can get trimmed and finally hiding the fence (whew!).

For children there are lamb’s ears (so soft to touch it brings out the kid in all of us), lady’s mantle (I love the way water beads on it), lemon scented thyme, grape scented iris, lavender and some super tall perennial sunflowers (to help hide the fence). Caryopteris will attract butterflies in the fall and the foliage is fragrant when crushed. Sedums are for structure, bee attraction, winter interest and winter bird food. Iris pallida is for its grape scented flowers and fantastic foliage. Various grasses will provide structure, sound, movement, winter interest and maybe even an invitation for touch (cue Russell Crowe in Gladiator). The yellow dogwood will stand proud in the winter and contrast nicely with the existing dark green euonymus hedge (and
might even be used in some container arrangements). Lavender is at the front of the border in several places so children can enjoy the beauty and scent. It can also be harvested and made into sachets or dried decorative bunches tied with ribbon and sold at church functions. Perhaps best
of all, it’s nice to crush and
smell the scent from the leaves as they poke through the snow in the middle of wintera little pick me up to help get us through the long cold season. (Hopefully we get snow to keep the new plantings covered up and warm in their new beds versus the freeze and thaw cycles, but I digress.)

In mid-October, work on the garden bed commenced. The large sign was dismantled, tons of city compost added to augment the soil and the shape of the garden bed was created. Robert said the congregation was so excited even with the empty bed but I felt we should get some plants in even though it was getting very late in the season. We purchased some shrubs and I took some divisions from my garden. (Don’t worry Barbara, as per your great idea in the newsletter article, I buried five pots of hosta in the church garden to overwinter for our Plant Fair.) We have just received some bulbs from Sweetpeas (thank you Sara!) and hope to get them planted before frost. Over the winter we’ll complete our plant wish list so Sweetpea’s can order them next spring and we’ll complete planting once the ground warms up (cue volunteers needed ad). We’ll also finalize plans to create new garden beds along the north and south walls of the church. I think I can speak for Robert and others at the church that we are like children quivering with anticipation on Christmas Eveexcept our patience will be tested so much longeruntil the first sprouting of bulbs next spring. Until then well have to be content with visions of sugar plums—I mean images of Hort speaker slides and Piet Oudolf’s swath of frost-tipped swaying grassesdancing in our minds.

Anne Karpynczyk, 2013

Ed. Note: This is in response to the February 2013 article, Dig Here, Please!, by Rev. Anne Hines of Emmanuel Howard Park United Church. (See below.) Rob Labossiere is a local resident and artist; Anne Karpynczyk is a local resident and Hort member. 

Dig Here, Please!

George Bernard Shaw insisted, “The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.”
We gardeners know, nothing renews the soul or satisfies the senses like time spent in a garden. So, the folks at Emmanuel-Howard Park United Church, located at the corner of Roncesvalles and Wright Ave., at the very heart of Roncy, are starting to think about how we can transform a bare strip of ground on the south side of our building into a garden. Should there be a bench for tired shoppers? Flowers that announce spring or maybe berry bushes that lend colour to grey, dreary winters? How about an herb garden to spice up some of the 11,000 free, hot meals our church serves every year to

needy people in our community? Whatever this garden looks like, we hope it will be a place of enjoyment and refreshment for everyone who lives on, works on and loves our street. So, if you love gardens and want to join in the discussion about what this rare strip of open space can offer our wonderful Roncy community, call us and let us know who you are! Along with some of our fun, garden-loving members of Emmanuel-Howard Park UC, we’ll arrange a time to get together and think and talk and plan.

Maybe Bernard Shaw will be right.

We just might find God in our garden. With your help, what we know we’ll find is a gift for our whole community.

If you would like to be part of the discussion about the EHPUC green space, call us at 416-536-1077 or email us at hwrdprk@bellnet.ca.

Cathy Borg and Rev. Anne Hines, February 2013