Grafton Community Garden

Our community garden has been through five seasons. Wow! It feels like the garden was just started and yet it’s hard to imagine the corner at Roncesvalles just north of Queen without the pleasant little oasis known as the Grafton Community Garden.

I’d say that even though it’s not official, the Grafton Community Gardeners have taken over the entire Grafton Avenue Parkette. The City cuts the grass but we now plant and maintain all the beds in and around the parkette. There are perennials, clematis and shrubs along the east side chain link fence; a shrub and annual flower border along Grafton; a series of small round beds planted with sunflowers and echinacea along the south mural wall, the main community vegetable garden at the centre of the parkette and, as of this year, the original City-planted area along Roncesvalles has finally come under our wing.

Thanks to the support we received from the Hort in 2011, we expanded and improved the bed near Roncesvalles with at least 30 bags of composted sheep manure and topsoil. The City-planted sumac had branches and roots trimmed back and the refreshed and enlarged garden was planted with perennials including – echinacea, chrysanthemums and a rose in the sunnier parts; ferns and Solomon’s seal further back in the sumac shade. Late in the year, this bed was also planted with spring flowering bulbs. Tulips and daffodils with alliums are our favourites now because they provide a great show of colour in the spring. Luckily, they aren’t getting picked by passers by, which is a concern with anything too showy and beautiful at our location. Maybe we just don’t notice the picked tulips because we’ve been able to plant lots of them. Sadly, the two Asiatic lilies coming into flower proved to be irresistible to someone this June. Flowers and produce do disappear from the Grafton garden, but we have never experienced any malicious vandalism. The flattened plants that provide an overnight sleeping spot for a homeless “garden appreciator” do spring back with a little help and staking.

The Grafton Community Gardeners met regularly on Wednesday evenings through the summer of 2011. We enjoyed potluck celebrations at our Spring Planting Event and the Summer Harvest Event which was a special occasion to honour one of the first champions of the Grafton Community Garden, Janis Rosenbaum, who passed away on Mother’s Day. Jan’s enthusiasm for our little corner of Toronto was contagious and she will be missed by all. The Winter Solstice Event on December 21 was a surprising success considering the drizzly wet evening. With all the regular gardeners and supporters, plus a few people new to the neighbourhood, we enjoyed snacks and warm cider while lighting candles to encourage the return of the light.

The edible harvest this year was good though we still tend to overplant in our small plots. We also let the sunflowers have their way which is great for the birds, especially the goldfinches, but not great for the crops that end up in the shade.

This year we grew: rhubarb, radishes, lettuce, arugula, chives, basil, sage, parsley, thyme, sorrel, chard, beans, carrots, beets, tomatoes, strawberries, gooseberries, red currants and of course raspberries. The raspberry hedge around the centre garden gets a trim in the spring (thanks Wally) and then we just wait for the bounty. We get the biggest crop of berries in late June and July. The fall berries come in September and they just keep coming through the fall until the frost hits them in December. Yes, we were still harvesting raspberries, carrots, kale, chard, beets and Brussels sprouts well into December.

Now, what did we learn in the 2011 season?

Well, it’s becoming clear that communal gardening at our location is making more sense than individual plots. Although people agree to tend their assigned plots from planting until fall cleanup, there is a definite flagging of interest as the season progresses. Planting is popular, weeding and maintenance – not so much. Often any setbacks encountered by the newbie plot gardener, like crop failures due to heat or drought and plant or fruit theft, can destroy all interest in the garden for the year. So, next year we’ll use most of the plots as communal garden areas. That way, when friends and neighbours come out on Wednesday evenings, we will always have something for them to do. We can maintain the whole garden through the season and everyone will feel that they’ve been a part of the garden’s success. The plan is to make easy-to-care-for communal plots of strawberries, carrots and beets. Maybe a few herbs or a brussel sprout plant along the edge, but we’ll keep it simple. I have a feeling this will increase our vegetable harvest considerably.

Another lesson that we learned was to make the best use of volunteer time by dividing the bigger chores into parts that can be completed when each person has time. For example, Carolin Taron and I were having trouble coordinating the time for our fall bulb planting. It was going to be just the two of us but our work schedules and the short days in late October were causing delays. I knew how many bulbs that we had to plant (thanks again to the Hort support we had several hundred) and I took the time one morning to dig enough holes and trenches all through the garden for the entire lot. I actually enjoy a good dig. When she had time, later the same day, Carolin popped all the bulbs into the pre-dug holes and filled them back up. Quite a successful division of labour and a big job accomplished.

Carolin was in the Grafton garden for most of the Sunday of the Veggie Tour this September. She was happy to talk with people on the tour who made it down to our garden, but what was more impressive was the number of passers by who enjoy the garden. Some just walk by with a lifted spirit as they look into the garden from the sidewalk. Others are drawn in to the space and really appreciate the air, the lush vegetation, the sense of community accomplishment and the wildlife. It’s true that the regular volunteers carry the heaviest burden of work through the year. But we receive back so many good wishes and so much positive energy from everyone that it makes the work worthwhile.

Richard Kerr

The Grafton Community Garden in its first year ‘before’ (April 2007) and ‘after’ (August 2007).

Located just south of 27 Roncesvalles Avenue, this garden is a very active community food garden that has engaged the community and become a social hub for residents in this area.