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The Garden Party 2011

First, we would like to thank the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale & Toronto for the generous grant that allowed us to purchase much needed seeds and plants and helped to support our children’s garden which is tended by members of the Sunday school who attend Redeemer Lutheran. Most of The Garden Party volunteers are not members of the Redeemer congregations and the children’s garden is one way we can contribute to the church which has generously made land available for the garden.

Early spring bedsThe Garden Party is a giving garden. Over the past six years, The Garden Party has been growing and donating herbs and vegetables to the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC) and St. Francis Table, both located on Queen Street West in the Parkdale neighbourhood. PARC prepares 200 meals on average each day for people who are struggling with disabilities, poverty, addictions and poor health. St. Francis Table is a non-profit restaurant serving meals to the poor and needy for one dollar. About one-half of the 100 guests served each day are post-psychiatric survivors and another one-quarter are seniors. Meals are also provided to the unemployed, single parents, refugees, transients, ex-convicts and street people.

In 2011, we got an early start to the season by hosting our first ever Welcome Event for new volunteers on March 26. Our theme was to demonstrate the use of cold frames with one we had received in 2010 from grade 5 students at Upper Canada College as part of their community outreach program. Although there was snow on the ground, March 26th was a cold but sunny day and we had more than 20 people attend our event, including Councillor Sarah Doucette from Ward 13 and a photographer from SNAP magazine. Inside the church, we had light refreshments, a computer presentation of Garden Party photos and seed planting for visitors to take home with them. Outside, people were able to tour the garden, taste some Bordeaux spinach that had survived the winter and volunteers helped plant radish, lettuce, arugula and corn salad seeds.

That was the start of our 2011 planting season. When we returned the following Saturday (Saturday mornings are typically when volunteers gather to plant, transplant, weed and do other activities), the seeds from the previous week were starting to come up. We planted more arugula, curly kale, Swiss chard, spinach, radish, corn salad, beets, bok choy, salad mix and red Russian kale and used a number of improvised cold frames.

Hubbard squashApril and May were very busy months with planting and transplanting. We had saved some bean seeds from the year before and one of the volunteers started these at home and later brought them to the garden for transplanting. We also established our herb garden and planted some marigolds, nasturtiums, morning glories and pansies.

On May 26, we picked up some plants from the Green Barn, operated by the Stop Community Centre. They grow many plants in their greenhouse over the winter and make the seedlings available to community gardens. We received a good selection, including some new varieties for our garden—Malabar spinach, Jamaican thyme, cayenne pepper, and an heirloom tomato plant, Black Russian.

On May 29, Pastor Eric from Redeemer Lutheran and Father Dan from neighbouring St. Joan of Arc, conducted a blessing of the garden with parishioners from both congregations and Garden Party volunteers attending. As part of this event, one of the volunteers started a children’s garden with children from the Sunday school. They planted sunflowers, pumpkin and squash seeds. The Garden Party is always interested in creating a love of gardening at an early age and teaching children where their food originates.

The Garden Party made its first harvest on May 24 with 4.5 kg (9.9 lbs.) of spinach, arugula, lettuce and radishes. By Sept. 19 we had made 24 deliveries to PARC and St. Francis Table—we had donated 243 kg (535 lbs.) of fresh produce (including squash, bok choy, cucumber, tomatoes, beans, kale, lettuce, eggplant, Swiss chard, spinach, zucchini and Asian vegetable). Approximately 100 herb bouquets (basil, parsley, Jamaican thyme, dill, oregano, chives, thyme, mint, sage, rosemary, marjoram, cilantro and garlic) were also harvested and donated to PARC and St. Francis Table to enhance the flavour of the meals served to their patrons. And…we were able to continue well into November.

Vegetable donation boxesThe Garden Party received three new cedar planters in the summer built by grade 5 students of Upper Canada College. One planter was outside the main garden entrance filled with flowers and is next to our butterfly bush—both attract butterflies and bees to the garden. Another planter was moved into our expansion garden for 2012 in adjacent St. Joan of Arc and the third will be used in 2012.

We also received a donation of fall seedlings from the Stop Community Centre (radish, kale, Swiss chard) and these were all planted. We made a concerted effort to save seeds for use in 2012.

We recruited three new regular volunteers through our welcome volunteer event in March. One person lives near the garden and the other two are students from Japan and Korea who are studying English as a second language. They travel some distance to come to the garden but have come most Saturdays and one was on the weekly watering team, responsible for one week night. They hoped to improve their English skills and have shared information about vegetables in Japan and Korea with the other volunteers.We also hosted a transplanting event in June that was covered in the Bloor West Village SNAP newspaper. A few photos from that publication are shown here.

We were very pleased to be asked to participate in the Urban Vegetable Garden Tour, organized by the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale & Toronto on September 11. Not only did this event give more exposure to The Garden Party, but members who visited some of the other gardens were able to get ideas for new things to try. We hope that this event will be repeated next year.

We also had one garden party—on one of the hottest nights of the summer in early July—delicious food accompanied the potluck and two members shared their musical talents on the guitar and violin and everyone joined in with singing. We also had a pumpkin festival and harvest party to celebrate the successful growing season in late September.

Overall, 2011 was another successful year for The Garden Party. This year, we’d like to replace the existing wooden fence that is the entry point to the garden with a ‘living’ fence that would be a unique way of showcasing our beans. The plan has been approved by the Church and construction will start this spring if funds are obtained. Our other big plan for 2012 is to expand the garden space into an adjacent plot of land on the other side of the fence on St. Joan of Arc property. Some limited planting was done there late in the 2011 season.

In closing, The Garden Party would like to thank the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale & Toronto for selecting our project as one of the recipients of your Community Garden Grant program for 2011 and we welcome Hort members to visit the garden any Saturday morning.

Christine Hughes