by Natasha Henderson, Montreal

Community Garden. Plot. Allotment. A piece of earth, a bit of land. One can tend plants, care for the soil and those plants, and harvest the spoils as they happen. For several years I’ve known people who have had these little bits of land to grow vegetables, fruits and herbs. Beets, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes (oh so many tomatoes) zucchini, squash, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, garlic, chives, basil… asperagus, raspberries, eggplant, peas. All types and varieties. So when I was offered the chance to get in on one of these plots earlier this summer, I jumped right on board.

Calendula, Nasturtium... Cosmos... my little green babies

I live in the heart of Montreal. My home is more than adequate in most regards… except that I have no outdoor space. I don’t have even a balcony. I have a cat, and he loves to eat plants, so home gardening was never really an option for me. I did try a basil plant once, but it didn’t last long between the efforts of the cat and myself.

To gain entrance into the Community Garden right away, rather than go through the processes of a waiting-list, I took on a contaminated plot.

I will make a long story short as to WHY this plot (and a few others) had been contaminated. The neighbouring parking-lot for a large building had hired snow-removal to clear snow off their parking lot. Unfortunately, they managed to push all the oily, salted, gritty, chemical-laden parking-lot-snow right onto the Community Gardens. The tainted snow created tainted earth. The City came to test this earth, and lo and behold found it too toxic to allow edibles to grow in it. The land was not fit for human consumption.

The city did allow, however, that people could grow flowers in this land. That’s when, where, why and how I got my plot. I went about buying my three packets of seeds pronto.

Cosmos In My Garden

The good thing about this experience (besides getting my hands nice and dirty again; I come from a smaller town, originally, and have always had a bit of land to call my own) was in seeing the reactions of my fellow gardeners to the flower-plots.

We Flower-People were treated a little differently. The rules of the garden were slackened for us… if our flowers were to drape over into the pathways in between the plots, no one put up any signs requesting that we tidy our garden. If the flowers were to go to seed before being picked, no-one was there to tsk-tsk and shake their fingers at us, to gossip about us behind our backs.

I would chat with people in the garden, and when they realised I was one of the Flower-People, they would break into a smile, and remark on how happier those plots of flowers made the place feel. Several months had gone by with the land laying covered in straw, nothing was allowed to grow in it. There were bitter feelings and anger surrounding this loss of about a quarter to a third of this precious garden, due to a distasteful combination of pollution and negligence.

Once the jardins du fleurs were established, people stopped looking away, and started to look. It felt very good to have been a part of this. I do look forward to having a real vegetable garden next year, though!

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