Growing a garden and a community

This summer I'll be making my foray into the world of gardening, having recently signed up for a plot in the south end community garden. In doing so, I'll have the opportunity to spend time in one of my community's green spaces and become better acquainted with my neighbours, most of whom I do not ordinarily see in my day-to-day travels.

"The garden is not just a place to plant flowers and vegetables," says Mark Leger, a FUSION board member involved in overseeing in the garden. "It's also a gathering spot for community members, a place to get to know your neighbours and share tips about gardening."

The garden is located on Broad Street and has been home to a handful of south end gardening enthusiasts since 2001. As renovation efforts get underway for Rainbow Park, the garden will benefit from a series of improvements to the space.

The south end garden is one of three community gardens in the city that serve as green spaces for community members. In the south end, the garden has already served as the impetus for community engagement beyond the garden itself. This year, gardener Milville Couture and students from St. John the Baptist/King Edward School planted beds and he will help them tend to their plants throughout the summer, allowing the students to see the plants through to maturity.

"It's a great experience for them to learn about growing food for themselves," Leger said. "Over the years, they have come to the garden to watch us plant. They've always had questions and wanted to help and they are now getting the opportunity through the program at the school. Milville is nurturing a new generation of green thumbs, who will eventually have gardens of their own."

The south central peninsula is a diverse area, but the lack of available green spaces is the common denominator that links neighbours. What appealed to me (and what will hopefully appeal to other would-be gardeners in communities throughout Saint John) is that becoming a part of a community garden is really a multi-faceted opportunity. The people involved will not only be honing their gardening skills, they will become a part of a social network in their community, one that is making a significant investment in a shared green space.

"People lead busy lives, shuttling back and forth between work and their homes," Leger noted. "Green spaces like gardens and parks get people out in their communities in their leisure time."

Sometimes getting involved in your community requires you to get your hands dirty. In this case, the analogy is quite literal. By digging into a community garden, gardeners will get much more than some perennials or a few heads of lettuce. They will be part of the network reinvigorating the south end, and on a larger scale, Greater Saint John itself.

Plots in the south end community garden, located on Broad Street, are available to individuals, families, businesses or organizations. For more information on the community garden, please visit us online at

Claire Ryan works with MT&L Public Relations Ltd. and is a member of the FUSION Saint John board. Her column appears on Tuesdays. She can be reached at

Horticulture More new gardeners emerging as local people are getting back to the basics

SAINT JOHN - Andrea Arbour is a busy graphic designer with an uptown apartment, but she has always loved the smell of earth.


Andrea Arbour plants some tomatoes in her plot at the Greater Saint John Community Garden. She loves the ban on chemicals.

So when a co-worker told her she could get a small plot of land and grow her own fresh, organic vegetables, she decided to give gardening a try.

She called the Greater Saint John Community Garden committee, and within a week, she was digging up grass and planting rows of herbs, beans and radishes in her seven-by-one-metre garden along Mount Pleasant Avenue near Rockwood Park.

"I love the fact you can't use chemicals," said Arbour, 36, after planting rows of marigolds along the plot's perimeter to deter bugs. "And the fresh taste of homegrown vegetables - you can't really beat it."

It's a good thing she called when she did - out of nearly 100 plots, there are only three left this year, said Peggy Purcell, co-chairwoman of the volunteer committee.

Since a volunteer group initiated community garden project 10 years ago, the garden - which offers the plots, seeds, garden equipment and water for a fee of $15 per season - has seen a boom in popularity.

"It seems to be busier this year than the last couple years," Purcell said. "Maybe it's economics. People might just be going back to basics."

As people pay more attention to where their food comes from - and a recession causes them to tighten their purse strings - a new generation of gardener is emerging.

Like Arbour, they're young, environmentally conscious and are looking for cheap, sustainable pastimes.

Garden supply stores are noticing the trend.

"There definitely seems to be more new gardeners," said Janet Colwell, a horticulturalist at Halifax Seed on Rothesay Avenue.

"I think people are starting to appreciate it - having something fresh, having complete control over what you're growing."

She said gardeners come from just about every demographic.

"We still have regulars in their 90s coming in," she said.

But Colwell has noticed an increase in younger gardeners in their 20s and 30s planting vegetables for the first time.

People want to eat more local, pesticide-free foods - and you can taste the difference, the horticulturalist said.

"It only has to travel from the yard to the kitchen," Colwell said.

Gardening is an easy and low-cost hobby. You can even make room for a tomato or pepper plant in a flower bed, she said. Or, if you live in an apartment building, you can grow cherry tomatoes in a hanging basket or herbs, lettuce or berries on a balcony.

"You can pick fresh berries and throw them on your cereal in the morning," Colwell said. "It makes you feel a little luxurious when you can do that."

For people who don't have the space for a garden at home, the community garden is another way to have the luxury of freshness.

"It's surprising what you can get out of a little plot," said Martha Peters, 67, leaning on her hoe Monday as she took a break between planting rows of potatoes. Last year, her onions lasted until Christmas.

She said she enjoys meeting other gardeners, many of whom are retired.

"Most of us here are farmers at heart," she said with a laugh.

She remembers helping out her parents with growing vegetables on their farm years ago.

"Then it was work. Now, it's a hobby."

As she plants beets, beans, carrots and cucumber, Peters said the best part comes in a few weeks, when you start to see the first growth sprouting from the earth.

"It's really rewarding," she said. "And, of course, the other part's the eating. You can't get it any fresher. It's great."

And Arbour says she's already caught the bug. She took two days off after playing Candy Starr in the Saint John Theatre Company's production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest last week, but ended up at the garden, turning soil and tilling compost.

"I'm pretty keen," she said. "I'm planting one of everything I can find."

If you would like to sign up for a community garden plot, call Peggy Purcell at 506-693-3106.


Published Tuesday June 2nd, 2009 - Telegraph Journal