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I’ve long been writing about the need for more community gardens here in Hamilton, the social, health and economic benefits are something that we’ve been desperately in need of for far too long. In the last few years, the trend has finally caught on. It gives me a lot of pleasure to be able to write about these things happening right here in town, and to see how well they’re coming together.
This space used to be a bare stretch of grass with a few trees and some short wooden fences, mirrored on the other side of the street by another long, grassy park sporting one tiny playground. It’s now largely fenced-in as a leash-free dog park, and nearly always occupied by a few people and frolicking dogs. The garden started a couple of years ago, allowing people to sign up for plots and has taken off ever since. A quick look at their website shows how it’s become more than just a space to dig and plant – they hold film screenings, share gardening tips and help to organized food-sharing. Below the social growth of the space, they’ve also managed to build some truly impressive soil.
Learn more at: hillstreetgarden.org
The garden plots are raised beds, built simply with stakes and boards and often mulched with straw. Beds like this offer great moisture retention and drainage, and allow gardeners the ability to work in new soil above degraded or questionable dirt. Their small size and long shape allow gardeners to reach in to weed, water or harvest, and some have extra bricks or paving stones inside them to give additional access.
What I like most about this garden is how natural it feels. Because of the long, thin and tapered stretch of land, the plots are scattered somewhat randomly, each one with an individual character and philoophy. There’s a mix of heights, ages and even colours which give the space a very human character. This isn’t a manicured ornamental garden – it’s a real, living space with a sense that any moment, somebody could wander over with a watering can. Despite the down-to-earth sense, though, the garden is still immaculate, with huge, healthy plants and barely a single weed in sight.
I lost count of all the different crops and varieties growting. Among the more common were tomatoes, basil, potatoes, kale, chard and beans. Every plot clearly has a different gardener, with radically different approaches to using the space which all seem to be working out spectacularly well. These gardeners obviously know what they’re doing. Some are dense mixes of many different varieties, others are taken up by one giant cluster of potatoes or rhubarb. Some are mulched, some have watering systems built in (one has its own water tower). and many have strange and whimsical structures built to extend their growing space six feet into the air.
The Hill Street Garden is a truly beautiful example of what can be done with a little bit of space and a handful of neighbours. Not only is this crucially important in a time of questionable food security, but it’s also an important first step in bringing together atomized communities and alienated neighbours. Growing food isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard and we don’t have to do it alone. Gardens like these give us all a chance to share tips with each other and see, first-hand, what works. With dozens of unique plots bursting with life, I’d say that’s worked like a charm.