On one level, they seem fairly usual: a group of people gathering to garden. But on second thought, the radical nature of the activity is unmistakable. In a world where insects are disappearing, these gardeners are creating habitat by planting pollinators. In a culture where growing food is increasingly rare, these gardeners are planting vegetables and teaching others to do the same. In a society where time is money, these gardeners are giving their time freely. In a time of isolation, these gardeners are creating community.
The gardeners in question can be found in various Anglican churches throughout the diocese. Their gardens are as unique as the communities where they’re found. St. Mary, Richmond Hill has had fairly extensive pollinator gardens for a number of years. This year, the seven volunteers who maintain the gardens decided to clear out an area overgrown with evergreens and put in a memorial garden for those who have died from COVID-19. The garden has been planted with native perennials and shrubs and, according to Lyne Webb, one of the garden volunteers, a bench will eventually be added to create a place for reflection.
A labyrinth space to remember those who have died during the pandemic has also been dedicated at St. Joseph of Nazareth, Bramalea. The labyrinth will undergo further planting in future years. This summer, the 11 members of the gardening committee focused on creating more welcome pollinator gardens at the front entrance of the church. They expanded older, narrow beds and planted native grasses and perennial flowers. The need to remove a couple of old and diseased trees also created two large piles of mulch that were used to create paths around and under the trees on the street side of the church. Sylvie Thériault, one of the volunteers, says this park area is welcoming for the surrounding community. “You don’t need to be a part of the church to use this space,” she says. “It can be a shady place to sit on a very hot day.” The church hopes to install some benches under the trees as well.
Beyond the pollinator beds, St. Joseph’s is also hoping to create vegetable beds in a big space in front of the parking lot. The volunteers hope to tap into a City of Brampton grant for that work, but in the meantime, the area will be planted with wildflowers this fall.
For two churches, St. George, Pickering Village and All Saints, Whitby, vegetable gardens are already a reality. Both churches began their vegetable gardens this year (see the related article on St. George’s). With the help of Claire Bramma, a seminary intern who was at the church for 14 weeks, All Saints installed six raised beds for vegetables, a 100-foot border for more vegetables and pollinators, a Three Sisters mound and a shady children’s corner.
Not only does the garden supply the food bank that operates out of the church, Ms. Bramma says it’s also “a sacred space where people can gather and learn.” Such learning has occurred through a creation care Bible study that Ms. Bramma led in June, which related their garden work to the reconciliation of creation.
With the help of congregation members Marnee Lacy, who is Chapleau-Cree, and Cecile Wagar, who is senator of the Oshawa and Durham Region Metis Council, the garden has provided an opportunity to learn from and honour Indigenous traditions. In this way, says Ms. Bramma, the Three Sisters garden is “a tangible way to be physically and visibly involved with raising awareness about Indigenous peoples in the area, along with a chance to reach out to community partnerships.”
All Saints used the community garden toolkit provided by the Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care as a template for organizing and getting started. Its committee of eight people, with 10 additional volunteers, was able to engage in an accelerated process to get the garden in.
People from the wider community have noticed the activity at the church, and their enquiries about the gardens have provided an opportunity for the gardeners to share information about the work the church has been doing in the community.
These kinds of conversations have also arisen as the result of a pollinator garden recently planted at St. Margaret, New Toronto. Originally just a grassy area by the church entrance, the garden committee, spearheaded by Chanelle McLeod, has transformed the hard clay and rocky soil into the home of many pollinator plants. According to Ms. McLeod, the garden project “was almost like a face-lift, making the entrance to the church much more inviting.” It has also become a teaching space. “When I explain that it is a pollinator garden, people have asked to learn more about it,” she says.
Ms. McLeod says she’s glad they started with a small project, since it provided a good basis for thinking about larger projects going forward.
Even though each church has created a garden that uniquely fits its land and the needs of its community, all the gardeners commented on one common outcome: how the gardens create community. For many, working in the garden is where that community began. Sylvie Thériault says it was a welcome opportunity to be physically in the presence of other people once again. Lyne Webb echoes that thought. “People were glad to get out. We always had a social time when we gardened. With social distancing, we probably got more work done,” she says. “The garden allowed people to meet who didn’t know each other before,” says Ms. Bramma. “It brought a diverse group of people together.”
The gardens also create a space of connection for those from the wider community. St. Mary’s has a pantry box at its Yonge Street entrance. People who use the box often come into the garden to sit, sometimes sitting on the chapel steps next to the lilies and roses. St. Joseph’s is hoping not only that the park under the trees will find a similar use, but that the vegetable garden that’s eventually planted will be a place where the community can come to learn about growing food.
“I feel that this is where the Holy Spirit is at work in inspiring people to consider how the church can be a wider blessing,” says Ms. Bramma. “The Holy Spirit is using people’s gifts and skills. All these conversations and projects are starting up. When this kind of synergy is happening around the garden, then we know the Holy Spirit is at work.”
As all these gardens show, the Spirit has surely been working through many of our church communities to create new life throughout the diocese this summer. If your parish has started a community garden this summer, email us at [email protected] so we can track new gardening initiatives in the diocese.