by Rebecca Dirnfeld
There is something so reassuring about digging my bare hands into the earth, feeling the soil move through my fingers, burying the roots of new plants and patting them down gently, envisioning what they may look like 3 months from now. Each year I go through this process at the start of the planting season. My garden space has evolved from indoor window sills, to front porches, to back decks, and now a back and front yard. It doesn’t matter where I’m planting, it feels delightful.
Yet there are so many other reasons I plant. I want to see the fruits of my labour as a horticulturist, and to learn from the mistakes I make. I want to harvest my crop and share it with others. The flavour of a homegrown tomato is nothing like I’ve ever experienced. I want to indulge in the pleasure of being with my plants: observing, pruning, and watering them when I wake up in the morning and when I come home from work. This is why I garden, and I’m wondering if it’s the same for you?
When my partner’s 5 year old son is with us, he and I wander into the yard and play with his gardening tools, pretending to dig up the plants, looking for spiders, and commenting on the brilliant colours of our flowers. However, determining on a daily basis how to maintain and flourish our domestic wilderness is something I hold to proudly and reassuring as my own.
It makes me wonder if I have not yet fully considered another reason I plant: building community. My neighbourhood is filled with gardeners from Italian and Portuguese backgrounds, and we are all outside in the late summer evenings hunched over our plants. I can look across or next door at any given time and we will smile at one another, an acknowledgement that we are shaping the landscape in a myriad of ways. Yet this is a distant community, and does not reflect the kind that I’ve seen emerge from the act of gardening.
These gardens are not communal, they are each our own. The land we garden on has been subdivided into lots, built on, and purchased. I don’t know how many times my property has exchanged hands of ownership but I am certain none of its owners over the years have gardened together on my property.
This raises questions for me around the concept of land ownership. Whose land was this before I started gardening on it? What was their purpose in cultivating the land? Was it ever communal property, farmland, wild and free? A visit to the Toronto City Archives is where I must start, but how many of us know the history of the land we live on? And what of those who don’t have access to land? If gardening is a means for community building, how does homelessness factor in?
This has spurred me with a call to action. To use my garden and the gardens of my SA community to bring us closer together. To connect over our successes, failures, learning, growth, inspiration, larger questions, and thoughtfulness when it comes to working with the land, with soil, with seeds, plants, and water: whatever form it takes.
I ask that you share your stories, thoughts, and ideas with me so that I can share them with us all. Whether it be a picture, a short blurb, a motivational quote, an article you’ve read, or anything in between, to piece together our gardens and their stories.
I also propose a feast, at the end of the summer, that brings each of the fruits of our labour to a communal table. For anyone who is growing edibles, or buys their fruits and veggies at local farmers markets, or has beautiful flowers blooming, why don’t we bring this together as a potluck? All are welcome.