We spoke to Christopher, our neighbourhood gardener, who volunteers his time creating green spaces to residents. Christopher talks to us about his passion and why gardening as a hobby has something for everyone and how it contributes to our overall well being.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got started with gardening?
I was born in southeast Poland, in Silesia. I began gardening at age 5. My family was always very involved with gardening, and so I learned from a young age, helping out my family and in the neighbourhood. I basically just learned from experience, and I’ve been gardening for over fifty years.
I came to Canada 11 years ago and I’ve lived in St. James Town that whole time. I currently work as a food inspector, but gardening is what I truly enjoy. Everywhere I go I try to establish a garden.
What are some of the gardening projects you’re working on recently?
Nowadays, I live in a co-op building with a garden and I’m part of a gardening committee, working on the garden in our building. I also do a lot of work converting patches, with the aim of creating self-sustaining gardens. I’ve done gardening work at various establishments in the neighbourhood, including growing vegetables and gardening at The Corner.
What are some of the things you have to consider in order to be successful at gardening?
There are many things that I’ve learnt over the years. Some plants are tolerant to low light and some aren’t. In Canada, gardening is about determination. You have to plant early and harvest before the first frost.
Choosing suitable plants that fit the soil is also important. However, a lot of the plants I receive are donations from the community, so I have to use what I have. Some of my equipment is donated, and I try to make my own compost when I can.
As someone who’s lived in St. James Town for the last 11 years, how do you view the community and the importance of gardening?
From my perspective, I notice a lot of garbage in St. James Town being thrown from the windows. Bottles, cigarettes, plastic, clothes, all these can contaminate the soil. When I garden, I have to wear thick gloves and safety shoes to protect myself. However, plants are extremely resilient.
I think it’s important to create a green community. Green spaces can result in lower addiction and crime rates. One reason for this is that there are more people outside, keeping an eye on things. Green spaces can also occupy empty and hidden spaces.
What do you enjoy about gardening? Do you see any health benefits that can arise from gardening?
Gardening means that more people go outdoors and it gives people something to do. With planting, you can see measurable progress, which is something many people don’t have. You have to interact with each other, which makes people nicer, and gardens give people a shared place to relate to.
Working with soil is also very calming, and is what I need to keep me sane. Plants can also provide shade from the sun.
Many people have no idea how good fresh fruits and veggies taste, and it can be a healthy option.
Plants can also teach us a lot. Plants are living things. They are resilient, and react to positive vibes. If we treat them well, I believe they treat us well.
Do you have a favorite plant?
I have a peony bush that was originally in my grandparents’ garden. It’s been cared for over four generations, and I’ve even brought it with me to Canada. This plant means a lot to me and I have a strong emotional attachment to it.
What are some of your future plans in terms of gardening in the community?
At The Corner, there is the main gardening project to complete. I also have another garden at a different building that needs to be redone due to construction.
What would you suggest for people who are interested in taking up gardening?
Start small, start easy, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Plants like tomatoes, beans, potatoes, chives, onions, zucchini, and eggplant can all be grown in pots at home. You can garden in your balcony, using cheap or even recycled stuff, and make your own compost.
It would also be great to have some volunteers to work on the garden at The Corner, so if anyone is interested, let them know!