LEAF Brings a Bit of Wilderness to the TTC

Torontoist January 9, 2012.

A not-for-profit organization takes small, unused spaces in the city and re-imagines them as gardens.

By Jake Tobin Garrett • Photos by Andrew Louis

The newest Urban Forest Demonstration Garden at the Walmer entrance to Spadina Station.

It used to be just a median of trampled grass between the road and the Walmer Street entrance to the Spadina subway station, but a not-for-profit organization called LEAF, with help from the TTC, has turned the strip into one of their Urban Forest Demonstration Gardens.

There are now five such gardens at TTC Stations around the city. The first two, planted in the spring of 2010, are located at Old Mill Station and the Markham Street entrance to Bathurst Station. There are also gardens at St. Clair Station and High Park Station. The newest garden is at the Walmer Street entrance to Spadina Station.

They may not look like much now, but come spring these gardens will add a bit more green to the city.
Jessica Piskorowski, the Education and Stewardship Coordinator at LEAF, says that a number of different factors go into deciding which TTC stations get a garden. Visibility is important: these are “demonstration” gardens, so viewing by the public is essential. LEAF also factors in access to water, soil condition, and the volunteer base in the area.

There are multiple partners in the project, but the TTC plays a large role. Aside from providing the land, the TTC prepares the soil for planting, does some landscaping, and provides signage and a small shed to keep tools.

A total of 319 plants—consisting of 60 different kinds of native species of trees, shrubs, and perennials—have been put in the ground to date. Piskorowski says that LEAF tries to “gear species to support wildlife and song birds,” so there is an element of habitat to the gardens as well.

With these gardens, Piskorowski says, LEAF hopes to show how “you can transform a regular lawn into an attractive natural space.” She says that not only do the demonstration gardens provide an aesthetic boost to the surrounding neighbourhoods but they help reduce storm water run-off, filter out pollutants in the air, and help to absorb carbon.

The garden located at the Markham entrance to Bathurst Station.

Don’t expect any hand-crafted topiaries, though—part of the point of the project is to inject a little bit of wildness into the city, Piskorowski says. That doesn’t mean letting the sites grow out of control, however. Volunteers from the surrounding neighbourhoods who are graduates of LEAF’s Tree Tender Training Program make sure the plants are well-watered and pruned.

Danette Steele, a graduate of the program—which educates volunteers on everything from tree identification and maintenance to understanding City by-laws related to the urban forest—is a steward for the garden located at the Walmer Street entrance to Spadina Station. She says she got involved with LEAF beacuse she “wanted to have a practical experience, something really tangible.”

Community feedback has, by all accounts, been positive. “People would just stop and say thank you,” Steele says.

The gardens show off the potential of smaller, sometimes forgotten spaces. Before LEAF got its hands on the small strip of land on Walmer, the area was a median of grass, often muddy. “The gardens demonstrate possibility,” Steele says.

These gardens will soon, no doubt, be covered in a thick blanket of snow for several months, leaving only the sheds and signs poking out to let the world know they exist. But wait, Piskorowski says, “and good things will come.”

– Article and photos courtesy of Torontoist

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