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Dufferin Park Gardens: A history

posted March 3, 2007

Park gardens history 1993 to 2007, by Jutta Mason

The first community garden began in Dufferin Grove Park in 1993, one year after the City took out the last Parks-planted flower bed, citing lack of funds. The park looked so sad without any flowers that the first garden was dug by some mothers and little kids near the sandpit. (Anne Shaddick took the lead.) The backhoe operator (Paul) who was digging the sandpit helped us by bringing over some heavy 6x6 wood to frame the bed.The Parks supervisor, Carol Cormier, gave us a surprise gift of left-over bedding plants. So the garden looked very colourful when the mayor at that time, Nadine Nowlan, came to officially "open" the sand pit, which was then called "the Big Backyard."

gangster gardener

Every few years another garden bed was added, depending on who was interested in helping. Carol Cormier, promoted to Parks manager by then, sent her crew to Home Depot to buy us a whole bunch of rose plants, which are still there and still covered with blooms every June. Some gangsters called the "L.A.s" were paid to dig the first garden up by the rink, helped by local schoolteacher Rob Rennick and me. People in the neighbourhood had said on a park survey that they wanted native-species gardens, so we got two years of grants from Canada Trust. A former Havelock Street resident, Hedy Muysson, who had bought a farm near Westport, came back to work with school classes from Brock School to plant the first two woodland beds.

Then one day Arie Kamp came across me watering the gangster garden, and offered his help. He became the main flower guy at the park for the following 8 years. He used to get up at 4 a.m. in the summer and work until 2 pm, go home and nap in the heat of the afternoon, and then work again until it was too dark to see the plants. Arie lived on his own and spent a lot of time talking to the staff and to me. He also dug new flowerbeds without consulting anyone and then had to work even harder to maintain them to his high standard. He was pretty high-maintenance himself, but after he began gardening, more and more people started to stroll through the park in the evenings, looking at the gardens. The Parks foreman at the time, Bill Argeropoulos, scrounged old benches from park storage areas for us to set up near the gardens. Those benches were rarely empty.

Arie Kamp

Artist and landscaper Gene Threndyle discovered us a couple of years later and helped us plant a native-species sand-garden near the newly-built bake-oven. Then he planted the tree nursery south of the field house, then the "Remembering Garrison Creek" garden at the southwest corner (the one with the black walnut trees). A white pine was added to the tree nursery by Hilary Weston in 1997 when she was lieutenant-governor. Kids from Queen Victoria School helped her to plant this tree. And we cooked up an award for her to give to Arie Kamp, with Queen Vic kids playing steel drums to celebrate the day.

Mayor Barbara Hall

There were no funds within the Parks department to maintain the gardens, but eventually we got on their left-over annuals list, which they delivered every year. One year Mayor Barbara Hall came to help plant some of them in the rink house window-boxes. And Pat MacKay, a long-time park friend, brought over some best-quality spring bulbs from Cruickshank's every fall. Arie planted a lot of them. He didn't always take kindly to other volunteer gardeners, and would sometimes interfere so much that they would leave. However, Gene Threndyle was a match for Arie, so he stuck around. In 1998 Gene applied to the Toronto Arts Council for a grant to build the little fountain and marsh garden down in the Garrison Creek hollow by Dufferin Street. The Parks supervisor of the time, Mike Hindle, helped out by lending a backhoe and driver, and by bringing over all those big old architectural stones that surround the fountain (which had been languishing in the High Park service yard until Gene asked about them). With the fountain, new birds and butterflies came to the park, and so did students visiting from NYC, studying community gardens.

building the marsh garden

After we began the school pizza-day programs, we started putting some food plants near the ovens. One year we had grain growing there, the next year lots of sunflowers. Then our summer youth workers got a crew together to put up a split rail fence to keep out the dogs. We planted tomatoes and herbs to put on the pizzas. The next year the Parks foreman brought his crew and built us a second food garden area.

By then we had got into the pattern of having a twice-yearly walkabout with the Park supervisor, and the main recreation staff (Lily Weston), and me, to figure out what ought to be done, and also, how to keep Arie from digging more gardens. He dug more gardens anyway, on the north side of the rink, and then got into some terrible arguments with the kids from St.Mary's High School for stepping onto his flowers when they went by there to go to the mall. This needed a lot of mediation.

Meantime Ben Figuereido, who lived in the apartment building next door, planted grapes along the rink fence and began helping out in various ways. And Caitlin Shea arrived in the park and began doing compost, alongside rec staff Anna Bekerman. Then Jenny Cook began to work at the park, and she and Caitlin (who also became a part-time recreation staff) set up the "garden parties" where people wanting to volunteer would get support and have some fun too. They not only planted and did compost but they also took care of the trees, mulching and watering trees all over the park. I had been the night-time watering person for years, setting up and moving sprinklers, but they took some of that over.

Three years or four years ago Arie went through a crisis. But with lots of community support he got through it (by then he was known throughout the neighbourhood, as the main park gardener ). He turned 80, and rode his bike less, and cut way back on his park projects, just growing his beloved morning glories up the fence. With support from Brian Green, the Parks supervisor of that time, Recreation staff and volunteers (and I) began to grass over some of his garden beds. Brian also brought more spring bulbs. By then the trees that Gene Threndyle had planted in the various native-species gardens had grown very lush, and he only had to visit a few times a year to prune and pull invasive species.

memorial trees

Two years ago, Georgie Donais planted the first cob gardens. Last year park friend Mary Wigle donated two black maples in honour of her husband Ziggy. Those trees became the basis for the second cob garden, along with perennials from the home gardens of many cob-builders. Last year also, my 5-year campaign to have new trees planted finally bore fruit, after many years of no planting. 28 new trees were put in by a Forestry contractor. The new trees were watered and taken care of by Recreation staff working with volunteers, with a bit of help from me.

I've left out lots, and some of the people cc'd here will be mad about my memory lapses. But I hope this sketch shows that for those of us who work in the park, with or without pay, the gardens at Dufferin Grove are full of stories. As new people show up wanting to get involved, they hear the stories that are embodied in the various gardens, and they add their own. The park gardens are a complex little ecology all tangled up with so many people by now.

The Plants.

Anyone who would like to help garden, please call the park at 416 392-0913, and leave a message for the park staff.

Gene Threndyle in Dufferin Grove Park

posted March 25, 2004

An interview with Gene Threndyle, who established most of the native species gardens in the park:

What brought you to us?

"My friend John Benningen, who's a chef, came to the park because his friend Catherine was working with Clay and Paper Theatre, at the park field house. John ran into the bake oven one day, literally ran into it, while he was trying to catch a frisbee. He got really interested in cooking at the park, working with some of the young offenders who were there to do their community hours. When he heard that you had got some money from Canada Trust to plant native species gardens he came and told me about it. So I guess that's when I first came over to offer my help." Read the entire interview >>.

Visit Gene Threndyle's website: Gene Threndyle.

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