Holiday tree-trimming at the market makes me think of the year-round life of our local park. Six years after its opening, a measure of its success is that it absorbs the creative in-put of those living and working inside and around it.
Memory Trees and Buffer Trees
North America’s earliest versions of public parks were cemetery grounds. At the Wychwod Barns Park, private memory is contributing to public landscaping again thanks to the City’s commemorative tree program. The saplings with their accompanying plaques at the park’s south-eastern edge were supplemented this summer by a dozen or so young oaks donated by the Taddlewood Heritage Association.
Their soon-to-be installed plaque celebrates the local group’s advocacy for the greening of the former streetcar repair yard. Although members originally backed an idea to recreate the Carolinian forest once indigenous to this part of the province, this vision was scrapped with the decision to not raze the streetcar barns but re-purpose them as an arts complex set in a multi-use park. The planted trees can be seen as memorializing this and the host of alternate park visions that emerged during the great debate that preceded its development.
Across the street, on the east side of Wychwood Avenue, only one commemorative tree plaque exists among the 18 trees that give the parkette its gloomy atmosphere. With its benches and garbage bins facing outward to the street, this is not a landscaped but a green-walled area where trees buffer home-owners from the passing traffic and pedestrians. Perhaps residents of the houses abutting the sliver of public land should be concerned that a group is currently, with the Parks department, considering ways of making this unplanned grove a more inviting space.
A row of memorial apple trees bloom every spring outside the artist studios along the west entranceway to the ArtscapeWychwood Barns. They honour the life of Benjamin, son of Wychwood Barns architect Joe Lobko, who died as a young art student around the time that the barns were completed.
On the north face of the building along Benson Avenue are the fishbowl live-work art studios whose tiny front gardens provide tenants with welcome extensions of the cramped living quarters. The young trees that offer a degree of privacy and shade in summer are showing by their deteriorating condition that, according to some tenants, there was insufficient space provided for their root system.
Public Landscaping and Private Gardens
Three historical gardens surrounding the Peter MacKendrick Community Gallery are the work of Wychwood Barns Community Association. Created two years ago with a City Live Green grant, The Formal Flower garden, The Victory Garden and The Cottage Garden contribute to the award-winning environmental sustainability of the complex. They were designed to attract pollinating insects to the park and neighboring gardens as well for tenants to grow produce in the The Victory Garden.
Unfortunately, the drudgery of upkeep did not bring out as many community volunteers as did the initial excitement of planting The Cottage Garden. One Sunday morning this August a group of neighbors, having reached their threshold of tolerance for the weeds that were spreading to their own gardens, acted as a guerrilla gardening squad and pulled out the offending plants.
In the meantime, to protect The Victory Garden from food vandals the artist tenant who had invested most labour in it erected an elaborate fence and gate effectively subverting the goal of merging a privately tended garden with a public park.
Two gardens on the north side of Benson Avenue are important windows to the summer growing season. One, a kitchen garden with south exposure on the corner of Christie street heralds what will be on offer in the farmers’ market two to three weeks later.
The other, on the corner of Wychwood Avenue contains a large, fertile cherry tree that tips off such urban fruit foragers as Suzanne Long that picking season is at its height.
Dogs, Mulch and Perennials
The paved walkway running through the east-west length of the park is the high foot traffic zone, most intensively used on Saturday for the outdoor farmers’ market. To the irritation of the park maintenance crew, children and dogs have the habit of running from the playground to the open field, scattering the mulch and damaging the plants in the border bed that separates them. This summer the crew replaced many of the original bushes that had not survived the shade-less summers and recent ice-storm winter with hardy shade perennials, inserted some tree trunks for seating, piled the beds high with mulch and edged them with re-cycled logs from an old Cedarvale Park wooden fence.
At the south-west corner of the park behind the off-leash area’s dog-bark muffling fence is The Learning Garden. This tucked-away native plant display is the work of LEAF, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the protection and improvement of the urban forest.
On either side of the winding mulch path, shrubs and trees are grouped according to the conditions in which they thrive. LEAF volunteers serve as occasional “stewards” of the larger park by mulching its trees and staff take an active role in preserving the health of park trees. To draw attention to its garden this summer LEAF invited Jarmes McLean to create a mural enlivening that corner of the park.
Outdoor Festival Park
Just over 66% of Ward 21 residents speak Tagalog, the official language of the Philipines, as their mother tongue. The Halo Halo Festival was one of three Pilipino community events held this August at the barns. It drew a family crowd to a program of performances and traditional food. Picnic blankets, lawn chairs and play equipment were brought by visitors to support the full-day of socializing in the park.
The Green Barn
The glass walls of The Stop’s Green Barn envelope it in the light and conditions of the park. Interior and exterior spaces flow from the greenhouse through the café and out to the courtyard and sheltered garden.
The greenhouse provides seedlings for The Stop’s Community Gardens at Hillcrest Park and Earlscourt Park. The former features a medicine wheel garden used for Na-Me-Res addiction recovery programs and by clients of the Wychwood Drop In. The Earlscourt Park garden relies on community volunteers to grow fresh produce for themselves and The Stop’s The Good Food Market and kitchen programs at its Davenport Road headquarters.
In the sheltered garden primary school students are encouraged to see how food grows, to use their senses to explore a green space, to harvest and prepare vegetables, and to compost. In its corner, a bee listening station draws attention to these essential cogs in the wheel of the organic garden.
The Stop connects individuals in the community who have yards with others who want to garden and share their expertise and/or some of the products of their efforts through the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) program whose reach extends far beyond the confines of The Green Barn. See above Google Maps.
The Covered Walkway
To retain the outline of the barns while also creating more park space Joe Lobko used the “bones” of the southernmost barn to create a sheltered walkway bordered by small and raised beds.
Here, The Stop oversees the Global Roots demonstration gardens tended by seniors and youth to pass-on food growing traditions found in many Toronto backyards.
If the challenge of the LEAF garden is its relative invisibility to park users The Green Barn faces the opposite problem. Passers-by often inadvertently disrupt programs that they stumble upon when they enter the greenhouse or café. Although this part of the complex through its design and signage gives the impression that it is a public facility in fact it welcomes park users only during the Saturday morning farmers’ market when the Market Café is in full swing serving dishes and snacks made with market produce. The Stop is first and foremost an anti-poverty food hub and its employees sometimes can be dismayed by their work area being perceived as an amenity of the public park.
Energy and Flow
The beauty of the design of the Wychwood Barns Park lies in the way it serves insiders and outsiders, locals and visitors, passers-by and permanent residents. It follows the lines of the surrounding streets funneling pedestrians through a beautifully composed series of spaces that invite them to pause, look around and take stock of nature at work and people at play.
The park’s porous design is ideal for the large-scale events held in the Artscape complex that bring some of the breadth of city culture to our neighborhood. Observing how it’s used, the way that even its smallest spaces are cherished and programmed, I am full of wonder and gratitude for its residents, workers and keepers.
Happy Holidays from me in my favorite park spot, The Stop’s Farmers’ Market in Artscape Wychwood Barns.