Kids’ garden blossoms in once-neglected shadow of Malvern highrise

In Malvern, on what used to be an overgrown lot at the foot of an apartment complex on Blackwell Avenue, a little Eden is blooming.

In the Children’s Garden, veggies aren’t the only — or even the most important — things blossoming. Kids’ knowledge of nutrition and food are what the garden is really meant to grow, avid gardener and area resident Auriel Haynes says.

“This year we had a seed planting workshop in March,” said Haynes, who founded the garden two years ago along with Action for Neighbourhood Change Malvern (ANCM). “I asked [the kids] what they wanted to plant and they said, ‘Swiss chard’. A year ago they didn’t know what Swiss chard was.”

The seed for the garden was planted, she said, when she realized the untended land behind the complex could be put to good use. Today there are about 12 children ranging from in age from six to 17 who help out in the garden on a regular basis.

“It really works because [Haynes] is very invested in [the garden],” ANCM manager Alex Dow said. “What we’re hoping is that knowledge transfers and as those kids grow up, they’ll feel connected to [the garden], they’ll want to stay involved, they’ll take more responsibility and ownership over it.”

For the first two or three months, school children and residents came out to help clear the land, using only hand clippers to tackle the overgrown bushes, Haynes said.

“We could be there all day and not make any headway,” she said.

Area resident Genell Almeida was there in the early days.

“Auriel invited [me and my children] to come down to the land to help clear it up because it was such a dump,” Almeida said.

Without help from ANCM, Home Depot Live Green Toronto, United Way Toronto and the Morningstar Christian Fellowship, the garden may not have flourished, Haynes said.

“I cannot sing these people’s praises well enough,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them, it would probably be now we [would be] starting because [the land] was so disgraceful.”

Caretakers of the Children’s Garden say they are interested in adding fruit trees within a year, which will help the children learn about harvesting fruit.

“It just goes to show you can get a lot out of a small grant to engage people in the neighbourhood … to be able to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient, [and] also to educate the kids about the value of food in the environment and where food comes from,” Dow said.