Amending the Soil - Church of the Messiah Community Garden
“Amending the soil” is not a phrase I thought I’d ever repeat countless times. But at Church of the Messiah, in Toronto, we have made significant efforts to improve our soil, carrying out wheelbarrows full of gravel, garbage, and weeds, and digging in shovels full of rich organic material.
Improving the soil is one of the hardest jobs we undertake as urban gardeners. Access to our plots is restricted by stairs and busy streets, and high-quality organic soil has to be carried and dug in by hand. But the effort to improve our gardening soil is worth it because this is one of the most consequential chores we can do. Boosting the quality of the soil with organic material and better drainage helps everything we grow reach its strongest and most productive potential.
We undertook an ambitious plan to overhaul the church’s green spaces and mapped out three main plots: a grassy and weedy lawn on the south side of the building, an L-shaped plot at the corner of our site bounded by two very busy streets (Avenue Road and Dupont Street), and a rectangular plot by the side entrance of the church which already had several thriving perennials and shrubs. Most of our work was concentrated on creating a square-foot produce garden using raised beds on the south side of the church and transforming the L-shaped plot into a perennial garden with shrubs and year-round interest. We are proud to display a sign dedicating the third garden plot to Dave, our faithful gardener, and jack-of-all-trades who tended to many aspects of the church building for decades. Dave's Garden greets people at the entrance to the church. In mid-summer, a newly planted native Dogwood settled into its new home by the church’s old entrance.
This year, in late May, at our annual Spring clean-up and planting day, we mixed in dozens of bags of donated soil, improving the ground for our plants. On planting day and cutline "Thanks to Scott's Canada for donating Nature's Care organic soil to our garden".
The gardens include several species of pollinator and native plants as part of a plan to align our gardening efforts with more sustainable and environmentally beneficial practices.
This year, we are especially pleased that our square-foot vegetable garden is yielding enough produce that we can make regular, weekly contributions to the Avenue Road Food Bank, our church’s newest food security initiative. Transforming our lawn into a produce garden was the biggest investment we could make in the lives of the volunteers and clients of the Food Bank who would otherwise not have access to fresh herbs and home-grown tomatoes. Mustard greens, eggplant, radishes, beets, carrots, squash, and green beans are just some of the other plants that are thriving in our square-foot garden.
Amending the soil was the hardest and best step towards nurturing plant life around our church. It bound us together as we planted new roots in our gardens and our community.
Written by Dr. Betsy Moss
with Dr. Jen Gommerman, Rev. W. Tay Moss, and all of the volunteer gardeners at the Church of the Messiah
"We would like to thank TD FEF for funding this exciting gardening project"