A Dietitian in the Field
The King St. Community Garden
An Oasis in Truro, N.S.
The King St. Community Garden is an oasis in the heart of beautiful Truro N.S. Truro has many vibrant green spaces, but this parcel of land is a place of beauty and productivity.
Community Gardens are becoming a more common part of the urban landscape. Gardens like this one offer a place for anyone to try their hand at growing their own vegetables.
As an avid gardener, I have always wanted to visit. My friend Dawn gardens there and I was delighted when she agreed to give me a tour.
We entered the park at the King Street gate. Walking from the parking lot across the street, you can see the beautiful sign marking the space, which is covered by one of the communal plants. Clearly, the vine loves where it is planted! (More on what it is later). The Garden is surrounded by fencing to keep the local deer population out, and provides handy support for the garden vines. As we neared the self-closing gate, I learned of CN Rail’s part in the creation of the Garden.
The Town of Truro operates a 20 plot Community Garden with the Stan Maxwell Park (opened in 2020) and has plans for 20 plots to be added to the Douglas St. Recreation Center (Spring 2022).
Andrew Williams, Urban Forestry Coordinator with the Town of Truro, provided some history. The Garden opened in 2015 and was dedicated as a CN EcoConnexions “From the Ground Up” Municipal Greening Grant project. Andrew and former Tree Committee member and Dal/AC professor Carol Goodwin designed the Garden for a surplus piece of greenspace. CN Rail’s involvement came through a municipal grant program, in partnership with Tree Canada and Communities in Bloom. CN awarded a grant that helped with the construction of the garden, which was a joint project of the Town of Truro Tree Committee, Public Works Department and Parks, Recreation and Culture Department.
Welcome to the Garden
I step into the garden under the branches of a gorgeous crab apple tree, loaded with apples. Garden members use the apples to make jelly and pickled apples. Under the tree, just steps off the path, a bench invites you to sit and enjoy the view. The path that curves through the Garden from the King Street entrance to Dominion Street is part of the Cobequid Trail. My first impression is an expansive space with orderly garden boxes and lush green.
A Living Wall
Along one fence is a wall of grapevines. This one of the communal plantings provided by the Town. The vines are a beautiful camouflage for the fence. A peek under the leaves reveals countless bunches of purple table grapes. But the grapes are not the only edible part of the grape plant. Dawn told me of a garden member who also harvests grape leaves. Grape leaves are best when picked in late June to early July. The gardener freezes the leaves and uses them to make stuffed grape leaves. Now, there is something I have never made, but am now thinking that needs to be something I have to try. Clearly, next June I need to get a lesson on picking grape leaves!
Now, back to the vine on the King Street fence (the one covering the sign). Believe it or not, that is a kiwi. An Arctic Kiwi to be specific. Who knew kiwi grew in Nova Scotia? And, like the grapes, it’s not all vine. Hidden under the leaves are bunches of kiwi. They are nearly ripe. Dawn told me I could try one, but that it would be pretty tart. I need to go back for a taste in late August, when they are ripe.
“The Town support means it couldn’t be easier to garden. They provide the space, the water and the grounds maintenance. The gardeners provide knowledge to each other and a shared passion for what’s growing.” Dawn MacKay
The Garden a Town Built
We started into the heart of the garden, where there are 65 raised beds, including a number of accessible beds. Town employees maintain the garden bed structures and fill the beds with soil. Between all the beds is neatly mown grass. While we were there, Town employees were seeing to the lawn, watering communal plants and emptying garbage and compost bins. The appreciation of this support was evident in the interactions between the gardeners and employees.
Central to the garden space is a shed where water is available. A peek inside the shed revealed containers with some garden hand tools. People contribute to the collection if they have extras or don’t need a tool anymore. There are also gardening tips and I even saw a container of seeds to share. The feeling of community is evident too in this tidy little shed.
Another support provided by the Town is periodic communication on events, classes or activities related to gardening, such as seed sales, preserving classes or garden information sessions.
Dawn brought to life the variety of people and plantings that make up King Street Community Garden. Many are people with extensive garden knowledge, who now live where there is less space for a garden. Others are relatively new to gardening and are exploring growing their own foods and flowers. It is not unusual to see people at neighbouring plots striking up conversations about what is growing, how to care for the plants and what to do with what they grow. People help each other with answers to questions. Many relationships are ones that start and flourish in the Garden. People who meet in the Garden may not have otherwise crossed paths. I see that as a unique and special development of a community within a community.
“One of the great things about the Community Garden is the sharing of knowledge among gardeners.” Dawn MacKay
As we wander between the beds, I am amazed at the different collections of vegetables and flowers being grown. Some beds are single product beds. I was curious to know why. Dawn told me people may have a small space at home or may just want that single vegetable. The other reason was the work required to maintain different vegetables in the same bed.
We passed a beautiful box filled with flowers. Dawn said the owner wanted other gardeners to have the beauty and colour of flowers. His wife loves flowers, so besides providing beauty and joy in the Garden, the flowers he picks for her give beauty at home. That’s pretty romantic I think.
There are lots of squash and pumpkin vines flowing from the beds. I noticed a number of beds with empty sections where early season vegetables have been harvested and the plants removed. As part of the box rental fee ($20 per year), the Town provides compost bins for gardeners to use. It certainly would be handy to not have to haul weeds and plant debris home to your personal composter!
In my mind, a garden isn’t a garden unless there is a sunflower. This sunflower presides over the Garden. Seems that the birds are already feasting on the seeds!
We stopped next at the colourful butterfly garden. Flowers like cone flowers, brown-eyed Susan and goldenrod attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Without pollinators, many of the foods we eat would not be possible, so providing food (in the form of flowers) for pollinators means they will come to the gardens and stay, thus helping a successful harvest. It’s a really lovely cycle.
Back to Dawn’s plot she harvests tomatoes from her vines. Like all gardeners, myself included, we often have excesses of things we plant. When I asked Dawn what she can’t give away, it was tomatoes! As an aside, I usually can’t give away, you guessed it, zucchini! I told Dawn I’d be happy to help her with any excess, and she kindly filled my hands with some fabulous tomatoes.
Since I am always all about the food, I asked about her favourite way to enjoy vegetables from the Garden. There was no hesitation in her answer. Fresh. Sometimes, not even making it home! Dawn also preserves her vegetables to enjoy all winter. She freezes and bottles anything that can be frozen or bottled, and makes pickles and jam. The excess tomatoes are turned into tomato paste and marinara sauce. Which she then gives as gifts. The ultimate in homemade.
My final question to Dawn was what does she most look forward to picking (and eating). Her answer: basil and potatoes. Clearly she is a gardener after my own heart. I too am a lover of potatoes, in all shapes and forms, and I wait anxiously for the potato flowers (and bugs) to come and go so I can start prying a few baby potatoes from under the soil.
In talking with both Andrew and Dawn, it is clear that the King Street Community Garden provides immense pleasure to the community. Both indicated that a walk in this park can turn their day around. And it’s not only gardeners who find that joy. Many town residents come to the park to enjoy their lunch or to get out for a walk, and you may see people strolling through while they explore the Cobequid Trail.
” It’s a great spot. It has been the most positive and rewarding project I’ve been involved in during my almost 22 years with the Town.” Andrew Williams
Community Gardens are not a new idea, but according to Andrew, interest in garden initiatives is growing in communities across the country. In some regions, new municipal developments are even being planned to include community garden space. Check your local municipality to see if community gardens exist in your area.
If you want information on a garden plot at the King Street Community Garden, contact Andrew Williams firstname.lastname@example.org.