Claudia Rousseau has worked her plot of land in Villeray for the past 31 years.
“Every year is different,” she explained. “The temperature, the sun, the insects… Many factors influence a harvest.”
This year, there was lots of rain. It may be unpleasant for vacationers, but it’s fantastic for gardens and gardeners. “We didn’t even have to water the plants!” said Gabrielle Dumas-Chalifour, who’s been working her plot for more than three years.
Versailles in Montréal
Since the municipal program was launched in 1975, 97 community gardens have sprung up across Montréal. From the Jardin Sainte-Maria-Goretti de Rivière-des-Prairies—Pointe-aux-Trembles to the Jardin Remembrance de Lachine, there are community gardens in 18 of the city’s 19 boroughs.
One of the most central gardens, the Jardin Versailles, west of the Bell Centre in the heart of downtown, is enjoyed by people from all backgrounds who cultivate vegetables that can rarely be found elsewhere.
Each garden is managed by a committee of volunteers elected by participants. Rousseau is responsible for the Jardin Villeray.
“I always loved gardening,” she said. “My father and I had a vegetable garden when I was young. When I moved to the neighbourhood, a neighbour told me about community gardens, and that’s how I got started! Over the years, I got more and more involved.”
Montréal’s biggest community garden is in Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, with 236 plots. Some gardeners, like Jean-Guy Ranger, its president, have been there for more than 30 years. Gardeners who want their own plot must put their names on a waiting list.
Loraine Basque had to wait for several years for her garden lot. Now she puts her heart and soul into it.
“I get tips from a herbalist at the market to vary my plantations, but I read advices on Internet too” says she.
Tricks of the trade
In some boroughs, a horticultural facilitator visits the garden and offers tips to gardeners. “We learn from our mistakes,” says Rousseau. “For example, onions don’t like too much water. This year has been great for tomatoes and lettuce.”
Dumas-Chalifour loves growing garlic. “I have lots for the winter!” she said. She also cans beans, dries herbs and powders peppers for the winter months.
“I also have raspberry bushes that produce twice a year,” she said proudly.
There are many ways to garden in the city. L'Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève installs gardening containers so that schools and day camps can show kids the importance of gardening. The borough is also planning an edible flowerbed project where residents can plant fruits and vegetables and care for the garden to ensure that everyone has access to inexpensive and healthy foods, especially the least fortunate.
“It requires a little effort to leave your house and some discipline to take care of your garden, said Basque. But there’s so much joy and pride when you can bring home your own fresh herbs and vegetables!”
Before we left, Basque offered us some sage, some lemon thyme and a bouquet of dill. What a joy, indeed!