Volunteer gardeners walk away from Roncesvalles street gardens after conflict with local BIA

Volunteer gardeners walk away from Roncesvalles street gardens after conflict with local BIA-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
A few bald spots in a Roncesvalles Avenue garden bed indicate places where plants have been removed, as a new company prepares to take over from a long-running group of volunteer gardeners. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

One by one, plants are beginning to disappear from the garden beds that line Roncesvalles Avenue — pulled out by the volunteer gardeners who have tended them for years. 

The Roncyworks Green Team, a shifting group of gardeners in the neighbourhood, have been designing and tending 21 beds that have lined the busy commercial street for the last decade.

This week, they quit en masse following months of back and forth with the local Roncesvalles Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) over the look and direction of the gardens.

In an open letter published on Sunday, the group wrote that a “small outspoken group” within the BIA had been pressing for the garden beds to have a “commercial style” and uniform look.

“I think the people who instigated this idea have just totally misjudged the nature of the community,” said Jackie Taschereau, a gardener who has worked on two of the beds for 10 years.

“I can’t believe that they would go back to this sort of old-fashioned formal gardening.”

Communication breakdown

Both sides describe a long series of meetings over the last six months as the BIA looked for a company that could help redesign and maintain the beds.

Adam Langley, vice-chair of the Roncesvalles Village BIA, told CBC Toronto that some business owners had aesthetic concerns, with “a disparity between some of the beds, where some are tended to a little more closely and some aren’t.”

As a new plan was made to bring in outside help, Langley says, efforts were made to give the volunteer gardeners in a leadership role — and to include their vision for plants that are native and friendly to pollinators like bees.

The RoncyWorks-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
The RoncyWorks garden near Geoffrey Street. Taschereau says she’s experiencing something akin to ‘mourning’ as she imagines the plants being taken out. (RoncyWorks)

But no company signalled interest in taking on the project, and the relationship between the two groups soured further, ending with the volunteer gardeners quitting.

“It’s unfortunate, and we made several attempts … to see if there was some way for us to loop back around and get back working together,” said Langley.

With nobody to maintain the gardens this summer, the BIA has now hired a company called Urban Garden, and says the goal remains to maintain the spirit of what had been established by the volunteer gardeners.

Hope for the future?

David Neinstein, chair of the BIA, expresses regret that the relationship had become so strained.

“I really love and appreciate what they do,” he said. “I’m truly hopeful that we can ameliorate this situation for next year.”

Similar comments have come from Coun. Gord Perks, who represents the area. He wrote on Twitter that he hasn’t given up hope for a resolution.

But Taschereau — as well as supporters of the gardeners on social media — are feeling stung.

“They have said things to indicate a willingness to work with us on paper many times over the past few months,” she said.

“I can’t imagine what they would offer us in the future. Picking up garbage? Watering the beds?”

For the next two weeks, until the Urban Garden team takes over, Taschereau and her fellow gardeners will continue to remove plants with the BIA’s blessing and find new homes for them.

“At least they’re getting a further life, and a further purpose,” she said.


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