Greening of Roncy Part 2

What’s involved in urban street gardening along Roncy

Plant bed on Roncesvalles Avenue with water hydrant

Photo Credit: Heidi Eisenhauer

Designing and maintaining the plant beds along an urban main street, is not the same as gardening in your own yard, says RoncyWorks Green Team co-lead, Heidi Eisenhauer. “The street gardens face conditions and adversity that private gardens don’t have to.” For two years now, Heidi has been ordering the plants that are delivered to the High Park Library, which keeps them in safety until they can be picked up. The co-leads monitor the beds and coordinate the ongoing and one-off volunteer efforts. Although at the moment we average one volunteer per bed, it’s a lot of work for one person, so we’re always looking for other gardeners who are prepared to commit some time each week or a few hours per month to looking after a bed. For those who can’t commit to weekly or monthly tending, there are one-off tasks, around planting and mulching time that could use extra hands.

Planting starts in June, and continues through the summer. The trick is to get the plants in as soon as possible after they are delivered. Mulching takes place in July.

Watering is key after the plants go in. We have a water service that comes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, (but not on holiday Mondays). Luckily we have water hydrants, but they are not in each bed. The trick is to get the crew to use nozzles and not just pour water on the soil from open hoses.

Plant bed on Roncesvalles Avenue

Photo Credit: Heidi Eisenhauer

“I find there are periods when I need to give my bed extra water, especially when I first plant something or when the weather is very hot without much rain, explains Carol Holland, a devoted volunteer who lives in Bloor West, but makes the trip to Roncy because she enjoys being part of this community effort.

Maintenance involves weeding and digging out shrubs, trimming, deadheading, replanting, and observing how all the plants are doing and affecting each other, and other problems that arise, like litter, theft, vandalism and damage from pedestrians and dogs. “It can be disheartening sometimes. We spend so much time and energy to beautify our street. But, all in all, these are just minor setbacks; if you consider the whole street, I think the beds look pretty good and there is not too much litter most of the time,” says one of our more recent volunteer, Catherine Gautry.

Welcoming other gardeners

We’re always on the lookout for local gardeners who would be willing to lend a hand, as it not only makes less work for everyone, but it’s wonderful to be part of this group effort. We get a lot of praise and encouragement from passersby and from each other. If you would like to join in, please contact greenteam@roncyworks.org.

Read how the Green Team got started and our approach.

Greening of Roncy Part 1

Flower bed on Roncesvalles Avenue

Photo Credit: Heidi Eisenhauer

When plans for the reconstruction of Roncesvalles Avenue were in formation, trees and plant beds were one of the top features that residents and businesses wanted to see along our main street. So, when the sidewalks were reconstructed in 2011, the City installed 21 plant beds and several hydrants with the agreement that they be maintained by the Roncesvalles Village BIA.

After local residents began compulsively weeding and watering some of the beds, RoncyWorks formed a Green Team to coordinate the efforts of these local volunteers. For over two years, the RoncyWorks Green team has tended these 21 “gardens” along Roncy.

Leading the efforts of our now 21 Green Team volunteers, are Heidi Eisenhauer, a native plant specialist and co-lead Barbara Japp, member of the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale & Toronto. Supporting the team are the Roncy Sweeps who clear litter out of the beds including the infestation of cigarette butts. Fortunately, we’re seeing a decrease in the volume of cigarette butt litter this summer, since the installation of ashcans along the street.

Our approach to urban street gardens

Flower bed on Roncesvalles Avenue

Photo Credit: Heidi Eisenhauer

In planning the gardens, plant choices are based on xeriscaping, a water-efficient approach to gardening. Although the BIA has hired a company to water the plants three times per week, without a good rainfall and adequate watering the beds can go dry. To keep the aphids in check, ladybugs are added.

The volunteers assigned to each garden are encouraged to design the space based on what’s already thriving in their plant beds, the soil composition, available light, empty spaces, and input from nearby shopkeepers who are particularly interested. Heidi encourages a selection of perennials, particularly native plants. After putting together the list of new plants desired, Heidi orders the plants over time as needed, starting in June. This gives the team a chance to observe what has survived over the winter, how the plant beds are faring against local foot traffic including dogs, and other design criteria for urban street gardens.

Learn what’s involved in urban street gardening along Roncy.

Getting to know our trees

Red Oak tree labelWhen the new trees were first planted along Roncesvalles Avenue in 2012 — before the tree guards or bike rings were installed – they were being used as bike posts. Many of the young trees were getting scarred. So we took steps to prevent cyclists from locking their bikes to them.

In addition to the bright green tags that we taped onto the attached bikes, we took to labelling each tree with their common name, Latin name and Polish name, thanks to our resident tree expert Bill Montague. Presenting their identity helped raise their presence from that of a post to a living and vulnerable entity.

We received so much positive feedback on the rudimentary labels we first used that Bill, who is now our RoncyWorks Tree Team lead, set his sights on creating more permanent ones. After many trials, Bill resourcefully arrived at an elegant solution that is simple to install.

You’ll now see black metal labels attached to the tree guards of each tree.  Well, almost every tree.

Unfortunately, we lost several over the winter and all that’s left of them is their severed trunks waiting forlornly in the tree guards for their replacements.

Don’t flick it!

Black ashcan installed on lamp standard with that says "Don't flick it! Stick your butt in here."

New ashcan on Roncesvalles Avenue is part of a pilot study for cigarette litter prevention.

Have you noticed the addition of some black cylinders to a few of the tree guards along Roncy? Perhaps you figured out what they were before additional clues were added.

These ashcans are part of our exploration of more permanent solutions to butt litter after rolling out our hand-made butt tins two years ago. They are also part of a pilot study in Toronto to quantify the difference they make in reducing cigarette butt litter.

RoncyWorks and the Roncesvalles Village BIA is involved in running a cigarette litter scan on a three-block area of Roncesvalles Avenue to test the effectiveness of the ashcans in combination with a public awareness campaign.

The cigarette litter problem is not just one that upsets our gardeners who see the plant beds they’re working on treated as ash trays. It’s a global litter problem that cities are grappling with. The butts are not biodegradable as many people think. They can take years to break down. They end up clogging our filtration systems and waterways. They leach toxins into our water and soil. And, they get eaten by wild and domestic animals, to their detriment, to say the least.

So, we wanted to make sure the new ash cans would be spotted by local and passing smokers, so we added stickers to these long, black, cylindrical ashcans. There’s a second set being installed that have a silver top rather than being all black, which should make them more visible, especially in the evenings. If the ash cans don’t get sufficient use, we’re rolling out some signs, posters and point of purchase items in an effort to get smokers to stop flicking their butts.

They may be small, but they sure add up fast. During our spring cleanup at the end of April, our Scan team counted over 1,000 butts in one plant bed alone that was in front of Dizzy Gastro Sports Pub. Yet Dizzy has been great these past few years at putting out pails to get their smoking customers to butt out responsibly. Now Dizzy has one of the new ashcans conveniently located out front. We’re hoping the other cafes, restaurants and bars on Roncy, as well as the convenience stores, will want want one near them too. But most of all, we’re hoping the new ashcans will get well used.

Roncy Earth Hour Candlelight Walk 2014

Roncesvalles Village celebrates its 5th Annual Earth Hour Candlelight Walk

People from the Roncesvalles Village dressed in winter coats share the light of their candles at the end of their Earth Hour walk down Roncesvalles Avenue.

Earth Hour Candlelight Walk participants are part of a world-wide effort to raise awareness of our energy intensive lifestyle’s impact on the planet’s ecosystem.

Acknowledging the 7th Annual Global Earth Hour, residents of Roncesvalles Village and surrounding area will walk together as a symbolic gesture in support of the need for environmental stewardship. At 8:30 p.m. on Saturday March 29th 2014, a candlelight walk is scheduled to start along Roncesvalles Avenue. The walk will end at Grafton Park near Queens Street West around 9 p.m.  Continue reading