Ottawa’s First Dedicated Children’s Garden Is An Oasis of Green and Growth

Lori Gandy

Colourful signage and picket fence make for a bright welcome to the Chrilden's Garden. Photo by Lorne Abugov

Colourful signage and picket fence make for a bright welcome to the Chrilden’s Garden. Photo by Lorne Abugov

One of the delights of living in Old Ottawa East is its proximity to green spaces and natural beauty. Brantwood and Springhurst parks, the Rideau River Nature Trail and the Rideau River all greatly enhance the liveability of OOE. But there’s another gem hidden in plain sight that residents, young and old, can enjoy. Take a stroll down to the corner of Main and Clegg streets and you will find a welcome respite from the asphalt and cars streaming past – The Children’s Garden, with its gorgeously colourful painted pickets.

Since 2008, Robert Legget Park has been transformed into Ottawa’s first dedicated Children’s Garden. A veritable oasis of green and growth, the Garden represents a true community effort, with contributions from: The Ottawa East Community Gardeners, Sustainable Living Ottawa East, The Community Foundation of Ottawa, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, Community Activities Group, the Main Farmers’ Market, students at Lady Evelyn School, and TD Friends of the Environment. The Garden is managed by a dedicated volunteer advisory board, a summer coordinator and many volunteers.

As is appropriate for a Children’s Garden, students at Lady Evelyn Alternative School undertook research and design work, which resulted in the garden plan. As well, each fence picket was painted by a student at the school.

Several improvements were introduced in 2017: raised beds, wide paths to provide greater accessibility for wheelchairs and strollers, and interactive signs explaining, for example, the composting process and the life cycles of insects and plants. A new and improved sandbox was also installed.

A grand re-opening took place in 2018 and that year saw the installation of a “Little Free Library” and a perennial bed featuring a host of different plants including flowering vines, native shrubs, fruit trees, herbs and pollinator-supporting flowers, many of which were donated by members of the OOE community.

Meet the new Garden Manager

Marianne took up the position of Garden Manager in June and is now well established in the garden and loving her new job. “It’s been a great experience,” she says. “The plants were just starting out when I arrived. Now everything is thriving.” Marianne has a degree in horticulture and has worked in many commercial growing settings so she knows about gardens and helping people enjoy them.

A basket of veggies harvested by Garden Manager Marianne. Photo by Lori Gandy

A basket of veggies harvested by Garden Manager Marianne. Photo by Lori Gandy

The best part of her job is working with all the people who come into the Garden: “It’s very fulfilling in that you get to see the results of your efforts and bring people into the garden and explain to them how things grow. There is nothing more cool than showing a kid how peas grow.”

A huge part of the Garden’s mandate is educating children about gardening, showing them where food comes from and helping them appreciate and respect the natural world.

The Garden provides the space for groups such as Let’s Talk Science to bring in their programs, with story time and activities focused on furthering the children’s understanding and appreciation of nature.

Let’s Talk Science

Jennifer San from Let’s Talk Science at uOttawa and CarletonU and Hannah Keefe from Frontier College Ottawa were on hand on a particularly lovely day in early July to offer their expertise. A group of enthusiastic children gathered around the seating circle and were spellbound while Keefe read The Giving Tree by The Giving Tree . She and San then encouraged the children to think about the story and what they can do to appreciate and respect nature. The children then dashed around the Garden to find a leaf that interested them. Back at the table, they were given a chunk of clay to roll out and press their leaves into to create an impression. The children summed up the activity with enthusiasm: “excellent, fun, great, helpful knowledge.”

Jennifer San and Hannah Keefe with a group of children for story time and an activity with Lets's Talk Science at uOttawa and CarletonU. Photo by Annie Staples

Jennifer San and Hannah Keefe with a group of children for story time and an activity with Lets’s Talk Science at uOttawa and CarletonU. Photo by Annie Staples

Meet Aerith – a frequent visitor

Aerith, a nine-year-old veteran gardener, comes to the Children’s Garden “for the plants and the activities.” She was keen tochat about her love of the Garden and to share her insights into what makes a great salad. She’s been coming to the Garden with her parents and siblings since she was six. She loves that she can bring a few veggies home to cook.

Garden enthusiast Aerith with her coveted carrots. Phote by Lori Gandy

Garden enthusiast Aerith with her coveted carrots. Phote by Lori Gandy

She particularly likes digging up potatoes, “It’s fun and it’s also dirty,” she says with a giggle. Her favourite plants are the strawberries and the apple tree. She also likes the mint because she likes to make tea. Aerith gardens at her home too. “I have a small garden box and I have beans, kale, carrots, lettuce and lots of strawberries.” Aerith likes making vegetable stews with beans, carrots, potatoes and tofu. She thinks the Children’s Garden is fantastic: “I like that you can just pick food from the ground or from the tree. It’s really crazy.”

As for what makes a great salad, according to Aerith? Growing your own produce. “We made a salad with our lettuce at home, and it was way better than the salad at the store,” she said, beaming. Lesson learned for sure!

The Children’s Garden is open for everyone to enjoy. Check their Facebook page for updates on activities and programs or to help out (little hands always welcome) with planting, transplanting, pruning, harvesting – and many other gardening activities. If you are interested in volunteering plants or your time to The Children’s Garden, please contact the board at ottawachildrensgardeninfo@gmail.com.

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