The Cote Saint-Luc Senior Community Gardens marked their 40th anniversary in style with, what else, a garden party.

The gardeners, about 72 in total, along with special guests, enjoyed a beautiful dinner in the garden, with live music. There were lots of smiling faces as the gardeners celebrated this milestone anniversary in a little, hidden oasis right in the very epicentre of Cote Saint-Luc, near the corner of Kildare Road and Kellert Avenue.

Joining the celebration tonight was Mayor Anthony Housefather, Councillors Mitchell Brownstein, Dida Berku, Ruth Kovac, Allan Levine and myself.

Gardeners Allan Levine and Alberto Cambone

Gardeners Allan Levine and Alberto Cambone

Levine, a gardener himself, led me over to his plot in the gardens. He told me he had to wait three years until a plot became available, as the program is so popular. He was beaming with pride as he showed off his prize zucchinis (I didn’t know they could grow so large!), 16 sorts of tomatoes which he grew from seeds including one type from Israel and a slew of herbs including basil, tarragon and leek . His rhubarb looked amazing and the aroma from his garden was striking, unlike what you’d expect to smell in the middle of the city.

“My grand-kids were just here this morning and they loved picking Zaida’s vegetables and bringing them home to eat,” Levine, the proud grandfather, gardener and city councillor exclaimed.

Alberto Camboni may deal in meat by day, but after hours he dons his boots and grabs his shovel and off to the garden he goes. After an incredible 35 years in the Community Garden he has amassed three contiguous plots where he features a large fig tree (did you know we have them in Canada?) and grows cucumbers, arugula several types of tomato plants including Romanella (aka Roma), several types of beans and eggplant among other vegetables.

The beans were so large that they could have been featured in a Jack and the Beanstalk movie!

“The garden is so close to home,” said Cambone, who begins tending to his plot each year in April and goes right through to November. “I like the camaraderie.” As he showed me his garden one could hear English, Italian and Romanian being spoken nearby. The multi-cultural group of gardeners are friendly, happy and welcoming people I noted.

Another local I bumped into was Lloyd Pedvis who lives  a stone’s throw from the gardens. He has been a member for three years and is immensely proud of his garden plot and enjoys the experience of getting his hands dirty and growing his vegetables.
Garden president Mandie Aaron oversees the operation and can be seen fluttering around the garden with her wide brimmed hat with purpose and pride. She certainly seemed pleased with state of her oasis estate.
“In my garden, I plant about 6 different varieties of kale, collards, mustard greens, peppers, carrots, and beans. I also have garlic, multiple varieties of herbs, some of which, like caraway, I grow specifically to harvest the seeds,” Aaron said to me. “I have a freezer and a dehydrator, and store most of what I grow for use through the winter.”
“In the ‘donation’ garden, this season, I am growing peas, beans, cucumber, peppers, eggplants, garlic, lemon balm, rhubarb, cabbage cauliflower, multiple varieties of herbs. Everything that’s grown there is donated to MADA. Other gardeners also contribute to the MADA donations,” Aaron said.
“I’ve been there, helping out, since my Mom got a garden about 22 years ago. Even though I’m not a senior, I was given permission to be a member and, about 10 years ago, or so, got my own garden.”
“I was elected President/Garden Coordinator 3 seasons ago. It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it very much. We have such long winters, it’s wonderful to have a reason to be outdoors all season long,” Aaron recalled. “Watching everyone’s garden grow over the season, and seeing the pride they have in it, is very rewarding.”
June McLure’s plot is a beautiful array of colourful flowers, some low and swaying in the breeze and others strung up along an Italian type of trellis. I felt as though I was in the botanical gardens, so impressive was her piece of paradise.
The garden is part of the city’s urban agriculture plan which encourages the practice of growing food in or around a city. The ‘Côte Saint-Luc Grown’ initiative is just a few years in the making and includes the creation of a demonstration garden behind the City Hall/Library complex to teach gardening skills to adults and children, edible landscaping on city property, new community gardens, a farmers’ market, and the distribution of food boxes.“The goal is to entice and empower our residents to take an active role in the growing of their own food to make them more knowledgeable and savvy food consumers, and hopefully, healthier overall,” Mayor Anthony Housefather said. “In a short time, we have put together programming that will help contribute to personal and community wellness, now and for the future.”
In addition to the action plan, Côte Saint-Luc also unveiled its food charter, which is a statement of values and principles to guide the food policy. The goals of the food charter are wellness, the creation of great places, community building, food security, the joy of growing food, sustainability and more.
The action plan and food charter are available at CSLGrown.org.
Judging from the happy looks from gardeners 55 years old and up, this is a tremendous project whose seeds continue to produce an incredible crop that cannot be measured.
Good luck to all you gardeners. May your baskets overflow with goodness. May your flowers give off incredible aroma and gorgeous colours. And may you enjoy the bounty of your labour for years to come.

Global News reports on the CSL Seniors Community Garden

Montreal Gazette: Gardener, den mother, honorary senior: Mandie Aaron is one busy volunteer (July 19, 2015)