by Brenda Duke

Not all our garden GEMS are in public parks. If you stroll through the Gibson and Landsdale neighbourhoods, you will notice lively splashes of nature’s beauty on a street corner, an alley, or storefronts that are often decorated with planters, a bench and artwork.

One of my personal favourites is The Birch Avenue Greenspace that runs below Barton to Princess Street, along Birch Avenue North. It has flourished into a welcome bounty of beauty as locals and visitors enter our GALA community. It is the gateway to our Historical Barton Village Shopping District where art and entrepreneurial spirit lives.

Seven years ago, this space was a neglected and abandoned Hydro Right-of-Way. Yes, they trimmed around the towers, and city workers maintained lawn care, but the trees were dying, and there was no place to sit and enjoy any charm in this shared communal space. We saw litter, illegal dumping and negative activity increasing and I observed it all because it was happening right behind my home! We needed a positive change as there was so much potential along that city block.

On behalf of The GALA Community Planning Team, I approached the City of Hamilton for endorsement as part of their Adopt-A-Park Program. However, it wasn’t a park, so how could I do that? With persistence and the help of Alex Moroz and city staff who led the program at that time, this community-based initiative was finally approved to move ahead.

We recruited an enthusiastic team of volunteers that participated in the cleanup and helped create a lively and colourful greenspace. I was happy to have the opportunity to garden right outside my back door! For starters, we obtained gardening supplies from Keep Hamilton Clean and Green, and then garbage cans from the city to eliminate the litter problem.

Neighbours graciously donated plants and Candy Venning, the guru of community gardening found a way to acquire spring bulbs for our cause. We held a garden party celebration to weed and plant in our shared space. As our team grew, one garden led to another.

A project led by Beautiful Alleys painted three garage doors facing onto Birch Avenue, and we added a commemorative park bench on the hill dedicated to Mr. Armando Palladinao, who lived and built a community in the Fullerton neighbourhood, one block west of Birch. It was really starting to come together.

Last year we planted over one hundred and fifty plants, donated by Hamilton Butterflies and fellow gardening friends. We now have almost three thousand spring bulbs that burst out and flood the space with colour in the early spring. A small grant from our Ward 3 office provides us with watering to help the gardens flourish.

Today, we have five pollinator friendly gardens that span across the greenspace. Another bench will be installed in Appleby Garden that included Bruce’s Books, a free little library, dedicated to a long-time community member Bruce Appleby. This year we will install a large mural that will be by the alley at Barton Street and Birch Avenue that will highlight some of the historical buildings in Barton Village.

The infrastructure that makes the Greenspace sustainable is complete. Weeding every year to maintain its beauty is all that is needed. Our volunteers consisted of people who have dedicated time to our space, made their contributions and moved on to other endeavours. And that brings us to now. Time has told me that I need to slow down as I can no longer dig, haul, plant and weed like I used to. I am reaching out to you, my community, to help spend a little time keeping our gardens thriving. I am more than happy to share my digger and my love for this communal greenspace with you. Please contact me at to join our cause and help keep our little piece of heaven beautiful.