By Kathy Renwald as published in The Bay Observer

Dana Oikawa looks at the plan for new gardens around the Barton Street library and likes what he sees. “It’s pretty blah now, the idea of greening in the city, of having bees here, and plants to feed off of, a garden is the right thing to do.”

Oikawa is a regular user of the Hamilton Public Library, Barton Street Branch. He’s just moved back to neighbourhood where he grew up after 30 years away. Right now he’s reading a book called The Big Fix-it’s about climate change. The message is practical-plant more plants.

In a meeting room at the library, Oikawa and a young couple newly arrived in the neighbourhood join others to hear plans to revitalize the outdoor space around the library. This will be the fifth pocket sized garden to be planted on Barton Street.

Landscape architect Adele Pierre has designed all of them. Her approach is practical, artistic and most importantly, collaborative. She wants to know what the people who live here want. Would it be benches, boulders, tables, shade and flowers? All that and more it seems.

Ideas flow, they come from residents, Green Venture-partner in the gardens, Barton Village BIA, the library, and GALA the Gibson and Landsdale Area Community Planning Team.

Kid Friendly Garden

Kids wander in and out of the meeting, one says he wants a table and chairs- a place to play board games. Others want a path through the garden. Adele Pierre agrees. “People care more about a garden if they can walk through it.”

Challenges are acknowledged. The planting areas are small and precious real estate is taken up by utility boxes, hydro poles, bike racks and bus stops-the messy mechanics of city life. Plants must be tough the group hears, they will be growing where soil is compacted, salt is a winter staple, and snow loads are heavy.

Black-eyed-Susan’s, coneflower, bee-balm, wild ginger, Pierre lists perennials proven to endure adversity. Native plants will be used whenever possible.

Driving down Barton Street these little gardens pass by in a blur, but walking down the street they are little pleasure points. On a March day, walking to the meeting the sidewalks are grimy with salt and gravel from winter cleanups-the thought of gardens erupting in spring is hopeful.

There is much discussion at the meeting about where to place boulders-kids love to sit on them. Pierre is firm on the need for places to sit-to gather. A sturdy concrete table with a chess board imprinted on top is in the plan.

When the idea of these mini gardens started, an initiative of Green Venture called Depave Paradise, the city needed convincing they’d work, approvals took a long time. Now with a successful track record the time from concept to construction is reduced. Support comes from the Federal Economic Development Agency, the Ward 3 office and from volunteers and suppliers that believe in the concept.

Melissa McSweeney, Manager of the Barton branch calls the library, “a great gathering place for folks to use the computer, attend a storytime with children, or get a good book. We think that the gardens will help extend that invitation outdoors.”

“To me the library should be the centre of this community,” Oikawa says. “The gardens will draw people in.”

Installation at the Barton Branch Library is scheduled for spring.