By Kathy Renwald

It took five years of research, brainstorming, cajoling, and friendly persuasion, but finally a naturalized garden is replacing litter and debris on a bit of Birge Street in Hamilton.

The orphaned strip of land runs between Victoria and Wellington Streets, bordering the CN railway tracks, and facing the Hamilton General Hospital Regional Rehabilitation Centre.

“People from all over visit the rehab centre and see this space,” says Brenda Duke an advocate at large for beautifying neglected spaces and founder of Beautiful Alleys.

The strip of land was a notorious dumping ground; litter crowded the few struggling trees on the median. So volunteers first started by organizing cleanups, pruning trees and discouraging persistent weeds, then the HHS Hospital Zone Steering Committee set into motion a host of partners dedicated to making a change.

It culminated in a plant-a-thon this month that saw 40 volunteers putting in a smorgasbord of natives flowers and grasses that will form a meadow under new tree plantings including serviceberries, oaks and hackberries.

While the muscle required for planting day along the median was impressive, it pales in comparison to the stamina required to keep a dream like this alive.

As Duke describes it there were lease agreements to negotiate, insurance requirements, presentations to make, plans to design that would meet the criteria of the city and CN, and grant proposals to write.

“It’s hard to sustain enthusiasm for five years,” Duke says, adding that some partners “ moved on.” It took about two years for CN Rail to get on board. “Now they’re one of our biggest supporters,” she says.

The 784-foot strip of land is planted with about 450 native plants and even at this young stage it’s showing some charm. “In my mind this is what a median should look like,” Duke says.

Next up is getting a sign made to acknowledge the many partners who donated money, brought in equipment, and rustled up volunteers for planting day. The sign might be a big one to recognize supporters including the Hamilton Community Foundation, HHS, Environment Hamilton, Green Cities Foundation, Canadian Nursery Landscape Association, CN, Beautiful Alleys and many others.

What Duke has learned is that beautification projects like the Birge Street Meadow really d0 change the landscape. Since volunteers started picking up litter, the rampant dumping has greatly diminished.  That kind of change for the positive has been documented worldwide. “In my mind this is what a median should look like,” Duke says.

Photo Credits: A new meadow garden and native trees have been planted along Birge Street facing the Hamilton General Hospital Regional Rehabilitation Centre. KATHY RENWALD PHOTO