Secret garden at Eglinton Flats

Biking along the Eglinton bridge over the Humber, I spotted a tiny little garden on the eastern bank of the river just north of the bridge.  The garden is almost entirely concealed and can only be spotted from several spots along the northern sidewalk of the bridge just west of Scarlett. The outline of the garden and its irrigation mounds can just barely be made out on Google Maps.

Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be startlingly well-kept and well-tended, growing a variety of plants protected by an elaborately built fence built out of branches and wire.  There was even a small locked gate facing the river, with a thin dirt path leading to large flat stones ideally placed along the bank of the Humber for collecting water.

I spent a bit of time trying to research this garden and found that it was featured in a Jane’s Walk, but that the gardener is an “anonymous newcomer.”  The property is technically owned by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, but my bet is that the garden is either entirely off their radar or they are simply turning their heads to allow the gardener(s) to work.

Small farms and tiny agricultural gardens are nothing new for the Eglinton Flats.  Before Hurricane Hazel hit in 1954, there were several market gardens in the extremely fertile flood plains along the Humber at Eglinton.  Following Hazel’s devastation of the area and the property being acquired by the TRCA – and subsequently the City – the market gardens haven’t yet returned (or so I thought).

On designer Sarah Tranum’s website, a revitalization strategy for the Mount Denis neighbourhood [PDF] includes ideas about growing vegetable gardens in Eglinton Flats along the flood plains.  With more people ‘buying local’ and fads like the 100 mile diet becoming increasingly popular, maybe more of these gardens are in store for the future of this vast park.

To see more photos of the location, see Spacing’s Flickr account.  If anyone knows more about the garden or attended the Mount Dennis Jane’s Walk, please fill us in on what information you might have.

Photos by Jake Schabas

17 comments

  1. It’s a whole lot smarter than growing lawn! Our parks are pretty bland.

  2. Since that area before Hurricane Hazel was market gardens, I think that returning Eglinton Flats to market gardens may be a good area. Of course, should another flood occurs, it would be washed away, but then another deposit of silt or mud would refresh the gardens.

  3. NICE! Looks like my front and back gardens.

  4. Perhaps Spacing could ask for submissions on sightings of people using public or private property for their own gardening, to see how widespread it is.

    I have seen quite a few along the Lakeshore rail corridor in Long Branch, Port Credit Lorne Park and Clarkson. I think they’ve all been destroyed recently for construction, but CN seemed to let them go on for many years.
    The Railway Police and maintenance crews were even careful not to drive over them when doing patrols and inspections

  5. I think a lot of the hydro right-of-ways may have gardens growing on them, both officially and unofficially.

  6. I was on that Jane’s Walk–can’t recall the story exactly, but I believe there’s some kind of de facto “agreement” in place to let whoever’s attending it be…

  7. I wonder if the owner’s permission was asked before publishing this story.
    Places such as this should remain, secret. And as a result, this secret garden is no so secret anymore.
    Perhaps a subtle approach would have been more appropriate instead a google maps link

  8. Agree with A.E. Information like this, when published, can ruin jewels. use discretion.

  9. I was at the Jane’s Walk in Mount Dennis but forget the name of the mystery gardener. I can assure you, though, that he is well-known and regularly gives away surplus fruits of his labour (veggies, more likely) to the community.

    While the cat may be out of the bag on this one, I am sure that members of the community in Mt. Dennis will do everything in their power to ensure that this spot (gated, padlocked and well-hidden) is not compromised. I doubt, however, that there are many vandals out there searching for new spots to terrorize on this or any other blog.

  10. My apologies to the romantics. I think “partially hidden” may have been a more appropriate term, since “secret” seems to have incorrectly implied “private” to some readers.

    The “hidden gems” argument is not the selfless position one might assume. Although it might temporarily protect a place for the lucky few in the know, it also makes such spots far more vulnerable. Secrecy provides privacy far better than it does protection. And with this partly-hidden garden on thoroughly public – not private – land, keeping this garden private entirely misses the point and is if anything, a little selfish.

    On the other hand, publicity can be a form of protection. Because the garden is situated precariously on City land, its existence largely depends on the whims of an unknown city official in charge of the Eglinton Flats area. By blogging about this garden, which happened to make my day when I first noticed it from my bike, I hoped to enable others to get a similar enjoyment from the knowledge that little gardens like these exist on public lands and are cared for with such dedication by anonymous strangers.

    From my perspective, sharing these “secrets” inspires other acts of stewardship and strengthens a community’s feeling of ownership to the public spaces and environments around them. This fosters protection far better than secrecy.

    Like in a Jane’s Walk, these public spots of the city shouldn’t remain the private nooks of a select few; they should be the public spaces of those individuals both interested enough to search them out and willing to put in the necessary leg-work it takes to find such spots. I truly hope I haven’t done a disservice to this “secret garden” but have instead shared a hidden gem for others to go out and discover, enjoy and maybe one day, preserve and protect.

  11. I just hope all this rain hasn’t caused the Humber River to overflow its banks and flood the garden. No need to water it, I guess.

  12. Nice to see someone who really knows their subject. Good work on this.

  13. Whenever I go fishing at the flats, I walk on the bridge and always see this garden. I think it’s funny though, there’s a random fence surrounding nothing. My friends and I always thought of it as some gypsy village.

  14. What a wonderful article documenting the secret garden in Mount Dennis. Very well done – Thank you Jake.
    In 2010 this site will again be profiled in the neighbourhoods Jane’s Walk along with Dave “the turtle guy” and many other local hero’s and hidden highlights/concerns of our neighbourhood.

    The added bonus this year is that residents have intertwined a play project along with the walk – residents and youth have created theatre scenes to animate these secret gems and issues in the area. Not only to have some fun with it but to further acknowledge and advocate for those residents who have thought outside perimeters and become catalysts for change in the area – from the ground up, so to speak.

    And yes this secret garden is no longer a secret. And from rumblings last year from the property owners (TRCA and Parks) that filtered down to the Community Gardeners (nearby at Emmett Ave) – this garden may be peril this summer (ploughed under by the city) because others have staked out similar land plots around it and after 10 years of secrecy this particular garden has now become one of many by the river.

    So you are correct – the hope is by highlighting the issue and the other changes in the neighbourhood (priority neighbourhood with severe food security issues) that this garden be kept as a shining example of what can be done with the resources within immediate reach of residents, newcomer and local.

    So this community’s goal is to advocate for the TRCA / Parks dept to work WITH these gardeners not against.

    Please feel free to join us for our third annual Jane’s walk – May 1 AND 2nd – Starts at 1pm Emmett and Eglinton Ave west both days.

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