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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

From one garden to another: growing Cambridge Gardens

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Playter Gardens sits at the northeastern end of the Prince Edward Viaduct, a stamp-sized park bordering Cambridge Avenue and Danforth.  Overgrown and untended, crack-pipes are often found littered around the park.  Only one flower garden still remains to back up Playter’s namesake.  Instead, high grasses and dead branches lie in the dense shadow of dangerously leaning trees.

Although abandoned by most of the neighbourhood, not all has been lost. Transplanted would better describe the evolution occurring at northwestern edge of Danforth Ave. As Playter Gardens has declined over the last two years, small gardens have been popping up along Cambridge Ave., plots that have been rapidly expanding.  A variety of plants, vegetables and even trees are now growing in the formerly unused grass beds that line the street.

I caught up with Chris, a Cambridge Ave. resident and the driving force behind these guerrilla plantings, who explained that his inspiration for these gardens wasn’t just aesthetics.  After being fed up with cars continually running over the grass across the street from his house as they cut the turn into their apartment garage a little too close, Chris decided to take matters into his own hands and created what would be the first of many Cambridge Gardens.

That same mud puddle is now a properly landscaped and well-maintained garden with a variety of plants, including, most mysteriously, a lone stalk of corn whose source remains unknown.  The bed is a fantastic example of how traffic barriers and road infrastructure can be camouflaged to look nothing like infrastructure at all. With bricks outlining the garden bed, you’d never know the large white rock sitting at the corner of the garden was placed there to make cars keep their distance as they make their turn.

Several other guerrilla gardens along the block also serve practical purposes.  Chris’ most recent plantings at the dead end of Dartford road (pictured below) were done to block out the view of the parking lot both for his kid when he plays on the street and to improve Chris’ own view from his porch.

Remarkably, only around a third of the plants now growing in the numerous gardens along Cambridge and Dartford have been paid for, which Chris guesses cost him around $200.  The rest were either donations from supportive neighbours’ flower beds, germinated seeds from Chris’s own vibrant back garden or were transplanted from the more overgrown sections of Playter Gardens itself.

In a sense, the gardens along Cambridge have come full circle.  Although at the south end of the street, Playter Gardens continues to slip further and further into disrepair, the new gardens further north on Cambridge are growing in both size and number.  Not only are Chris’ gardens blossoming, they’re inspiring other residents to begin guerrilla gardens of their own: the garden closest to Danforth along Cambridge was planted almost entirely by Chris’ neighbour, another gardening enthusiast.

With plenty more grass patches covering the street, Chris remains ambitious.  He has plans for several more gardens, with planting beginning maybe as early as this summer. For more photos of Cambridge Gardens, see here.

Follow the history and continuing evolution of the Cambridge Gardens on Chris’ own detailed blog



  1. Hmmm… isn’t guerrilla planting on city land taking work away from city workers? I seem to remember that being an issue when people were picking up garbage in parks and on streets during the strike.

  2. I live on Cambridge and have watched over the years as the gardens spread along the street. They’re wonderful, and an addition the city would never have budgeted for. Chris isn’t taking work away from anyone.

    The sad part is the condition of the city’s official park at the bottom of the street just east of the viaduct.

    The photo linked from this post (the one with the street signs for Danforth and Cambridge) is right beside a City-run seniors’ building whose front door is at Broadview and Danforth. They can’t even shovel their snow properly in the winter, much less create a garden in the boulevard around the back.

  3. This is a great example of what Karen chronicles on the Greenwalks blog based in Seattle.

  4. So wonderful to see this! What a gift to the neighborhood, this gardener is a real hero. I have been chronicling street gardens for a year now and don’t know that I’ve seen something like this before, where one person just takes it in hand to spread beauty and beat back the sad decline all on their own. That it has been inspiring to neighbors to join in is great too. It really flies in the face of the notion that communities have to wait for their municipality to okay or implement positive change – sometimes just one person can make that change and inspire others to take better care of their surroundings. Three cheers for Chris!