surreygarden3This is a guest post from one of our Transition Guelph members, Joan Alexander.

On a cold, dreary day in February of 2014 I was sitting at the window wondering what to do when I grow up. How to take what I knew and what I didn’t know (yet) to make positive change in my life and perhaps someone else’s, too.

At first, the only thing I could see was the reflection in the window. A quiet room, a sleeping cat, a dusty table, a mature (?) woman ready for change. But as myeyes adjusted to the light, I began to see the garden. Dirty snow, wet mud, a few frozen weeds – not very inspiring, that’s for sure!

My partner and I rent this house from the Holody family. The first generation of Holodys who came from Poland made their home here. The matriarch of the family, Barbara Holody, tended the large garden and fed her family and neighbours from the harvest – mostly potatoes. When she passed, her son, Joseph, (owner of Holody Electro-plating and past owner of the Guelph Platers) continued the tradition by keeping the garden planted. Each year, for the past four years that we have lived here, we have had a small plot of our own. Mostly for fun because Joe kept us and everyone else in his circle supplied with tomatoes, peppers, and mostly potatoes!

surreyGarden2As the cat moved to another spot to continue his nap, I began to think about the garden in a different way. What if it became a place where people could plant, tend and harvest their own food? The snow that began to fall tried to squash my excitement but it didn’t succeed. What if our landlords let me turn their garden into an intentional community garden? An email request came back very quickly – “Yes, go right ahead!” Oh my, a February garden dream is quite different than an actual garden. How would I make this dream become a reality all by myself?

Enter Transition Guelph’s Backyard Share (Volunteer) Program Coordinator, Mike Barber. Mike came to visit us on a cool, sunny day in late March. We stood outside and talked about the garden (I am good at talking…not as good at soil preparation or rottotilling). Fortunately, Mike is a doer. He co-dreams, sees the steps necessary to make it happen…and then gets to work. By the end of April, the garden was nourished and tilled, plots were marked. We had neighbours and other Guelphites, as well as our nieces from Toronto, anxious to begin planting. But, the weather wasn’t cooperating yet. One day in early May, as I sat at the window, a few February snow flakes floated by. That day I went to a Seed Share and we selected seeds with mittened hands! Peas went into the ground…little, tender tomato plants waited on the window sill…waiting, waiting.

surreyGarden1And suddenly it is a warm and breezy June day and I am sitting outside, on the other side of the window, at a donated patio set near the community garden (we also have donated chairs, a kids’ table, and other gifts). Each plot has a different “flavour” much like the gardeners that tend them. We are getting to know each other as we share the soil that is beginning to grow our food. We talk about what is growing well, share garden tools and use water from the rain barrels. The children that come to garden create beautiful sidewalk art and blow bubbles (to keep the rabbits away). Sometimes there is lemonade and munchies on the table…sometimes a parrot-like bird (Sophie) and a beloved gardener’s pet (yes, Ted, this is you!) visit. Strangers walk by and stop to chat about what we are doing…next time they walk by they are no longer strangers. Often, I am working inside or not at home when gardeners come by. It is so much fun to come back to the garden and see changes – new plantings, transplants, a pot of seedlings on the back porch with a note saying, “Please share these”.

In the center of our garden there is a designated community plot. Extra seed and seedlings have been planted here and the produce will go to the Welcome In Drop In Centre, the Guelph Food Bank and any other place where fresh food is needed. Another plot has become the pumpkin patch (with cantaloupes and squash, too) mostly planted by our kids. And our latest gardener has tucked some hot pepper plants in available spots.

On June 29, 2014 from 2:00 – 4:00pm, one of our gardeners is offering a Garden Stepping Stone free workshop here. Some materials will be provided and small stones, shells, beads, rubber gloves, etc. are welcome. And, we are having a Potluck Picnic on July 11, 2014 at 6:00pm. Everyone who is interested in gardening, community, and eating food is welcome to come to one or both of these events! Please contact me at for more information and/or to reserve your place.

Dreams are amazing things, aren’t they? Who knew that my desire to grosurreygarden4w up in a new and better way, on a cold day just four months ago, would bring such change to my life? A community garden… a garden community… a dream that became a reality… didn’t happen on its own… it is taking an entire community (garden) to help me grow up.

Appreciation is extended to the Holody family and the wonderful people at Transition Guelph (especially Mike and his supportive family), who are teaching me about inter-dependence and resilience. And to my dream-partner, Elizabeth, who went from saying, “This is your idea, I don’t want anything to do with it!”, to researching and building trellises so that we may grow vertical zucchini and other squash. Thank you!

Joan Alexander
Surrey Street West Community Garden
Guelph, ON