Introduction

Gardens for Your Mind

Gardens for Your Mind

Did you have a big backyard where you grew up? Or any backyard? A front yard? A nearby park? A garden? A house plant? Maybe you lived away from the cities where lands are still open and wild. Even if you grew up in a concrete jungle, I’m sure you enjoy some green space every now and then. University students can benefit from some time in a garden (though it’s hard to find the time or the gardens). Believe it or not, gardens are very important to me.

This fact may seem strange as my mind is often filled with thoughts of hot-rods and electric guitars. But it’s true. Maintaining a garden, (the envy of the neighbours, I might add) has been tremendously fun for my family. My role in the garden is voluntary. I’ll correct myself; I was voluntold.  However, I now know there is a lot to learn about any place by the plants growing there and vice versa.

The green grass, bright flowers, and sharply defined flowerbeds of my backyard garden
Envy of the neighbourhood (Photo by Zachary Biech)
My backyard garden with a view out across a river valley, with a blanket of snow, and all lit in a pink glow of a winter sunrise
Wintertime in my snow-covered backyard garden in the morning light (Photo by Zachary Biech)
Picture taken from a dock, looking out over a lake amidst the forested mountains of Alberta's Rockies
Getting closer to nature, at Peppers Lake in Alberta (Photo by Zachary Biech)

In first year, I had a plant in my residence room. The atmosphere definitely needed some shrubbery. For this role, I chose a tiny cactus. I named it ‘Jose’. He was a good shrubbery, hardly even had to water him. When Jose fell off his table, he was tough enough to shake it off and get right back to cactusing. I scored some UC sunglasses during orientation week and gave them to Jose. What a champ.

A small cactus plant in a pot on a windowsill in my residence room, with a pair of ridiculous sunglasses
My old buddy Jose, wearing his trademark sunglasses indoors like the champ he is (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Alas, Jose and I parted ways after first year. I searched high and low during my second year for another shrubbery but campus green space is hard to find. During the winter months, there’s just no way. The grey concrete and clouds were a downer. You may have felt the same way while downtown. The lack of grass, hills and landscape even effects how we walk. My feet get sore all the time here.

Looking down the winding path through the trees of Philosopher's Walk
A rare zone of solitude: Philosopher’s Walk (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Not to worry though, I have good news. Through First Nations House, I was connected to the Native Student’s Association and the Kahontake Kitigan medicine garden. The garden was named by Anishnaabe Elder Lillian McGregor and Oneida Elder Grafton Anton, and combines the Oneida and Anishnaabemowin words for garden. I even had the honour of helping maintain this garden for part of the summer. The garden is sacred land and a safe place for growing medicines, holding ceremonies and for any healing you may need. It’s on the east side of Hart House along Queen’s Park Crescent West and you can check it out if you’re ever passing by (be sure to respect it well). This garden is a place of peace and joy, especially during busy or stressful times.

A bed of sage plants in fronts, and a bed of tobacco plants with flowers in the back at  Kahontake Kitigan
Sage in the front and Tobacco in the back, from harvest day at Kahontake Kitigan (Photo courtesy of U of T Native Students’ Association)
A round flowerbed with a large green patch of broad-leaf sweetgrass
Sweetgrass growing strong on harvest day at Kahontake Kitigan (Photo courtesy of U of T Native Students’ Association)
A bed of soil with three tiny cedar trees and a large cedar bush, with larger fauna in the background
Very young cedar trees, on harvest day at Kahontake Kitigan (Photo courtesy of U of T Native Students’ Association)
NSA Marten Clan Leader Paige standing amongst sage and tobacco leaves hanging to dry in the NSA office
NSA Marten Clan Leader Paige feeling triumphant after a successful harvest at Kahontake Kitigan (Photo courtesy of U of T Native Students’ Association)

Finding nature on campus can be hard but worth the effort. Even if you just have a cactus who wears sunglasses indoors all the time. Look around, and I’m sure you’ll find lots of good gardens and green space for your mind.

Now for your homework:

1: Do you have a favourite secret green space on campus? Near your home?

2: To replace Jose, you must bring me…another shrubbery! (Or at least recommend your favourite houseplant)

Also, check out these links:

http://www.fnh.utoronto.ca/Current-Students/Student-Groups/Native-Student-Association.htm

http://campusagriculture.ca/

http://thevarsity.ca/2014/03/17/exploring-the-ecology-of-u-of-ts-three-campuses/

http://thevarsity.ca/2012/09/02/u-of-ts-secret-spots/

 

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