Nature Notes- From The Backyard to the Biosphere. Urban Greening: Redefining Urban Spaces

April 2, 2003

Nature Notes- From The Backyard to the Biosphere. Urban Greening: Redefining Urban Spaces

As I write, the snow falls past my window, looking so lovely and innocent that I can hardly bring myself to resent its presence. Still, only two days from what appeared to be the onset of the long-awaited warm weather, I cannot help but try to convince myself that perhaps the snow is just some trick of my senses. Just last week, we were in the midst of springy wonder – spirits were lifting, the birds were twittering away in a state of pure warm bliss, and bulbs were popping from the ground, awakening from their deep winter sleep to bless us all with the news of spring’s sweet coming.

But here I am again, beginning my day by pulling on the heavy boots, the cumbersome winter jacket, and the immobilizing scarf before trouncing out into the newly whitened world. And yet, beneath all the layers, and with snowflake-covered eyelashes obscuring the view, all I can think of is gardening. Umm, the dark soil, with its sweet, rich aroma; the green colour of life in every leaf, stem and blade imaginable; and flowers, summer’s most generous gift. I know, I probably sound like one of those people who stands in a wicked snow storm, eyes closed, and pictures the sun on her skin, the sandy beach beneath her feet, and the sound of the rolling surf soothing her winter-weary soul. Aside from the fact that this technique is really quite effective, I do have to admit that dreams of summer may be a sort of defence mechanism, allowing one to wish away the cold and grey by freeing the imagination to romp in summer’s garden glory.

Of course, the type of garden I’m imagining may not be what most people would picture. So join me, those of you still immersed in the great white; come with me along the imagination’s winding garden path:Suspend for a moment the conventional border and bed garden layout. Forget the trimmed hedge, the manicured window-box and the dominant lawn. Begin to wander through your town, your city, and its forgotten, neglected little plots of land. Look upon that empty concrete planter with a new eye; see that power-line right-of-way for what its immense amount of greenspace could offer; and picture the railway corridor transformed into a blazing path of flowers, grasses and shrubs rivalling the countryside in its sheer testimony to the transforming power of plant life.

Our garden, and our gardening dreams, need not end at the borders of our private space. The city is ours to green, ours to bring to life, ours to reawaken each spring. Our definition of urban space shouldn’t be characterized by its grey colour, or its ecologically dead roads, buildings and monoculture landscapes. As an urban greening enthusiast, the city becomes yours to create, to imagine, and to rebuild in a form of your choosing. The lifelessness and drab character of the city only exist insofar as we allow our definition of urban space to continue in its current form.

Every abandoned city lot adopted, every rooftop colonized by a gardener with a vision, every empty planter re-enlivened is a step towards a new vision of what cities can be – alive, green and healthy. Urban greening beyond our lot lines does not have to mean shoddy gardening work done under cover of darkness, seedling in hand and identity obscured. Rather, urban greening can be a proclamation. Carried out with care and attention, gardening in public spaces can be viewed as a testament not to our flaunting of community norms, but rather to our desire to serve our communities by volunteering our knowledge and passion for green, healthy spaces. Forget the concrete wastelands of your town or city, forget the snow that covers it all up; think instead upon a new and exciting venture for this summer: urban greening – volunteerism of the most transformational kind. Find yourself a plot and dig in!

Zoe Dalton is a graduate of York University’s environmental science program, and is currently enjoying working towards a Master of Arts in Integrated Studies with Athabasca U. She can be reached for comments or questions at

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