CORNWALLIS PARK, NS - The woman who brought children and seniors together so youngsters could learn how to garden is stepping down as manager of Cornwallis Community Gardens Association.
Elizabeth McMichael said she’s getting out of the way so younger people can get involved.
“I’m leaving as manager because I think it’s time. There are a lot of younger people starting to move into Cornwallis Park, and I think they need to be invited in and engaged,” she said during the association’s packed annual Garden Party Aug. 22 at the gardens. “And sometimes I think young people don’t come forward because old people don’t have enough sense to get out of the way.”
McMichael, now a youthful 77, started the gardens in 2010 with a band of other local stalwarts,
“It was the result of me walking by every day and seeing this bare field full of weeds, looking across the street at the Clark Rutherford Memorial School and thinking children need to know where their food comes from, and here’s an opportunity to capitalize on seniors in the community to share their knowledge with the children coming up,” she said. “That was the beginning of the garden.”
She said Acadian Sea Plants pitched in, ploughed the field, added seaweed bi-product and lime, and the community gardens began its first year.
“We’ve got 32 beds now, and five raised beds for people who have difficulty bending anymore, and we have the cold frame,” she said. “We’re starting to grow some in the winter. And we have a little orchard now.”
"And sometimes I think young people don’t come forward because old people don’t have enough sense to get out of the way." - McMichael
Her intergenerational work was recognized early on as the gardens began to flourish and McMichael herself was being called upon in other communities to speak about how it she did it.
In 2014 she received the province’s Remarkable Senior Award for her dedication to volunteerism.
“Ms. McMichael is an avid gardener who established the Cornwallis Community Gardens Association in 2010 to help connect seniors with local students to build, plant, and maintain a community garden for local residents,” a citation by the Department of Seniors reads.
The gardens consist of individual garden plots with big planks around all four sides. These are filled with soil and people who take part are free to grow what they want.
She said any given year as many as 50 local residents take part in the gardening.
“That’s between the people who sow and harvest,” she said. “And then when they start sharing, it may go beyond the 50. And we’re now doing an out-reach program where we take planted containers to people and put them on their doorsteps and all they have to do is water and reap.”
McMichael said young and old alike benefit from the gardening experience.
“Community spirit I think is part of it. There’s a lot of people who don’t garden but say to me ‘golly I feel good when I drive by and see that place and how it’s developed.’ So there’s that community spirit,” she said. “There’s the exercise of course, and socialization. We have people here from all types of work backgrounds, social spheres, mental capacities. It covers a whole spectrum. And everybody helps everybody else and it’s great. This garden wouldn’t be here if it was just me.”
The gardens are actually located on the site of the former HMCS Cornwallis ‘brig’ -- the military jail – at the corner of South Broadway Avenue and Brig Lane. Back when the gardens first started, rocks and concrete had to be removed and dirt brought in for the raised beds.
Now there are more than 40 beds of varying heights to deal with mobility and other challenges of gardeners, an apple orchard, peach trees, blueberry bushes, grape vines, and other attractions
Leading up to Canada 150, McMichael obtained thousands of tulip bulbs through national competitions and purchases, and the bulbs were are planted throughout the wider community and in the garden itself.
Over the year the gardens have received grants from various sources and have purchased and distributed almost 40 benches throughout the area, now used by residents and tourists alike to enjoy the scenery.
McMichael is now constantly called upon to deliver presentations and advice on establishing community gardens and how to keep them in existence year after year after year.
While she may not be managing the Cornwallis Community Gardens next year, she won’t be far away.
“I’ll always be on the end of the phone if anyone needs me, but I won’t be in the garden intentionally,” she said. “I won’t be in the garden next year because whoever takes over doesn’t need me hanging around.”