A NEW COURTYARD FOR ST. CHRIS
I first saw St. Christopher House courtyard garden, at Ossington and Dundas Streets, about 1994, when Brenda Brandle and Bill Cheng were members of the Board of Directors there. It was a charming sunny enclosure planted with whatever small trees, shrubs and plants that could be found, germinated, divided or donated by staff and volunteers.
That is how my garden partner Gloria Maguire and I found the courtyard when it became an official project of the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale & Toronto in 1996. Together with other Hort volunteers we made soil amendments, planted spring flowering bulbs and added more plants until Gloria moved to Winnipeg and I was joined by my new partner, Beth Smith. Beth and I carried on in a similar way, enjoying the camaraderie of gardening in such a tranquil place.
The idea of this renovation germinated and took shape over several summers in the NovaEra bakery, where Beth and I convened for refreshments and discussions after our weekly gardening visits to St. Chris. Over time, we observed firsthand just how the courtyard was used by the staff and clients and we talked about how it could be more accessible and useful for them. The deteriorating asphalt, in particular, was taking its toll. It was impervious to proper water drainage and led to excess water pooling, cracking and sinking of the pavement, creating a serious safety hazard and reduced usability. It also prevented water from reaching the roots of the trees, which has affected their growth. We came up with our wish list but did not know who would help us with it. At a meeting with St. Chris staff, I revealed our ideas for the courtyard improvements and, although our vision was embraced enthusiastically, St. Chris had no funds to undertake the renovation.
Over the years, numerous eager Hort members have volunteered their time in the garden by donating plants, giving consultations, mulching, pruning, deadheading, weeding, and planting bulbs and plants to keep the garden looking its best.
As of September 2011, the courtyard began another huge renovation, which will also include the outside strip garden that runs along Ossington Avenue, north of Dundas. This will all be completed for the 100th Anniversary of St. Christopher House in 2012!
There was so much to think about and organize before the final plan could take shape. Important issues had to be taken into consideration: a level surface for walking and wheelchair safety; proper drainage of rainwater; the health of the trees; more usable patio area; no more grass; outdoor storage; garden irrigation; and funding. Hort member.
We had Peter’s design and the help of a competent team of professionals to ensure that it all happened! The asphalt, grassy areas and two circle gardens would be replaced by 3000 square feet of permeable paving bricks. Some trees would be removed and others pruned. Parts of the dry stone wall would be amended to become stone seating. New trees, shrubs and plants would be added.
Layer by Layer
Hollander’s construction crew started early on September 12. This is how the experts made a patio. The asphalt came up first. It lifted easily in chunks and by the end of the day was merely a memory. New garden shapes were marked and cut out as the soil around them was excavated to evenly grade the courtyard. The excavation was filled with ¾ inch gravel to a depth of about 12 inches to ensure good drainage, and then tamped down by machine. On top of that, a 2-inch layer of ¼ inch stone chips was laid and tamped again. Because water permeability is the important factor, all the gravel was clear to allow for rain and moisture to pass through. No limestone screenings, sand or other crusher run was used, as this would impede the flow of water through the installation. Now there will be no more water pooling, sinking or heaving and the water that percolates down will encourage healthy trees by nourishing the roots underneath. Next, the greyish-brown paving bricks were laid in a herringbone pattern and finished with a soldier course of pavers running perpendicular to the edge to define the garden borders. Finally, the small gaps between the pavers were filled with 1/8 inch stone chips. Et voila!
There is still more to come. The precast concrete seating sections have to be built into the dry stone wall and the wall itself will be extended. After the soil amendments, shrubs and trees will be planted and then perennials will be added. The outside garden along Ossington will also be re-landscaped. Scraggly trees and shrubs will be removed and replaced by new trees, shrubs and perennials. This and other finishing details will be the subject of my next article—the final touches that will be the icing on the cake for this huge and exciting project.
Horticultural Societies of Parkdale