Happy 9th Birthday Kensington Market Garden Car!
I spent part of the afternoon buying flowers, cleaning and doing the spring planting of the Garden Car trunk. While she belongs to the community, I’m her caretaker.
She was in rough shape when we towed her back earlier this week but is looking much better now. Once the sickly willow tree / centrepiece is replaced, we’ll be able to finish planting the centre – likely some tomatoes, basil, mint and flowers. The grass on the ‘front lawn’ also needs to be reseeded, but I think I’ll wait until after the first Pedestrian Sunday so that the new grasslings don’t get trampled.
Every May since 2007, we’ve brought the beloved local icon out of her winter hibernation spot and back onto Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market. So integrated into the streetscape is this unique garden that like clockwork when we arrive with the ‘carden’ in tow people inevitably ask why we’re taking her away. Or, without having to say a word, they slow down, and show a now recognizable look of concern. ‘Don’t worry’, we reply, ‘We’ve just brought her back for the summer’. ‘Oh, cool – I was worried there for a second.’ is the general response. I’m still amazed at how much people care for this colourful oddity, they’re protective even – I truly look forward to these exchanges.
As I puttered away scraping off the tags and posters from last year, pulling out the dead plants, turning the soil, and planting the flowers, quite carefully arranged, I was also regularly engaged in conversation with passersby who stopped to ask questions, and hear the story. ‘Are you allowed to keep it here?’, ‘What is it? Is is really filled with dirt?’, ‘Cool, did you make this?’, ‘What kind of plant is that?’… I love spending time sharing the story and history of the garden car with locals, visitors, and tourists. The idea translates pretty well even if there’s a language barrier for the full explanation. I’m fairly confident that the garden car is the most photographed thing in Kensington Market – most people have never seen anything like it.
Built in June 2006 by (now dormant) Streets are for People! and friends, we asked for forgiveness rather than permission, and were allowed by the City to keep it on the street as public art provided that it was insured, and removed for the winter months. Getting permission would have been impossible without the help of our local Councillor, and the support of the Toronto Parking Authority who were willing to waive the parking costs.
Nicknamed ‘The Garden Car’, her full name is the Community Vehicular Reclamation Project – there’s even a song, though I don’t remember the words. After 6 seasons, the original Garden Car was put out to pasture in Spring 2012 and found the perfect retirement home as part of the PACT Grow to Learn Schoolyard Gardening Program. This little piece of downtown was quickly embraced by her new uptown neighbours, and apparently much appreciated by the seniors who preferred gardening in a raised bed.
The second Garden Car was built in May 2012. With funds for materials provided by the BIA, and a mural grant from the City, I pulled together a small team of local artists to help transform the scrap car (only $200!) into what is now a lovely colourful urban garden. We captured it all on video but have yet to edit the ‘Making of the Garden Car video’ – a project for another day.
In the meantime though, you can see and smell and sit upon this beautiful PARKing spot anytime you’re in Kensington Market – she’s hanging out at the SW corner of Augusta & Oxford.