Garden Car

This is the Kensington Market Garden Car, an iconic, beloved, and well-used Toronto parklet, of sorts – our city’s smallest park. As of Spring 2022, this weird & wonderful garden beast will have been part of the community for 17 years! If you search #gardencar on social media, you’re sure to find many more images.

While she belongs to the community, I’m her caretaker, or ‘CARdener’ 😉

towed back in spring - garden car

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 Garden Car in tow, people inevitably ask why we’re taking it away. Or, without having to say a word, they slow down, and show a nGarden Car - new spring trunk by Yvonne Bambrickow recognizable look of concern. “Don’t worry”, I reply, “Just bringing it 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 putter away from Spring to Fall scraping off the tags and stickers, planting, harvesting and tidying, I’m also regularly engaged in conversation with passersby who stop to ask questions, take photos, 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.

original garden car - curious kidsBuilt in June 2006 by (now dormant) Streets are for People!, and friends, as part of our community event, Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market, 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. original garden car - chalk bumper stickers

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.Original Garden Car - Fall 2011

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.Garden Car artists - May 2012

In the meantime though, (late May to early November) you can see and smell and sit upon the front bench of this beautiful PARKed car anytime you’re in Kensington Market, Toronto – SW corner of Augusta & Oxford.

The Garden Car and some of our original crew of artists is even in a Grade 6 textbook in Toronto 🙂