Autumn at the Côte Saint-Luc Seniors Community Garden

The end of the growing season is a time for thanksgiving

The marigolds are in bloom, lighting up the Côte Saint-Luc Seniors Community Garden with flashes of orange and crimson. Most of the allotments are bare chocolate brown; tomatoes, bitter melon, escarole, kale, carrots, leek and eggplant – the list is endless – all harvested. The bounty gone to the farmers’ tables, the neighbours’ tables and to local charities.

Mandie Aaron, President/Garden Coordinator gazes over the 70 or so allotments and takes time to philosophize.

“It’s a sad time of year because it’s closing down. But it’s good in a way. It’s the circle of life,” Aaron says.

Autumn is the time to revitalize the soil

Closing down is a busy time. Members – there are 84 – still have to harvest the last of the tomatoes and other vegetables, tear out the dead vegetation and revitalize the soil with turkey manure and compost donated by the City.

“We are strictly organic here,” Aaron insists.

Some will come in to plant garlic, thus ending the year while planting the seeds for another.

But the autumn goal is bare allotments. Just don’t call them plots because that unnerves the gardeners, all seniors ranging in ages from 55 to 90 plus.

Hailing from India, the Philippines, Rumania, Iran, Hungary, Italy, Korea the list goes on, the gardeners are as diverse as the veggies and fruit they grow.

Aaron knows them all by name.

Working 55 volunteer hours a week a privilege

Aaron, a volunteer and an honourary senior, will spend 55 hours a week at the gardens in peak season from late April until autumn. You name it.  She does it from fixing the leaks in the water hose to making sure there’s enough water in the water cooler for thirsty gardeners. And it’s Aaron who sees to it that each member keeps their allotment tidy.

When the concrete pathway that links the allotments needed straightening, Aaron supervised the effort, showing the contractors who were bidding on the work what needed doing. When the Executive Committee awarded the contract, Aaron made sure the work was done.

When something is beyond her ability to carry out, say, there’s a major plumbing or electrical breakdown, Aaron’s the one who’s in touch with the City of Côte Saint-Luc to see that things are fixed.

(Aaron hastens to add the City doesn’t charge for the work.)

“It’s a privilege to do what I’m doing,” she insists.

With all that going on, Aaron still finds time to tend her own garden and one for MADA, a Montreal-area charity that feeds those in need.

But she doesn’t do all the work. Members are obliged to pitch in and do two chores a year.

The gardens are a pure democracy

While Aaron’s title, President/Garden Coordinator, may be imposing, the gardens are not a dictatorship. The members elect the four-member Executive Committee, presently consisting of Secretary, Fran Roth, Treasurer Ella Finkelstein, and Members-at-Large Samuel Scarowsky and Peter Kurti.

“The members make the rules,” Aaron says, “not the Board.”

So, when the pathways needed fixing, it was the members who voted to increase the yearly membership fee from $40 to $50 and do away with the annual picnic and the potluck dinner to pay for the effort.

“It’s a pure democracy,” she says.

Time for Thanksgiving

The garden celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015. The project has borne fruit. There are two more gardens: the Kirwan Community Garden opened in 2013 in Kirwan Park and the Schwartz Community Garden opened the next year. It’s at Richard Schwartz Park.

Aaron credits donors such as the Home Depot store at Saint-Henri with helping the project thrive. Management there donated $1,600 for garden supplies. But above all, she gives thanks to the City for sponsoring the project and helping keep the gardens alive with funding for efforts like the paving project.

She points to the horizon where high rises loom large with more coming and with it the temptation to increase tax revenue by favouring bricks and mortar over seeds and compost. The City of Côte Saint-Luc has so far resisted the temptation.

“We are truly fortunate that we are still able to have the gardens because we are in a prime real estate location; every single gardener in this spot is grateful for the City’s support.”

Want to join the Seniors Community Gardens and raise a little kale? Contact Mandie Aaron,