Good things are growing across Western’s campus.
Construction of a new rain garden and plans to relocate the Indigenous food and medicine garden are underway, and a student-driven community garden is already bearing fruit.
All support the objectives of the university’s Open Space Strategy, building on the natural beauty of Western’s campus and a legacy of landscape stewardship to create a safe and beautiful learning environment.
“It’s about finding those opportunities to improve sustainability and biodiversity, prioritize pedestrians and to preserve the unique, native plants Western has as part of the Carolinian forest zone,” said Heather Hyde, director, sustainability in Facilities Management.
Western’s first naturalized rain garden
Hyde points to the campus’ first naturalized rain garden as “one of our big steps forward in demonstrating biodiversity.”
The rain garden is part of the current redesign of Kent Drive North, which extends the paving stone walkway from University College north to the front of the Physics & Astronomy Building and west between Stevenson Hall and the McIntosh Gallery.
The garden will feature low-maintenance native plants, including coneflower, Joe-pye weed and Christmas ferns, and will act as a filtration system for rain and snow.
“The intent is to allow the accumulation of water so it can be naturally absorbed into the ground instead of running off into the storm system,” Hyde said.
“We don’t use an irrigation system on campus, so Western’s approach is to plant drought tolerant plants as much as possible to reduce the amount of watering.”
The new pathway will feature seating areas and will only be accessible to emergency and service vehicles, heightening Western’s focus on the spaces between the buildings, and how they contribute to learning, mental health and well-being and campus identity.
Indigenous food and medicine garden
When the Indigenous Learning Space opens later this year, its outdoor learning area will provide a new home for Western’s Indigenous food and medicine garden.
Incorporating the garden was “a given from the inception of the Indigenous Learning Space, with harvesting from the land an inherent part of Indigenous epistemologies,” said Paula Hedgepeth, community relations and space coordinator in the Office of Indigenous Initiatives.
The garden will contain a variety of berries, traditional tobacco, cedar and medicinal sage.
“Our sustenance and livelihood have always come from the land,” Hedgepeth said. “Creating a garden at the Indigenous Learning Space will nurture that connection and provide us with medicines and food. It will also provide an opportunity for the community and students to gather, learn and share knowledge through workshops, and through interacting with and tending to the garden.”
On the site where the original Indigenous food and medicine plot was, a new garden grows. And Nadine Castonguay, BSC’21 (Food and Nutrition) couldn’t be happier.
With the help of Mike Lunau, manager, landscape services, and the support of the Indigenous Student Centre, Castonguay’s vision of a community garden started growing last fall. In early May, she moved the seedlings she started in the Western greenhouses into concrete planters Lunau secured for her from across campus. Her first crop includes tomatoes, peas, peppers, beans, squash, watermelon and cucumbers.
“My goal all along was for this to be a community garden where people could grow and source their food locally,” the recent Brescia graduate said. “It also brings people together and forms a community, which is also really important.”
Castonguay oversees and maintains the community garden as a garden executive for EnviroWestern, a club under the University’s Student Council (USC) that works to promote environmental sustainability on campus. She will continue to oversee and maintain the garden until her term ends in August. Going forward, the role will be funded by the USC.
Although the garden is in its infancy, Castonguay is gratified to see other Western community members now using the space.
Geography and Earth Sciences professor Desmond Moser is growing native plants for a field course he co-teaches with Clint Jacobs of Walpole Island First Nation/Bkejwanong territory.
“We’re growing some tall grass and pollinator plants from local seed,” Moser said. “We are in conversations with Facilities Management, with the hope to eventually plant them on some of Western’s properties as part of our course, which is supported by the Indigenous Learning Fund and offered jointly by the Indigenous studies program and the department of geography and environment.”
Zhaleh Mohammad Alipour, a PhD student with BrainsCAN, was very excited to see the garden, having spent a lot of time back home in Iran, caring for flowers and vegetables.
“When I moved to Canada, the first thing I bought was begonia flowers, and since then, I have continued growing various flowers and vegetables. Unfortunately, my apartment doesn’t get enough sunlight, so my plants haven’t been feeling too well,” Mohammad Alipour said.
She initially assumed the planters were reserved for biology students, but once she learned more about the project and connected with Castonguay, she’s been on site regularly, helping weed and planting her own vegetables and herbs.
“I’m so thankful for this wonderful initiative, and I feel fortunate that the boxes are pretty close to my building, making it easy for me to tend and water them,” Mohammad Alipour said. “It lifts my spirits to check in on my plants and watch them grow little by little each day.”