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Rain doesn’t dampen spirits at campus planting event

PLANTING HANDS: Students Diana Chang and Caitlin Vanderkooy share laughs at a recent planting event, one in a series of green initiatives being organized on campus. (Photo by Laura Redpath.)

by Laura Redpath

Squeals and laughter could be heard when the rain came down on the latest Green the Campus planting initiative, held on Thursday, October 2 with the help of volunteers from U of T Scarborough and Centennial College.

The recent wildflower planting event took place under the university entrance sign located on the southwest corner of Military Trail and Ellesmere Rd. The volunteers encircled the sign before squatting down and busily planting away under looming rain clouds. It was a chilly, breezy day and the temperature never rose above 13 degrees.

The event was one in a series of events organized by the U of T Scarborough sustainability office as part of an ongoing partnership with Evergreen -- an environmental organization and charity that builds the relationship between nature, culture and community in urban spaces – schools, communities and homes.

Chris Nikolovski, a third-year U of T Scarborough student, said it was his first time coming out to a planting event. “I was curious,” he said laughing and patting the soil. “I like it. I do a lot of gardening during the summer and I decided to do this too.”

Although the event was hosted by U of T Scarborough, students from Centennial College also turned out, ready to show off their green thumbs. One college student, Victoria Pereira, said she was pleased to help with planting at her neighbouring campus and that she was excited about the event.

“This is my first time planting on this campus,” said Pereira, a third-year student. “I was planting in the summer and I’m just continuing what I started.” She was out of breath and all smiles from the hard work. “I think it’s great,” she said, noting that because U of T Scarborough and Centennial offer a variety of joint programs, organizing joint activities is a way to support that partnership.

Evergreen’s Scarborough Stewardship coordinator, Caitlin Langlois, demonstrated an undeniably high level of energy as she darted around, handing out shovels and demonstrating wildflower planting to the volunteers.

“Make sure you pat the soil tightly -- you don’t want to leave air pockets,” Langlois said. “The weather is not great, but I’m excited that we had so many students coming out, rain or shine, to plant.”

Evergreen and U of T Scarborough have an ongoing partnership aimed at promoting environmental awareness and enhancing the campus. According to the sustainability office’s website, the campus is home to various green spaces such as playing fields in “minimally disturbed natural forest and wetlands.” Aside from wildflower planting, the sustainability office works on environmental initiatives and the campus boasts bioswales, green roofs and storm drain filters.

The entrance sign was chosen as the recent planting site because of its visibility and its role in welcoming faculty, staff, students and visitors to the campus, said Langlois.

“This is a great place to plant,” said Langlois. “We’re in a highly visible spot and this part of the environment showcases the partnership we have here between Evergreen and the university.”

The new garden is comprised of native species that are more ecological when planting wildflower gardens, according to Tim Lang, sustainability coordinator at U of T Scarborough.

“Planting native species has many benefits, including the fact that we are supporting natural habitats,” said Lang. “This approach has the ecological benefit of attracting insects that are needed for the ecosystem, so we are conducting beautification in an ecologically appropriate way.”

Apart from looking beautiful, native wildflower species require fewer resources and reduce environmental footprints, said Lang. He notes that it is important even when gardening to think about the environment. “Just because gardening involves green plants, that doesn’t mean it has no impacts,” he said.

“All managed spaces -- buildings, lawns, gardens, etc. -- alter natural ecosystems to some degree," he added. "For instance, the flowers you plant are grown in a greenhouse, which uses energy, water, and fertilizer or pesticides produced in factories. Watering your lawn or garden uses fresh, treated water as well. However, a wildflower garden is the closest that a garden can get to a natural ecosystem. It contains ecologically appropriate native plant species, which thrive with little to no extra resources, such as water and fertilizer.”

Langlois said the wildflower planting is part of an overall effort to increase native species and habitats on campus, especially with the valley close by. “We have this natural space on campus, and pollinators (bees) love so many of the species that we are planting,” she said.

The standard turnout ranges from 10 to 20 people and this day was no different. “We’re fortunate to have the support of the campus community,” said Lang. “People continue to be willing to come out and volunteer their time to enhance the environment on campus.”

Two more garden planting events are coming up. On Thursday, Oct. 9, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., volunteers are needed for weeding, seed-shaking and mulching to help prepare the campus for winter. NOTE CHANGE OF LOCATION: Thursday's event will take place in the lower campus in the Highland Creek Valley. Meet by the baseball scoreboards. On Halloween, Friday, Oct. 31, the second annual Trick or Trees planting event will take place. Volunteers are invited to come in costume and help plant trees and shrubs. Meet in the lower campus parking lot.

For more information on sustainability at U of T Scarborough, contact Tim Lang, sustainability coordinator at or (416) 208-2669.

Laura Redpath is a recent graduate from the journalism program offered jointly by U of T Scarborough and Centennial College.

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