A Gift to the Street

July 19, 2010

In his 2010-04-30 blog entry entitled “A Gift to the Street” sustainability activist, author, blogger, architect and photographer Steve Mouzon [1] suggests that the best expression of neigbourliness is giving a gift to the street. For example, planting a street-side garden or shade tree, is a simple offering that might helps get people outside, delight a stranger or make the neighbourhood a better place to walk.

“Frontage gardens are by far the most common forms of gifts to the street that delight people.”

I had not thought of my frontage and lane side gardens in this way and it is a delightful thought for this avid gardener.

In order to sustain longer hours, days, weeks and months of Calgary gardening I wear an unattractive but very practical combination of knee pads attached with velcro, well-worn work boots, jeans tucked into my socks (fire ants protection), a wide variety of multi-coloured garden gloves, long sleeved shirts, even hats to protect against sunlight, rain jackets against the rain or warm jackets, scarves and gloves against the cold. Appearances have not prevented passersby from initiating friendly conversations as I work slowly weed, seed, plant, replant, expand beds, move rocks, prune, mulch or water this garden that some call a “work of love.”

Although I enjoy working inside the fenced off area in the back of the house, sharing the space with a very large dog that wasn’t mine, encouraged me to spend most of my time in the front, which is a street-side garden. Gradually as I replaced grass with ever-expanding garden beds I began to work outside the fences which meander around the rest of the property offering seemingly endless possibilities for even more garden beds. Maintaining these laneways was already a chore so why not remove the grass/weeds and plant more waterwise, hardy, perennials that will maintain themselves? Besides Calgarians are asked to be more water wise and less grass means less water usage.

In the past year I have enjoyed many spontaneous conversations with neighbours,  friends and strangers while leaning on my spade. Once a man from the city’s more vulnerable population asked if I would let him use the garden hose to cool his face covered in cuts and bruises. Two others reminisced about when they too had large gardens before life’s challenges left them homeless. On another occasion I found myself inside the car and then the architect-designed unique home of strangers still wearing my knee-pads and carrying my garden gloves. They liked the fact that I was improving the lane that they used all the time and wanted to share the beauty of their home/garden experience. It was magic. Sometimes we end up sharing plants and gardening tips as well as encouragement. A new neighbour from Saudi Arabia and her young daughter Neda helped me start a new bed in the far back laneway, one that will be visible from the escarpment in the park a few blocks from here. On a large river stone Neda wrote “Happy Family Garden” and it does make me happy to see these words every time I work or walk nearby.


1. In his book entitled The Original Green, (2010) Mouzon argues that instead of going “gizmo green” we can all take simple steps towards sustainable living. Why not live in smaller homes with rooms that have multiple functions or perhaps raise a victory garden?

Mouzon claims that, “The walkability of a place is a high indicator of the sustainability of a place . . . the more walkable a place is, the more sustainable it is. And also the healthier the people are.”

I think his blog entitled Useful Stuff which he describes as “blogging as memory” is like the front garden or the garden outside the fence. It’s where ideas are not kept within a secret gated garden but shared with strangers. Instead of worrying about theft and vandalism he gardens in a space that is completely accessible to passersby.

See also

Mouzon, Steve A. Useful Stuff: Things I’ve dug up that I don’t want to have to dig up again.

Mouzon, Steve A. 2010. The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability. The Guild Foundation. Press.

Mouzon, Steve A. 2010-04-30. “A Gift to the Street.” originalgreen.org

Olwell & Waldhorn. 1982. A Gift to the Street. St Martins Pr.

One Response to “A Gift to the Street”

  1. Steve was in Ottawa earlier this month and delivered a wonderful talk on sustainable buildings and places. Loved it!

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