Carrie Smith, a library assistant at the Prince of Wales branch of The Regina Public Library and self-described “community garden cheer captain,” is bringing another season of fresh produce and life lessons to her library’s patrons.
To get ready for this summer’s garden, which will occupy a small courtyard behind the library on Edgar and 14th, Smith led a seed-starting event in the children’s section Saturday morning. A handful of volunteers planted pepper, onion, lettuce and tomato seeds in soil pods, where they will grow indoors until they are ready to be transplanted into the garden in four to six weeks.
Smith, who has been advocating for the garden since she began working at the Prince of Wales branch in 2016, says this project is a natural extension of the library’s mission.
“I think of a library as a place that’s not only feeding minds in a community, but feeding communities and feeding people,” she said. “I think that’s what public institutions should be.”
Smith has always been adamant that the entire Prince of Wales garden should be open to all. Anyone can walk in and help with the watering and weeding, or pick a squash or a handful of raspberries to take home. All the seeds and gardening tools are provided by the library. The librarians give away the extra produce at the end of the season.
“We have this kind of idea of a library as a place where people and ideas meet,” Smith said. “So this garden is an extension of that.
“I like to think of the garden as an expanded reference question. It’s an opportunity for people to ask questions about food, gardening, land, sustainability and environment.”
This was the first time I saw Anthophora terminalis, a few years back in my mom's garden in Cactus Lake, Sask. I'm giving a talk on gardening for prairie bees on Oct. 1 at the Main Library in Regina, so I'm having fun revisiting my archive of prairie photos. pic.twitter.com/hAihN6GCml
— beespeaker (@zuke19374267) September 18, 2019
Author Lori Weidenhammer (@beespeaker) tweets about a gardening talk she gave at the Regina Public Library in October 2019.
Looking back on what she has watched children learn from the garden over the years, Smith has fond memories – like watching the befuddled look on a young boy’s face when he discovered what a beet tastes like – as well as some more profound experiences such as when the garden was vandalized in 2018.
“There was a fellow in the garden and … I think he was having a moment that wasn’t really great, so he took a machete to our garden and he chopped it to bits,” Smith said. “And the kids – oh my God, the kids were devastated.
“They felt so violated, because it was their space. I was pretty upset too. And afterwards, the kids and I came together and we cleaned up the garden, and it was an opportunity to have a conversation about how communities can come together after tragedy.”
The next summer, Smith says she found zinnias growing like weeds all over the garden. The vandal had unintentionally spread their seeds around when he destroyed the plants and, after lying dormant for the winter, they flourished.
The garden is a popular intergenerational space for neighbourhood residents. Last summer, over 200 people from preschoolers to retirees helped care for the plants throughout the season.
Longtime Regina resident Marie Shipley-Powell, who volunteered at the seed-starting event, said she is looking forward to spending time at the Prince of Wales garden this summer as well as starting her own.
“I live in a condo and I have a friend who does gardening on her deck, so I want to do it this year,” said Shipley-Powell. “And I’m definitely going to spend time in the community garden this summer, too – as much as I can.
“I love children and I love the sun and I think it’s just so exciting to spend a lot of time here.”
Eight of the nine Regina Public Library branches will be hosting gardening-related events throughout the spring and summer. The next ones – a lecture on annual plants at the George Bothwell branch and a lesson on how to grow cannabis at the Regent Place branch – will each take place from 7-8 p.m. on March 19th.