Green thumbs with big hearts: the volunteer gardeners of Leaside

Alice Carriman, the queen of volunteer gardeners.
Alice Carriman, the queen of volunteer gardeners.

December is the month when things finally quiet down for gardeners. Oh sure, there’s always a tree or two left to prune and a few more plants to protect but mostly it’s a watch and wait for that first blanket of snow to put our gardens safely to bed.

It’s also that time when we think a lot about gift giving. Right now, my thoughts are of the many gifts we get from all of our wonderful volunteer gardeners.
Most Leasiders know who the Bayview Pixies are. That merry band of women who wear those identifiable aprons have managed to shine a big light on volunteer gardeners. (Full disclosure: I have been a Bayview Pixie.) Their sensitivity to the environment gave us an awareness of the importance of sustainability and the many accolades they received brought much deserved attention to Bayview.

Back in October, I wrote about the tireless Garden Angels who tend to the Lyndhurst gardens. These 11 volunteers have the same regard for the environment as the Pixies. They told me with incredible pride how no chemical fertilizers are used at Lyndhurst Gardens and how over the years, they’ve added more perennial and native plants. This helped them to expand the gardens through natural spreading and dividing, thereby reducing both the need for replacement plants and reducing water use. Ah, the gifts that keep on giving.

But unlike the easy-to-spot Pixies, most volunteer gardeners go unnoticed. They’re the invisible horticultural heroes who make up an army of impassioned gardeners doing an enormous amount of hard work for free. So, why do they do it?

Numerous studies have found volunteers feel better and even healthier after helping out. Apparently, it’s a hit of dopamine kicking in and it’s now referred to as “helper’s high.” I can attest to that feeling of wellbeing from volunteer gardening.

We also know that being around nature has a profound effect on our wellbeing. It can reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure and release muscle tension. Exposure to nature not only makes us feel better physically, it reduces fear, anger and stress. Combine all of that with a hit of dopamine and you have a dedicated (possibly addicted) volunteer gardener. That could explain why Alice Carriman (the queen of volunteer gardeners) has been doing this for over 40 years, and Barry Schneider (leader of the Lyndhurst Garden Angels) for more than 20.

We have volunteers who plant trees to reforest our troubled parks and ravines. Others who painstakingly remove invasive plants and litter. Some plant community gardens such as at the Leaside Library and turn schoolyards into pollinator corridors and teaching gardens for children, many of which, like the Lyndhurst gardens, are all thanks to the Leaside Garden Society.

I hope to bring more attention to volunteer gardeners and all of the important work they do because with climate change upon us, we need them now more than ever.
Volunteers give the gift of time – volunteer gardeners leave even more gifts behind.

Thank you!

About Debora Kuchme 17 Articles
After a 30-year career as a fashion designer, Debora worked at Horticultural Design for over a decade. Now with her concerns about climate change, she hopes to help local gardeners find positive solutions for a greener and healthier neighbourhood. As a board member of the Bayview Leaside BIA, she created the Bayview Pixies, a volunteer group introducing sustainable gardening practice to Bayview.