Dustin Bajer, Cultivate McCauley Community Garden Crawl

Cultivate McCauley

McCauley is Edmonton’s Gardening Community

In the Fall of 2014, I found myself looking at a house off Church Street in the inner-city neighbourhood of Edmonton McCauley. I was familiar with the community due to frequent visits to the Italian Centre Shop and Coffee Shop Cafe, Zocalo. I was also familiar with the area’s reputation for being rough around the edges.

I’d visited the prospective house, a 1910 fixer-upper that had lost much of its historic charm to cosmetic renovations over the years, a few times and was close to putting in an offer. But before doing so, I decided to knock on the doors of my potential neighbour to introduce myself. At the first door, Naomi Pahl answered and, within minutes, was giving me a tour of her flowers, vegetables and fruit trees. By the time I got home, Naomi had emailed me a list of her fruit trees to reference for cross-pollination. I put in an offer and moved in a month later.

Dustin Bajer, Cultivate McCauley, Edmonton Front Yards in Bloom, McCauley, Natural Yards
My neighbour’s front yard. 2019 Front Yards in Bloom, Natural Frontward Category, 3rd Place

The gardens in McCauley are as diverse as their gardeners. Looking around, I saw gardens everywhere. Apples, pears, plums and cherries dot back and front yards. Long-skinny beans grow up long-skinny poles. A rare blackberry shrub brambles up a white stucco wall and a front yard overflows with roses. A 50-year-old grapevine of unknown variety spills into the alley. I’m not sure I hadn’t noticed it sooner, but McCauley’s spirit of cultivation is thriving.

McCauley’s Gardens are Reflections of its Residence

Like gardeners, no two gardens are alike, and McCauley, one of Edmonton’s oldest neighbourhoods, is ethnically and economically diverse and exceptionally abundant. Located at the intersection of Chinatown and Little Italy, there’s a deep horticultural history from heritage goji to grapes. I’ve seen plant varieties in McCauley that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the City.

Where else in the City can you find such a deep history and culture of gardening? What other community has multiple community gardens and an orchard? I believe that McCauley has something special that’s worth growing and sharing. I think that McCauley is Edmonton’s Gardening Community.

Dustin Bajer, Cultivate McCauley, Pumpkins Growing Up a Trellis
A pumpkin patch growing on a trellis in a MaCauley backyard

Cultivate McCauley

While there are a lot of fabulous gardens in McCauley, a group of passionate residents believe there are opportunities to expand upon, stitch together, and share what’s happening in our neighbourhood. How might an often marginalized McCauley capitalize on its rich horticultural history? Here are a few initiatives that we’ve pursued over the years.

Cultivate McCauley Garden Workshops

Years before moving to McCauley, I attended a permaculture workshop in the neighbourhood by then-resident and Urban Farmer Ron Berezan. The workshop was held in Ron’s yard, but for part of the day, we walked down the street for a grafting lesson from an elderly Italian neighbour.

Gardening is a lifelong passion that includes a diverse set of skills. While one gardener might be an expert in fruit trees, another might grow perfect tomatoes or beautiful roses. With so many skills to learn, there are plenty of opportunities to offer formal and informal workshops throughout the growing season.

Cultivate McCauley Garden Crawls & Social Events

I kept hearing that residents wanted to tour each other’s gardens, so in 2018, I started hosting monthly garden crawls. Half learning opportunity and half social event, a garden crawl was a great way to meet neighbourhood gardeners, explore the community, and get encounter ideas.

Dustin Bajer, Cultivate McCauley Community Garden Crawl
Cultivate McCauley garden crawl. Residents checking out Joseph’s yard.

Plant Exchanges and Seed Swaps

During one of these garden crawls, I was given a piece of Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) that I translated into my front yard. Dividing perennials and collecting seeds is a cost-effective way to grow plants and share in the bounty. Neighbourhood plant exchanges offer opportunities to meet other gardeners, access various unique plants at low (or no) cost, and beautify the community.