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Boulevard gardening. (2003 Feature Section--"Themes and Extremes").

Boulevard gardens--unknown little more than a decade ago--are now sprouting up in so many areas of Winnipeg that the city is looking at amending its bylaws to encourage their continued growth.

But I have a confession to make--our own boulevard garden began through neglect.

Three successive years of having a couple of yards of topsoil dropped on our boulevard grass had virtually killed all the grass there. Our garden in the front yard looked like a fantasy, the brown spot on our boulevard looked like a horror. What to do with it was a mystery.

I finally turned to my wife and said: "We either have to put sod or grass seed on it or turn it into a garden bed or our neighbours will riot. What should we do?"

Now where once there was only dirt and dead turf there are dahlia, nicotina, and lavatera bursting out while a dozen sunflowers, we figure courtesy of neighbourhood squirrels, stand tall watching people walk by on the sidewalk. It's not the way Carrie Yudai of Ethelbert Street decided to plant up her own boulevard. When Yudai decided to break ground 10 years ago, there were no boulevard gardens around. In an earlier era, some Winnipeg residents had planted potatoes to protest city councilors wanting them to tend their boulevard, but Yudai only wanted to plant beauty.

"I felt like a pioneer at the time," Yudai recalls when she decided to first put her shovel into the boulevard tuff. "Everybody who passed by asked why am I doing it? I just said I'm paying taxes and maybe the city would let me do this. I water the grass and l mow the grass and I sure wasn't going to waste water on the grass on the boulevard. I just figured it was way nicer to have a garden there."

Yudai also reasoned that backyards in the Wolseley area are typically small and what little space there is usually is taken up by garages or parking pads. "Even without the boulevard, I have more room in my front yard to plant in than my back yard," she said.

Yudai said she started slowly, taking about two years to do the bulk of the planting, but now her boulevard is full of perennials spilling out between the curb and the sidewalk. "It doesn't matter whether a person plants perennials or annuals on a boulevard, but l love perennials because I find them really rewarding and challenging and it saves you money. With annuals you have to buy them every year." The seed that Yudai planted has grown, not only on her block south of Wolseley Avenue, but on boulevards throughout the city. Some boulevard gardens now even boast paving bricks set in place by experts, birdbaths, and even arches. "I know on our street it brings all of the neighbours closer together. We trade plants and tips, but they have learned so much they don't need my tips as often as they used to," she said laughing.

Don Budinsky, manager of the city's parks and open spaces division, said the city is looking at amending the bylaw to make it easier for people to create boulevard gardens. Currently the city manages boulevards under a bylaw entitled the Boulevard Maintenance Bylaw. Budinsky said the current bylaw says people should be asking permission from the city before they rip up a boulevard, even if it's for a garden.

As well, the bylaw makes it clear "no person shall plant any tree, sapling, shrub or plant of any kind on any boulevard without first obtaining the written permission of the Commissioner of Works and Operations." The bylaw also says any trees, shrubs, saplings or plants planted on the boulevard "shall become the property of the city." Mind you, the bylaw also restricts people from riding horses on, across or along any boulevard. "We don't want to discourage people from doing what they are doing because it is beautifying the area and uniting the community," Budinsky said. "We even bring the Communities in Bloom judges to the boulevard gardens in the Wolseley area. So we need to amend the bylaw without losing the original intent of it." Budinsky said when the bylaw was last amended in 1992, it made homeowners legally responsible for boulevard maintenance, except on regional streets. "That's when homeowners became responsible to mow the turf, weed it, and look after it," he said.

"Shortly after, that's when some homeowners in the Wolseley area along Ethelbert and Garfield decided instead of turf they would plant gardens." Budinsky said the city has no problem with gardens on boulevards, as long as the homeowner/gardener realizes boulevards are there for a reason. "There's always a chance of excavations on the boulevard," he said. "If a water line breaks or another utility has to get under there, the city won't replace the garden. The city will replace it to a level turfed boulevard." Budinsky said gardeners can do what they want in the boulevards as long as they don't create a hazardous situation. "We don't want large rocks and iron rails there," Budinsky said. "Ninety-nine per cent of people are reasonable. They're not putting big boulders in there. The only thing we'd be concerned about is if a dangerous situation is created there."

You can almost feel that a shiver goes through Yudai when you discuss the possibility of a backhoe slicing through her beloved garden to get to a broken pipe underground. "So far I've been lucky--nothing has happened," she said. "All I ask is that as long as the city tells me a few hours ahead of time so I can get some plants out before they come in. After all, plants are expensive."

It seems the dead spot on our boulevard has ended up with us helping beautify not only our neighbourhood, but the city. We're even looking at planting our first perennials in the fall. Now if only we could be guaranteed that our sewage pipe lasts a few more years.

Kevin Rollason is more handy with a pen than a hoe as a reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press. He gardens with his wife in Winnipeg.
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Author:Rollason, Kevin
Publication:Prairie Garden
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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