The quads and gardens at U of T are a welcoming respite from the hectic atmosphere of downtown Toronto. The most prominent of these is the University College Quadruple, featured on nearly all U of T publicity brochures, with its Romanesque design emphasizing the prestige and historical significance of the campus. Meanwhile, secluded havens like the Trinity College quadrangle pay homage to Gothic architecture, with intricate medieval crosses carved into the ground, and offer a great escape from the towering skyscrapers and bustling city life of the city. UTSG.
Given the sprawling gardens and unique horticulture throughout UTSG, I will admit that the gardens at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), located in six large planters in front of the building, were more a little disappointing at first glance. However, on closer inspection, one can appreciate OISE’s attempt to condense the qualities of the great gardens and bring them out of their enclosures into the busy streets around campus.
The design of the gardens six years ago came at the request of students and faculty, as a way to inspire a sense of environmental responsibility through gardening. Each concrete platform houses a unique arrangement of flora and fauna. By their composition and form, each display represents one of the main tenants of the OISE mission statement.
The Indigenous Education Garden encompasses the teachings of the Mississauga and Onkwehonwe peoples, featuring plants used for traditional and medicinal purposes in the traditions of these nations. Thus, the stories of these gardens begin with the story of the original communities that lived on this land.
The equity education garden has an extensive collection of plants spanning North America, honoring the diversity that resides within the walls of the U of T. As this garden branches out to highlight these differences, the holistic garden brings them together, emphasizing the unity and harmony of the countless cultures and traditions present at UTSG.
Blooming floral creativity in the education garden represents the innovation and artistry housed at OISE, which continue to push the boundaries of research. This leads to the final platform – the environmental and sustainability education garden. This garden looks to the future of sustainability, displaying an eco-friendly arrangement of local plant life and low maintenance without sacrificing aesthetics, creating a visually stunning ceiling for the garden series.
The play between composition and form makes it possible to weave a narrative for each platform. We can best visualize this in the contrast between Holistic and Creativity in Education gardens.
In the Holistic Education Garden, plant species are arranged in nearly concentric circles centered around a black chokeberry bush. Although the shrub is the tallest structure, it is not overbearing – rather it complements the ring of black-eyed susans, wild bergamot and goldenrod that surround it. Virginia mountain mint blooms in front, its white petals complementing the lemon balm, marigold and adjacent hyacinths. Here, the arrangement achieves balance without forced symmetry. The composition allows each element to shine without imposing on the others.
The aptly titled Creativity in Education Garden highlights how creativity pushes the boundaries of garden design – in this case, literally, as the arrangement is filled with wildflowers and shrubbery that almost seem to burst from its concrete enclosure. . Unlike the more organized arrangement of the holistic garden, here the flora is scattered all over the concrete platform. The middle is filled to the brim with purple echinacea, Jerusalem artichoke, and wild bergamot, while the perimeter is covered with an even wider variety of brightly colored chives, red columbines, milkweed, and more. In this arrangement, the purple flowers immediately catch the eye, popping out of the greenery and adding a bright contrast.
The space is evenly distributed between the species present, generating a feeling of harmony and balance. The vibrancy of the colors inspires creativity in itself, but the role of these flowers as pollinators also invites wildlife to enjoy the garden, adding an extra dimension of movement, as bees and butterflies dance around the flora, breathing new life.
Nature and equity
According to OISE, the Indigenous Education Garden is built to honor the Seven Grandfather Teachings that fundamentally embody the common morals and cultures of Indigenous peoples; Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility and Truth. The heart of the garden is an oriental white cedar which symbolizes the ability to overcome adversity. This is a universal concept and applicable to the incredibly diverse population of garden visitors, allowing for a point of consensus.
Sage and wild columbine attract pollinators to the garden and demonstrate the interconnectedness of the natural world, including the union of people from all walks of life coming together to learn, grow and thrive in one space. The milkweed is a symbol of Indigenous knowledge, a reminder to those who walk through the garden that they have much to learn from the people who have historically lived on these lands. The color of this garden is a balance between the greens of sweetgrass, the light pink of milkweed and the vivid tones of wild columbine.
The environmental and sustainability education garden evokes a joyful aura. Giant and semi-dwarf sunflowers offer a bright yellow color against leafy greens that captures all passers-by and welcomes them to the garden. They reflect the development that an individual derives from education.
Pink and purple tones complete this color balance by attracting butterflies; Pale purple echinacea, milkweed, and wild bergamot symbolize healthy immunity, durability, and all-purpose medicine, respectively. The garden looks young and fresh, and the plants are very self-sufficient, paying homage to sustainability and a commitment to a healthy environment.
If you guess a Equity Education Garden would house a wide variety of plants that represent the beautiful unification of contrasting elements, you would be right. Five unique species coexist sporadically in this garden bed, providing a visually appealing balance of colors, shapes, and sizes. Some plants have medicinal uses, some metaphorically represent characteristics of diversity, while others attract pollinators; thus, demonstrating the power of individual entities with different purposes coming together to execute a variety of purposes.
If you have the chance, get out of the OISE and take a moment to think about the parallels between what each of the plants has to offer and what you gain from the space you’re learning in. The garden just might inspire new ideas on how you can give back and help sustain our earth.