What happens when you combine a healthy bank account, a social conscience, and a bunch of people who love gardening? You get the Crown Point Garden Club Heart Award—a bursary for students of horticulture in Hamilton. A service organization in the east Hamilton neighbourhood of Crown Point, the garden club came together in 2014 with a community-focused mandate. “We’re activists with a gardening problem” quips founding member Bev Wagar. In that spirit, surplus from the club’s successful annual “Garden Day” event was dedicated to the cause.
The club set up a Bursary Committee and Chair Jordan Sullivan researched local horticulture and landscaping programs. He discovered “City School” by Mohawk College and its unique approach to education. City School actively recruited students through employment agencies, finding people who would not qualify for a conventional college program but who still were looking for skills. The school offers a range of courses, free of charge, at mobile classrooms located throughout the city. Subjects include Manufacturing, Ship Building, Early Childhood Education, Personal Support Worker—and Start: Horticulture. It was just what the club was looking for. Gardening could help a person find a vocation.
City School’s “Start: Horticulture” program is ultra-condensed. Instructor Sean James presents a full curriculum of theory and practice that gets students employment-ready in less than a year. Sean, a Milton-based designer, landscaper, educator, and advocate for ecologically-informed gardening, expected to work with three classes per year.
As Jordan worked out the details with instructor Sean and staff from the Mohawk College Foundation, it became clear that, for an aspiring landscaper, academic excellence would not be the most meaningful criteria. So the Crown Point Garden Club’s bursary became the “Heart Award.” The eligible horticulture students were all unemployed and keen on learning a trade. Awarding tools instead of money was a way to get one of them started on their career…and the recipient would be chosen by the instructor, based on class contribution and involvement.
But COVID-19 had other plans, abruptly shutting down not only the mobile classroom but all outdoor classes and trips. Despite the challenges of social distancing and the sudden dependence on Internet technology, the first class graduated in August 2020.
Sean credits student Natalie Page with pulling the class together during the crisis. Said Sean: “Natalie Page, from our first cohort, has been amazing throughout… Natalie went above and beyond the call, scholastically, but more importantly, with supporting and networking the entire group.” Natalie had set up a Facebook page for the class where ideas, observation and support could be shared. Her online involvement “took the whole class to the next level” according to Sean. Natalie became the first recipient of the Crown Point Garden Club’s Heart Award.
Natalie recalls being devastated when the pandemic put an end to their field work outdoors. She found a way to “practice” at home by expanding and building new garden beds—which had the added benefit of hooking her husband on the joys of growing food. For her final project Natalie designed a garden for a cottage that her husband and father-in-law are building.
Natalie’s bursary was a pair of must-have tools for every aspiring landscaper: Felco secateurs and a quality pruning saw. They will come in handy next year when she and her husband buy property “up north”. Their goal is to start a business teaching about permaculture gardening to help people with food security, to sell their excess produce and preserves, and to both use and promote sustainable energy options.
The Crown Point Garden Club would like to continue presenting Heart Awards, one for each graduating class of City School’s Start: Horticulture program. Arranging an annual donation with the Mohawk College Foundation should simplify the process going forward. The club also hopes to provide learning and mentorship opportunities. “We always welcome volunteers at the public gardens we maintain” says Bev Wagar. “It’s a great way for horticulture students to learn about uncommon plants and challenging sites.”
Looking back, Jordan Sullivan thinks the bursary project turned out “better than we envisioned. We ventured out of the neighbourhood with the Heart Award. The journey’s been bumpy, but very worthwhile.”