Vanier College is growing itself a green thumb. Actually, make that plural – more than one hand is responsible for the success of the Vanier Collective Gardens. The gardens really began to sprout around campus two years ago, and have since flourished to the point of being considered “a part of Vanier’s educational landscape and educational worth” and of gaining recognition from the city of Montreal, says Myriam Mansour, Sustainability Major Coordinater and leader of the garden project. Mansour’s enthusiasm about the future of this endeavor is contagious, especially when discussing the acknowledgement from Espace pour la vie Montréal, for the biodiversity of the gardens, the positive impact they have on the disappearing species of Monarch butterflies, and the habitat they provide for the birds of Montreal.
Due to its variety of plants, including some native to Quebec such as Common Milkweed, Golden Rod, and, of course, apple trees, the Vanier Collective Gardens have earned the title of being a “Biodiversity Garden”. The green areas are pesticide-free, containing many disease-resistant plants fertilized by natural fertilizers, and maintained in an environmentally acceptable manner. The addition of eight barrels to collect rain water has heightened the sustainable factor of the project, though volunteers are needed to control the valves that keep the water-recycling functional.
The Sports Complex flower planter in front of the main entrance of the G building, is a “Monarch Oasis” as it contains native plants that are essential to Monarchs (Milkweed), as well as other good sources of nectar.
Perhaps one of the most surprising features of the gardens, due to their urban location, is their status as a “Bird Garden”. Located near the N building, Vanier’s bird habitat, run by Environmental and Wildlife Management’s Evelyn Barten, provides a shelter for the feathered flocks of Montreal complete with food sources for all season and a shallow water source. Among other species, the space attracts Chickadees, Cardinals, and Cedar Waxwings – which have not been seen in the area before. Barten envisions the success of the bird habitat based on its popularity in the last year: “They’re coming, they’re spotting it, they’re showing up, and they’re sticking around.” Environmental and Wildlife Management’s plans are to expand the area in future semesters once official permission is granted. The team is hoping that the college will take action to make the reflective windows of the N building safer, “because right now they are authentically bird-killers” due to the mirror image of the sky they convey to birds in flight.
The Squirrel Struggle
Many aspects of the Vanier Collective Gardens are compromised by the campus’ infamous squirrels. Squirrels eat a substantial amount more than the smaller, feathered visitors of the habitat and they are literally eating away the seed budget. Barten took action against this problem, “I got what is so-called a squirrel-proof birdfeeder. They’re starting to outsmart it, but they don’t empty it.” So far, so good. Cotton-tail rabbits are also taking over the area, though their presence is more recent and less alarming.
However, squirrels don’t stop at seed. In fact, they annually wreak havoc on the vegetable gardens (near the A building entrance). In 2015, Mansour and a few determined students attempted to create a net barrier around and above the garden. The squirrels nibbled right through it – and the groundhogs were able to burrow under it. Still, during the 2015 season, vegetables including tomatoes, pepper, eggplant, green beans, kale, and Swiss chard were successfully harvested. Some of them have even been distributed at Jake’s Café. To increase productivity by reducing squirrel-related damages to the produce, a chicken-wire strategy might be adopted this year; time will tell of its efficiency.
Written By: Katherine Willcocks