Shrubbing It Up in the City!

As part of the Toronto Community Housing (TCH) Planting and Stewardship Initiative, funded in part by the City of Toronto through an Urban Forestry Grant, Janice Lam, LEAF Program Assistant, and I delivered 247 native shrubs to 15 TCH properties in late September. Before these fun-filled delivery days, we hosted a virtual shrub care training session for TCH tenants. The tenants, both new and seasoned urban forest stewards, will be helping native woody plants survive and thrive on TCH properties!


First day of delivery. Janice and I were ready to bring these native shrubs to their new homes


Since 2018, LEAF has been working with the incredible TCH staff and tenants to sprinkle suitable areas on TCH properties with some leafiness. Funded in part by the City of Toronto’s Urban Forestry Grant, this project aims to improve the urban forest on TCH sites, not only by planting trees on properties but also distributing native shrubs to TCH tenants. Native shrubs are the perfect way to green the community in smaller spaces, such as along fence lines of community gardens and garden beds alongside buildings.

After careful consultation with TCH  landscape design, four shrub species were made available for tenants to request from LEAF for free: bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) and St. John’s wort (Hypericum prolificum). These species were specifically chosen because they are low-growing, which prevents any future sightline obstructions, and are hardy, allowing them to flourish in a variety of growing conditions.

Len Mirander happily sitting in the middle of his shrub order. Len ordered a total of 18 shrubs to plant and care for around the property


Before receiving their shrubs, tenants attended a training session hosted by LEAF on planting and caring for their shrubs since a condition to receiving shrubs was to commit to planting and caring for them.  Previously, this training had been done in person, giving participants a more hands-on experience. However, given COVID-19 guidelines, we decided that a virtual session would be much safer. We were delighted to see that the tenants adjusted very well to online training!

Janice and I touched on several topics during the session, including the unique properties and beauty of the four species available and the importance of planting native shrubs, especially in the city where green space is limited and where there is lower native plant diversity. We also covered proper watering and mulching techniques. However, most importantly, we emphasized the significant role of the TCH tenants in helping these native shrubs flourish and live their best lives in their new home.
Kathleen Doobay receiving a total of 26 shrubs, including bush honeysuckle, common snowberry, lowbush blueberry and St. John’s wort

As one of the instructors of this session, I was blown away! I could tell how seriously the tenants took their new responsibility. I was even more excited about the upcoming delivery days because I knew these shrubs would be in good hands!

Finally, the delivery week rolled around. Janice and I were, fortunately, welcomed with warm and sunny weather. Each morning, we loaded up the van with the orders and set out to begin our journey. And, what a joyous experience it was! With social distancing measures in place and masks securely on our faces, we had the chance to connect with the tenants in person.

Richard Dean with a lowbush blueberry and St. John’s wort in hand and surrounded by bush honeysuckle, common snowberry and St. John’s wort

Through our masks, we engaged in muffled conversations with the staff and tenants on a variety of topics. Our discussions included their previous experiences tending gardens, their plans for the new woody plants, and how excited they were to get started and add a greener colour palette to the area. Our conversations confirmed something that I already knew: we are incredibly fortunate to have these tenants on board with this initiative!


Lianna Lopez is a Program Assistant at LEAF.


The TCH Planting and Stewardship Initiative is funded in part by the City of Toronto's Urban Forestry Grant and supported by Toronto Community Housing.