London's Indigenous medicine and teaching garden opens

London's South Branch Park is now home to the city's first Indigenous community teaching garden at a park. The garden, located near the Hamilton Road and Trafalgar Street intersection, opened earlier this month after a special ground blessing and medicine planting ceremony.

The garden, also known as Mushkeeki Gitigan, is a place to grow traditional plants with healing properties

Russell Green stands at the gate to the new Indigenous medicine and teaching garden at South Branch Park in London. (Ashley Wiseman)

London's South Branch Park is now home to the city's first Indigenous medicine and teaching garden located at a park.

The garden, located near the Hamilton Road and Trafalgar Street intersection, opened earlier in May after a special ground blessing and medicine planting ceremony.

"The thought came to me as I was walking through the area," said Russell Green, garden creator and president of the Thames Bluewater Metis Council. 

"I could smell sweet grass, which is something that's very important to the Indigenous community. Normally I'd only be able to get it by travelling to Walpole Island, but that's quite a distance away." 
The new garden, also known as Mushkeeki Gitigan, is the third urban agriculture project to be implemented at London's South Branch Park. (Ashley Wiseman)

In addition to sweet grass, the garden features tobacco, sage and cedar, as well as strawberries, corn, beans and squash.

The plot is also known as Mushkeeki Gitigan, which means medicine garden in Ojibway, and has been built next to an existing community garden and the neighbourhood's Carolinian food forest.

Russell Green stands at the information sign near the entrance to the newly opened garden. (Ashley Wiseman)

Green said he hopes the garden will become a safe space for members of the Indigenous community to grow some of their traditional plant medicines, as well as a place for people from other walks of life to learn about Indigenous cultures.

The planting of seeds is metaphorical for a growing relationship between communities.- Russell Green

"The purpose was also to show people that Indigenous culture is heavily present within the Hamilton road area."

Anyone is welcome to get their hands dirty, though, as half the garden's planting boxes are still available. 

A small medicine plant grows in one of the planter boxes at the new Indigenous community garden. (Ashley Wiseman)

The garden is wheelchair accessible, the hope being Green said, that elders will bring the younger generations to learn about traditional plants and their healing properties. 

But Green's favourite part? The atmosphere.

"You can feel a bit of energy — positive energy — here. When you sit back here, for a moment you forget you're in the city because it's so nestled in this forest area," Green said.

Additional grants needed

The garden was built using a $5,000 one-time SPARKS program grant. The Atlohsa Native Family Healing Services contributed $500, and the Crouch Resource Centre added another $1,000. 

When you sit back here, for a moment you forget you're in the city.- Russell Green

But additional grants will be needed for the garden, which took 19 months to bring to life, if it's going to be used to its full potential, Green said.

He'd like to secure funding to offer teaching sessions, such as drum, moccasin and medicine wheel making, as well as dot art, beading and Indigenous language lessons within the garden setting. 

A sign near the entrance to the garden explains what type of medicine plants can be found growing inside. (Ashley Wiseman)

How to get to the Mushkeeki Gitigan​

The new garden is located at the end of Dillabough Street in south London, off the pedestrian path by the community garden.

Planting space can be booked through the Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre. 

"All in all, it was a community effort ... I'm grateful it's come together the way it has," Green said.