[Beyond the Garden Gate]

A Green New World

Looking to the Champions of the Great Outdoors

Residents of any big city can enjoy the many perks that come with urban life. We in the country, however, have one giant perk: lots of green space. And during the current COVID-19 pandemic, with the rules about public parks in flux and private gardens an exclusive luxury, it’s difficult to envy our city peers.

Our outdoor privilege is something we absolutely don’t take for granted in Prince Edward County. We farm it, we hold events on it, we build our businesses around it, we build snow forts and sandcastles out of it, we hike it, we fish it, we dive into it, we dry stack it – and sometimes we lay it down all over Picton’s Main Street and celebrate the heck out of it.

COME ALIVE OUTSIDE: TURNING MAIN STREETS INTO GREEN STREETS

Every July 1st, County residents flock to Picton’s downtown to celebrate Canada Day. And every year for the last ten, they’ve arrived to see the entire street transformed into a giant manicured field. The normally busy roadway suddenly becomes a park, dotted with stalls selling local wares, squealing kids running through sprinklers, and elderly couples strolling down the middle of what was, just the day before, the main drag.

The community enjoyed a gorgeous view and a chance to be out in the sunshine making memories with friends, families and neighbours – but what lay growing beneath their feet were really the seeds of a new movement. The Green Street Challenge, an initiative that’s responsible for creating temporary green spaces in cities and towns all over North America, is sponsored by Come Alive Outside, an international program promoting environmental awareness and action.

It all started in Picton. “Ten years ago, we were founding members of the Come Alive Outside program,” says Scott Wentworth, owner of Wentworth Landscapes, the local firm responsible for creating the green miracle on Main Street. It was a time when people were becoming more conscious of health issues related to sedentary lifestyles, especially amongst children. Scott had read a scientific report stating that for the first time in 200 years, a generation of children was expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents – by perhaps as much as five years.

Scott and his co-workers were deeply moved by the statistics. “This report galvanized our team’s purpose to work towards developing outdoor living spaces that would help our clients and communities live a healthy life outside,” he explains. Since then, the Green Street Challenge has been hosted by dozens of communities in Canada and the US. Today, Scott chairs Come Alive Outside Canada and sits as the vice-chair of the US program, while green street pop-ups cover 65,000 square feet across North America each year – a triumph and joy for concrete cores and small towns alike.

CHAMPIONS OF THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Scott and Yolande Wentworth were promoters of outdoor life for years before they found their way to Prince Edward County in 1987. Scott, a landscape architect, specialized in residential gardens, municipal parks, and commercial landscape developments; and in 1991 Wentworth Landscapes was officially formed in Picton.

The company evolved naturally, building a reputation for conscientious craftsmanship and creative garden design, with a team of over a hundred employees working together to create comprehensive outdoor spaces. The principles of team and community were embedded in their philosophy from day one. “We’ve always had a strong sense of giving back to the communities we serve,” says Scott Wentworth, “and we’ve always seen our team as being stewards for community health and wellness, through the lens of enhancing bio-diversity and environmental sustainability.”

As our cravings for togetherness grow, the prospects offered by open air spaces become more interesting, and the attractive glow over our green rural regions becomes brighter still.

The partnership with Come Alive Outside was a natural extension of this philosophy, but Wentworth’s investment in the “get outside” promise didn’t stop at laying sod over main streets. “We are both a residential and commercial firm, so we do a lot of municipal parks geared to different age groups,” adds Paige Parker, Wentworth’s media and communications planner. The main design objective is to encourage kids to get engaged in outdoor spaces and use their imaginations.

Wentworth also served as the official landscape architects for the Highway of Heroes, designing the feature planted areas and creating planting guidelines for 117,000 trees along the highway – a tree for every Canadian who has died in military service since confederation.

NEW CHALLENGES IN A POST-COVID WORLD

This year, the possibility of celebrating Canada Day on a green Main Street in Picton has vanished. Scott makes an observation, however: “This period of isolation as a result of COVID-19 has reflected social interest in the five core principles of Come Alive Outside.”

Indeed, the association’s tenets advocate for more than simply making physically and mentally healthy decisions – they counteract our heightened reliance on technology and inclination to over-cocoon. Their website now has guidelines for adapting these tenets to our current reality, encouraging online visitors to take on the “5×5 Challenge” – get active outside; grow something you can eat; learn with your hands in the soil; connect with nature; and, equally important, play unplugged.

As our cravings for togetherness grow, the prospects offered by open air spaces become more interesting, and the attractive glow over our green rural regions becomes brighter still. In the past decade, the partnership between Come Alive Outside and Wentworth Landscapes has gone from advocating for the benefits of the outdoors to potentially establishing the founding principles for our approach to the new green world, casting the outdoors as an ideal setting for personal and social evolution.

Scott begins a lot of his Come Alive Outside presentations by asking people to recall their favourite childhood memories. “Almost without exception,” he shares, “it relates to them doing something outside, usually with family and friends.” There’s a great probability that our world will look very different going forward, but the spirit of Wentworth’s philosophy remains strong: the more you’re connected with the outdoors, the more you’re inclined to protect it, and the better you’ll thrive within it.

Story by:
Lonelle Selbo