Peggy Wong

University of Toronto, Landscape Architecture

Employee – Phoenix Perennial and Specialty Plants Ltd.

“There is a still a scar on my leg from an attempt to leap over a rose bush as a child. I had the idea that the best route to the house must be over the roses. Despite the consequences, my aunt’s garden remained a place to explore and where I felt free to test my theories. In addition to the garden, I was a Girl Guide for six years. As a result, I have always associated the outdoors with play – either camping in the woods, scavenger hunts or walking with my aunt around her garden smelling, touching and collecting flowers.

Into my undergraduate years, I studied human geography; learning about cities globally and their relationship with the physical environment. Eventually, it led me to an appreciation for the local landscapes of forests, ocean, rivers and lakes. I am now pursuing a Masters in Landscape Architecture, as it combines nature and design to create meaningful outdoor spaces.

In my first year of school, I was most drawn to spaces dominated by plants. However, with limited class time spent on horticulture, working at a nursery has been an invaluable, hands-on experience. I was surrounded by different texture, scents, form, and changing colour. I most liked being surrounded by gardeners as they were eager to teach about what they knew, but were also wanting to learn more. When asked why they began gardening, all spoke of memories being sent outside by their parents to play: releasing frogs in lakes, climbing trees, or picking handfuls of blueberries. Gardening was a natural step as it continued to spark their curiosity for the outdoors. In addition to learning about gardening, I was thinking about the ways in which being outside as a child creates and shapes a relationship with the environment.

For two years, I worked with the Boys and Girls Club in two strong inner-city communities. I worked with children who could navigate their neighbourhoods comfortably and confidently. Without adult supervision, they make use of shortcuts and preferred routes to walk to the key places in their lives. My studies provide an opportunity to design places that encourage natural, rather than imposed, exploration and independent learning. The importance of these places in urban areas is increasing as there are less children growing up with private yards and gardens. Instead, public parks and streetscapes become a collective backyard. I think it is key to understand how plants can create safe, inclusive spaces for all. The familiar sweet scent of flowers in a garden spilling onto the sidewalk engages those who walk past; creating a sense of place to the neighbourhood.

Quality outdoor spaces are universally important to all communities as a break from surrounding hardscapes and acts as a safe, gathering space. Landscape Architecture provides the opportunity to bring the power of plants and horticulture to create thriving communities for future generations.”