It’s Our Birthday! CEP Turns 20!

TL;DR – We’ve provided thousands of fun and informative environmental education programs over the past 20 years and we hope to provide thousands more over the next 20!

A one year pilot program … turned into 20 years of garden and nature fun!

It’s our Birthday! For the past 20 years we have been honoured to share our love of nature, organic gardening and healthy cooking with children and youth from across the City. Together we have planted veggies, explored High Park and made some very tasty Double Chocolate Zucchini Cake.

As with many of the City of Toronto’s test projects, the High Park Children’s Garden started out as a one year pilot program. Back in 1997 the area just north of the Colborne Lodge Museum included a picnic shelter, parking lot and washrooms. It was quite isolated and our Museum friends around the corner were very much alone. In an effort to make the area safer and encourage people to visit the south end of the park, the City decided that a Children’s Garden with hands-on gardening programs would be the perfect solution … at least for a year.

So in the spring of 1998 holes were cut out of the asphalt in the parking lot, raised beds were made with old wood from an east end boardwalk and a fence was built and painted in what the Parks Branch considers a “classic” neon green colour. Seen from above those garden beds spelled out ABC with a few extra beds tucked in between to give us maximum growing space.

The initial design of the garden included a sand box tucked into the B surrounded by a perennial herb garden and native wildflower gardens on the hillside to reflect the naturalisation projects happening throughout High Park. In an effort to help educate students and families about composting in their own backyard, a variety of compost bins were added beside the picnic shelter helping round out the gardening program with a little compost education and lots of talks about worms! Over the next 5 years new elements were added including a Fedge, a.k.a. Food Hedge along one section of that classic neon green fence with a xeriscape bed planted in the 15.24 cm (6 inches) of soil on the opposite side. The big square bed in the middle of the C was turned into a pollinator garden to attract more butterflies, bees and beneficial wee critters.

The spring of 1998 was a busy one for nature based programs with the City of Toronto. As the High Park Children’s Garden was under construction a program was also being developed to draw attention to the new Discovery Walk Trails throughout the City. It was called the Exploring Toronto Program and its staff would take groups of students and community members on guided hikes through our parks and ravines. The aim of the program was to educate people about the diverse urban wilderness we are so lucky to enjoy here in Toronto. This nature education program proved to be quite popular and students were able to learn about the plants and animals that have adapted to life in the big city.

During the summer of 2001 the two programs officially became one and were then known as the Children’s Garden and Exploring Toronto Programs (it shows you just how dedicated to the programs we were by the simple fact we kept spelling this out for over 15 years!). This was also the summer we first offered six full weeks of Eco Camp (after having run a one week Eco Camp “Pilot Program” the previous year).

Campers participated in gardening activities, hiking and trips to Centre Island. Since that year we’ve expanded Eco Camp to run for 8 weeks during the summer and have added a Sprouts Eco Camp Program for 4 and 5 year olds and a Youth Eco Camp Program for 10 to 14 year olds.

As the years passed and our programs continued to expand, we found ourselves cooking more and more with the fruits and veggies from the Garden. Throughout the years we’ve also cooked up plenty of free harvest lunches for the High Park Harvest Festival and many of our summertime events.

In order to cook all of the yummy food we had to lug practically an entire kitchen around to different Community Centres in big Rubbermaid tubs. The one with the food processor in it was always the heaviest! After serving up all of those tasty treats back at the Children’s Garden, clean-up was also quite the challenge. Especially considering the lack of hot water onsite! This meant we had to wash thousands of dishes  in water heated over a camp stove while using three of those same Rubbermaid tubs (wash, rinse, sanitize!) as sinks.

Finally after packing and unpacking a borrowed City van for the hundredth time the decision was made to build a Children’s Teaching Kitchen. It would replace and use the same footprint as the old picnic shelter at the Garden. Now of course we are quite the environmentally friendly program so just any old kitchen wouldn’t do. We felt the need to make sure we built a kitchen that was environmentally friendly too. After many years of planning, a few false starts and a strike one summer … The straw bale Children’s Teaching Kitchen was finally born! Construction started in the fall of 2011 and our beautiful Kitchen opened the summer of 2012. The building of Kitchenland is a vast and adventurous tale which you can read all about by clicking here. It’s well worth checking out for the photos alone!

Once the Kitchen was built and our cooking programs were finally underway we knew it was time for another little change. It was then that we brought all of our programs together under the title of Children’s Eco Programs … our program name finally fit on our business cards!

Over the past 20 years our programs have continued to grow. We’ve even helped other City Community and Recreation Centres to start their own garden and nature programs. Also in addition to our original school programs and summer Eco Camps we’ve added our Watch Me Grow Family Drop-In Program, a March Break Eco Camp, Cooking with Veggies classes, Edible Cosmetics Workshops, Guide and Scout Programs and of course our Birthday Party Programs. Birthday Parties are all the rage at the Garden these days and a fun outing for the whole family!

Strolling through the High Park Children’s Garden on a sunny spring day can provide little glimpses of life poking its head out of the soil once again. Sauntering through in summer will make you hungry with all the tasty potential the harvest has to offer. Ambling about in autumn will have you marvelling at the plants hardy enough to take on a bit of frost and still keep growing. Wandering along in winter is the perfect time to dream of what to plant in the garden again next spring! A trip to High Park and the Children’s Garden is worthwhile at any time of year.

We’ve enjoyed travelling through time and sharing these fun stories of our humble beginnings and we look forward to creating new stories over the next 20 years with you! In the meantime we’ll keep all the little hands in the soil, little feet on the trail and little tummies in the kitchen!

Book Your Curriculum Based School Programs Now

Throughout the fall, winter and spring we offer a variety of curriculum based Environmental Education Programs for students from JK though Secondary School. Our programs offer hands on activities that immerse students in nature through organic gardening, hiking, and cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Hiking and cooking programs can be booked throughout the school year but Children’s Garden Programs are only available in May/June and September/October. Check out our program brochures by clicking on a link below.

Children’s Garden Programs – Organic Gardening

Exploring Toronto Programs – Hiking & Nature Education

Children’s Teaching Kitchen Programs – Cooking, Health & Nutrition


Cooking Party

It’s Our Birthday & You’re Invited – 15 Years & Counting!

“Imagine our City lead by a generation of lifelong gardeners and naturalists”
~ vision of the Children’s Eco Programs


This is your official invitation to our Birthday Party Bash! We’re throwing a fun-filled Garden Birthday Party on Sunday, June 2, 2013 from Noon to 4 pm here at the Children’s Garden in High Park and we want you there to help us celebrate! 

Click here for more information on our events flyer

It’s hard to believe we’ve been around for 15 years! It feels like just yesterday when we started our first garden program in High park and our first hike on Toronto’s Discovery Walk Trails.

In the summer of 2000 we ran our first week of Eco Camp as a pilot project. We now offer four different camps, two of which run for 8 weeks of programming throughout the summer. Plus with the addition of our Children’s Teaching Kitchen we now offer environmental education programs throughout the year.

The High Park Children’s Garden was also a one year pilot project (we seem to have a pretty good track record with these 😉 ). It was created back in the spring of 1998 in an old, rarely used parking lot. The community had safety concerns about the south end of High Park so instead of increasing the police presence in the park the City decided to try something different.

They wanted to build something that would bring the community back to the area. The City decided to add a Children’s Garden and children’s programs to the old parking lot and Picnic Shelter … I think it’s safe to say … it really worked! We now have over 5000 visitors to the Children’s Garden every year and that’s just for our programs. Many folks enjoy a walk through our Garden and kids love to run through the “maze” of the ABC garden beds.

Picnic Shelter #16

Here’s the ultimate “before” shot 🙂 It seems so bare!

Garden Parking Lot

As we said … the Garden was a pilot project. It’s almost as if they didn’t think we would be around long enough to warrant digging up all the asphalt. Each bed has a small amount of parking lot cut out underneath for drainage … this means all they had to do was pull out the beds and pave in the missing pieces if the programming didn’t work out.

Holes Dug

Even though they thought we wouldn’t last … we are very glad they left the asphalt in place! The paved surface and our raised beds make the Children’s Garden fully accessible. We love the fact that anyone can come and visit our Garden to learn about growing (and eating 🙂 ) organic fruits and veggies!

High Park Children's Garden

As the years progressed, our programming grew. We used more and more of our garden harvest for cooking programs and feeding folks during our events. This meant lots of dishes done in cold water and creative cooking set-ups.

Christine Dishwashing

Sadly that tree is no longer there … but we do have a nifty new Children’s Teaching Kitchen sign you should check out next time you stop by!

Every Little Bit Helps ... No Matter How Wet You Get!

Over the years many parents have been astounded by the willingness of their children to do dishes at the Garden (they’re often astounded by the fact they eat vegetables there too!). It must have been the novelty of the Rubbermaid bin set up we used.

Volunteers Serving Food5

For our events we would have to drag our “kitchen” around in 10 – 15 of those Rubbermaid bins back and forth to the Rec Centre we used to cook the food, to the Garden the next day to serve the food and back to our office near King and Strachan to clean everything up and store it … whew!

Double Chocolate Zucchini Cake anyone?
Double Chocolate Zucchini Cake anyone?

Not only was all this travelling back and forth a waste of time and gas, we also found that our Youth Cooking Program Participants, who helped us cook all this food, missed out on the important steps of growing and harvesting the fruits and vegetables they cooked with. It was also very time consuming for our Program Instructors and Camp Counsellors when they cooked with veggies during our school and camp programs.

Zucchini Pancakes

So in 2004 an idea came to mind … an idea to add a kitchen to the Children’s Garden site. The idea was to use the original footprint of the shelter for the building and create a healthy, environmentally sustainable space for everyone to enjoy.

Picnic Shelter #16land

After seven years of research, planning … and good old City of Toronto red-tape, our straw bale Children’s Teaching Kitchen was finally under way! Check out From Caterpillar … for the full Kitchen construction story.

Hill View Framing

With the addition of this wonderful Kitchen we now have the opportunity to show children and community members the whole growing and cooking process of our food.

Teaching KitchenWe’ve started many new cooking programs and children are learning to eat more veggies than ever before!

Prepping for Zucchini Muffins

We are so happy to be able to provide our community and the City with such great programs and we thank you for all of your support and enthusiasm over the past 15 years!

See you at the Party 😀


2012 Annual Report … It’s Amazing How Much Our Participants Do!

My how time flies when you’re having fun! It’s amazing what our participants, volunteers, staff and partners have been up to this year. If you’re interested in learning more click on our 2012 Annual Report below.

Plus don’t forget … March Break Eco Camp is happening soon. Sign up and tell a friend 🙂

2012 Annual Report

Only a Few Spaces Left for Our Winter Programs!

Cooking, hiking, crafts, leadership and adventure … just a few things happening this winter at the High Park Children’s Garden and Teaching Kitchen. Check out our full line-up of Winter Break Workshops, Children and Youth Cooking with Veggies classes and our Eco Leadership program.

Registration for our March Break Camp starts on Saturday, Dec. 8 at 7 am. It’s an action packed week of nature exploration, cooking, crafts and a garden project or two. You can register for all classes online through the City’s FUN Guide or by calling 416-338-4FUN (4386). You can also drop by your local Community or Recreation Centre and sign up.

School Programs Now Available Fall, Winter and Spring!

Have you heard the news? We now offer our great environmental and outdoor education programs throughout the fall, winter and spring. Your class can join us and learn about the amazing natural urban spaces we have here in Toronto. We offer our Garden Programs for a few more weeks and our Hiking Programs throughout the rest of the fall and winter.

All of our programs are linked to the Ontario Curriculum and provide students with hands-on activities to help them learn about and explore our natural environment.

Children’s Garden School Programs Brochure

Exploring Toronto School Programs Brochure

We’re also developing a number of programs related to our new Children’s Teaching Kitchen check back soon for more information!


Tomorrow’s Registration Cheat Sheet!

It’s that time already 🙂  Time to register for our fall programs.  We have kids and youth cooking with veggies programs plus our outstanding Eco Leader In Training course.  

Do you have a budding environmental leader in your home?  This leadership program will discuss environmental issues but also give your young leader the opportunity to develop and practice leadership, facilitation and communication skills.

Click Here for the downloadable .pdf of the course barcodes for this fall and winter.

Nobody Panic! We’re Still the Same CG and ET Programs You Know and Love!

It just gets really tiring typing out Children’s Garden and Exploring Toronto Programs every single time … In fact this little name change to Children’s Eco Programs could save us enough time throughout the year to water the garden at least two or three extra times!  😉

In fact what’s actually happened is we’ve expanded beyond our original two programs to now include a Children’s Teaching Kitchen (you may have heard of it) and Sustainable Building and Renewable Energy workshops/seminars (we’ll have to work on the title for that one!).

Children’s Eco Programs covers all of our great environmental education endeavours (sorry!) in one simple title.  For the history buffs in the crowd the story behind the extra long title is pretty simple – once upon a time there were two separate programs, one called the Children’s Garden and one called Exploring Toronto.  Alas, as often happens in a setting such as ours, funding for both programs was reduced and joining forces was the best option for saving both programs.  Thus a star was born … with a really long title!

It’s all rather exciting 🙂  Our new program title will now fit on our business cards too.  So here’s to many more years of gardening, hiking, cooking and  fun!

Here’s a quick recap of what’s up in the next few weeks here at the Children’s Garden:

  • Program Registration Starts at 7 am sharp on Saturday, Sept. 8th – We have cooking and leadership programs available this fall
  • High Park Harvest Festival, in partnership with Colborne Lodge Museum and the High Park Nature Centre, Sunday, Sept. 30 from noon to 4:30 (free harvest lunch while it lasts!)
  • Fall curriculum-linked school programs available both in the Garden and on the Trail … look for new programs in the Kitchen coming soon!