Every Tuesday and Thursday evening Linda McLaren drives to the Nova Scotia Hospital. She parks her car and heads to the harbour side of the building where she’s greeted by Halifax’s stunning waterfont.

“I walk to the garden and it’s just ahhhhh,” McLaren sighs. “And everybody who comes to work on their garden plots says the same thing.”

McLaren has been gardening for as long as she can remember. She jokingly refers to herself as an ‘ancient hippie’ who loves to live off the land. She spent most of her adult life as a teacher in Perth, Ontario where each summer she planted a bountiful kitchen garden. A little more than three years ago she left that all behind for Nova Scotia to be within walking distance of her granddaughters.

“Spring rolled around and I had no garden to plant,” laments McLaren. “So I started looking for community gardens, plots and found Common Roots-Woodside.”

Common Roots-Woodside is an urban farm on the grounds of the Nova Scotia Hospital that serves mental health and addictions clients as well as the local community. The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is proud to fund the project through its Community Grant program.

“Increasing financial support to community initiatives that provide hope and eradicate stigma is the heart of what we do here at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia,” says President & CEO Starr Cunningham. “We love how Common Roots integrates patients and community members to change the way people think about mental illness and addiction.”

Common Roots- Woodside uses therapeutic horticulture as a way to promote physical, mental and environmental health by making healthy food more accessible to hospital clients, staff and the broader community. It also takes pride in creating a supportive and welcoming space for everyone who lends a hand in the garden. 

“I’m still pretty lonely here,” admits McLaren. “It’s been difficult to make friends. Nova Scotians are so nice but they have their own lives. And so as a come-from-away, I’ve learned to say yes to everything. To reach out and talk to people. So I feel like I have a bit of belonging at the garden. Slowly you build community and that’s part of it.”

“Gardening, especially in a community atmosphere, can have significant mental health benefits,” says Hilary Lindsay, Common Roots Urban Farm- Woodside Coordinator. “There is a growing body of evidence that shows the key components of community gardening like growing plants, community building, being outside, being active, and eating healthy food, can contribute to positive mental health outcomes.”

Common Roots- Woodside holds a pop-up market every Thursday afternoon at the Woodside ferry terminal. There you’ll find flowers bouquets and fresh vegetables packaged and weighed by McLaren and her growing community of friends.