Society for
Organic Urban
Land Care

Case Study of the Use of Organic Land Care Practices in a City Park

Corktown Common Park

Completed in 2014, Corktown Common is a 7.3 hectare (18 acre) park in the heart of Toronto that combines the technical requirements of flood management with the design of a multi-use urban park. The site is a former industrial brownfield located west of the Don River. Today, the park is an ecologically diverse landscape that attracts people and fauna throughout the year. This award-winning park is a destination that draws from across the city and establishes a new benchmark for ecological diversity and organic land care in Toronto’s park system.

White fall aster leaning over long concrete steps, framed with wildflower plantings. There is a building at the top of the stairs.DESIGN

Built as part of the revitalization of the West Don Lands by Waterfront Toronto, Corktown Common was designed by the landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates to protect surrounding neighbourhoods from flooding and to create a high-quality public space. The park design features are rooted in sustainability and the use of natural infrastructure. The landscape design and initial planting laid the groundwork for the evolution of dense plant communities that offer a diverse range of habitats for a growing population of birds, amphibians and insects. The park was designed to work with natural systems and processes and to be cared for in a way that increases ecological services in the area.

paving stone patio with tall pavilion on left, sand play area in front, trees on both sides.


The founding principle of maximizing regionally appropriate biodiversity, and the subsequent resiliency and function of the landscape, is achieved through the implementation of organic land care standards and maintenance practices.

Corktown Common was the first park in the City of Toronto to be maintained using strictly organic horticultural practices. Specially trained Toronto Parks horticultural staff implement organic methods that are geared to the landscape’s specific habitats and uses. The organic maintenance program covers all aspects of the park except the turf and consists of several components including soil management, invasive plants management, composting, as well as the selection and placement of native plant species found in southern Ontario.

Orange monarch butterfly on fall blooming wildflowers


STAFF TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION: In the first year, the City selected maintenance staff to work at Corktown Commons based on an assessment of their expertise and knowledge. Those staff who passed an in-house organic horticultural knowledge assessment were given the opportunity to be part of the maintenance crew at Corktown. In addition, a few managers completed Gaia College’s Organic Horticulture Specialist course on-line or through an accelerated course at Humber College.

OUTSIDE EXPERTISE: For the first two years, the City of Toronto hired an external Organic Land Care Professional to provide monthly half-day training on organic horticulture practices for soil and plant health. The consultant worked with the park’s maintenance crew to carry out site inspections throughout the park to respond to any issues and determine best practices. The consultant developed lists of materials and supplies for organic horticulture and wrote monthly reports with recommendations on next steps.

GUIDELINES AND STANDARDS: The landscape design firm, together with trained staff, created a site-specific Organic Landscape Maintenance manual for Corktown Common. The manual provided an overview of organic maintenance principles and standards to manage and sustain the functioning of the diverse ecological systems within the park landscape. This manual is regularly reviewed and updated and is a valuable resource for staff.

frozen pond surrounded by tall, dry grasses and red twig dogwood. Apartment buildings in the backgroundGOING FORWARD


By designating Corktown Common Park as an organically managed park, the City of Toronto has increased its institutional knowledge and experience in using organic care practices and this experience can be applied to other parks in Toronto’s Park System

As a reconstructed brownfield site, the park has established a new benchmark for ecological diversity and services that Toronto’s urban parks can provide, even on challenging sites.

Institutions and researchers visit the park as a model park and to carry out research. The Red Bud Project, for example, studies the Red Bud tree and the habitat the species provides for pollinator species.

Corktown Commons won an ASLA award in 2016 and was recognized by Popular Science for its sustainable design and its positive and lasting impact on the community and the environment.

field of tall grasses and perennials with bike path beyond. Metal railway bridge and industrial buildings beyond.


As explained by the Horticulture Manager Michelle Reid, the City of Toronto’s Park staff are highly educated in horticulture, ecology, forestry and environmental science and therefore have an appreciation for the value of ecological landscape design and ecologically sensitive maintenance practices. However, there is a knowledge gap related to the specific methods and practices of organic horticulture. The experience of only using organic methods in Corktown Common for the past five years has been useful to build knowledge and experience in implementing organic practices at an urban park scale and how to apply organic practices in other existing parks and new park developments.

Moving forward, the intent is to distill the information of what the difference is between currently applied horticulture practices and organic practices and use this information to incorporate best practices in the City’s Horticulture Guidelines for all city parks. Each park has its own designation and considerations, but the goal is to proactively increase the use of organic practices city-wide when possible and feasible.

The City is currently developing an internal program to train staff on organic practices, recognizing that organic land care represents a cultural and aesthetic shift and changing practice takes time. It is widely recognized that using organic methods has many benefits and Corktown Common Park is an example of what Toronto Parks System could, and should, do to support ecosystem health and increase the public’s knowledge about solutions to addressing the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.



  • Identified a Park staff person whose role was to devise the systems and processes to initiate and maintain the park through organic means; this staff person had experience in expanding another pilot initiative into the park system city-wide
  • The City supported this staff member to complete Gaia College’s Master Organic Gardening Class at Humber College to become SOUL accredited
  • Initiated a process to test staff knowledge of organic practices through an internal horticulture assessment tool
  • Invited staff who passed the assessment to be part of the maintenance crew at Corktown Common Park
  • Supported key staff to take Gaia College’s Master Organic Gardening course
  • Worked with the union representing city staff to cultivate staff by-in and ensure organic land care designation was recognized


  • Engaged a certified Organic Land Care Professional from Gaia College to review the Toronto Parks organic land care assessment tool that was developed for Corktown Commons
  • Contracted a SOUL Accredited Organic Land Care Professional to provide on-site training and recommendations
  • Increased institutional capacity to implement organic maintenance principles and methods through monthly site visits through the park with staff and consultant to address issues, provide recommendations for the next month and to monitor vegetation health and maintenance processes
  • Landscape designers and Parks staff used SOUL Organic Land Care Standard as a basis to develop a site-specific Organic Landscape Maintenance manual for Corktown Common.

pale green bottlebrush shaped summersweet flower buds and shiny green leaves


The Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care (SOUL) is a non-profit Canadian organization. It was formed in response to the growing need for ecologically responsible land care practices.

The Organic Land Care Standard was first introduced by SOUL in 2003. This document was developed to address the need for a tool to support a successful transition toward sustainable land care practices by individuals, community, industry and government. Now in its 7th edition, the Standard is a reference document that defines practices appropriate for use in organic urban landscapes and includes an extensive list of allowed and prohibited substances and materials.

It is a document intended for use in the design, specification and bidding stages of a project and can be a useful reference for anyone working on developing service contracts for organically maintained landscapes.

It is also the Code of Conduct adopted by Organic Land Care professionals certified by SOUL.

This Standard was developed in consultation with many landscape professionals across the world. Like all standards it is a living document, and subject to change in the light of further experience with Organic Land Care.

The most current edition of the Standard can be found on the SOUL website at

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Check out SOUL's Organic Land Care in Your Community Guide for step-by-step recommendations for promoting the adoption of organic land care practices in your community

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