07/16/2013 20:42 EDT | Updated 09/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Montreal gardens bring paradise to downtown pavement

An urban gardening project is bringing more colour to the city of Montreal through six mini-gardens bordering downtown parking lots.

The gardens are filled with a range of plants including raspberries, herbs, tomatoes and grapes.

"A few years ago … it was weeds and trash and so on. Instead of just cleaning it, like we do in other places downtown, we decided to put greens," said André Poulin, the head of the downtown merchant’s association, Destination Centreville.

Poulin, who spearheaded the project, said the mini-gardens help improve the city and its appeal.

"It puts a smile on everyone's face,” he said. “It's good for our image."

The project was started three years ago with simple floral gardens. After a year of trial and error, Poulin said he had the idea to try out fruits and vegetables.

Gardening project helps homeless

The project also aims to encourage a sense of community by employing individuals from a range of backgrounds.

"We have ex-cons, we have a lot guys from homeless shelters, we have kids, and actually about a third of our guys are new Canadians," said Phillippe Lavigne, project manager for Destination Centreville.

Lavigne, who lived on the streets for four years, said the job helps instill confidence in people who are not accustomed to regular work.

"A lot of merchants have seen a lot of my guys panhandling for years in front of their store. Now they see them working. So that changes attitudes as well," Lavigne said.

Poulin invites everyone to take advantage of the free fresh food. He said more and more people are picking fresh herbs and snacking on the fresh raspberries as they walk by.

Everything grown in the gardens is pesticide and herbicide free, although Poulin said it's important to wash anything from the gardens in order to remove dust and pollutants.