Greening the Balconies and Backyards of Montréal

Emilie Wilson interviews David Symon from Installation Vivante about urban gardens and starting a company as a student.

Finding a job straight out of University is often a major source of stress for students, but there are some who choose to create their own careers. David Symon and Oskar Newsam founded Marché Vivant in the spring of 2013 and it has since evolved into Installation Vivante. They have dedicated themselves to making personal vegetable gardens more mainstream and easily accessible in Montréal.

There are many widely known benefits to keeping your own garden having an affordable supply of fresh vegetables, the exponentially greater nutrition levels in fresh food and trusting your food source. Ideally, everyone would have the ability to eat and grow local, organic fruits and veggies, although it often seems impossible to the average city dweller due to a lack of space or time.

Balcony Garden
“Balcony Garden” Image courtesy of David Symon at

Installation Vivante has been making gardening accessible to anyone with a little bit of green space, planting gardens in small backyards, balconies and window boxes.

Clients can also choose to plant more elaborate gardens that host fruit-bearing trees, such as mulberry, cherry and apple.

Not only does planting your own food keep things cheap and convenient, but it’s a big step towards leading a more sustainable life. When you buy fruit and veggies from an industrial farm, it’s difficult to find a truly sustainable option. I often find myself choosing between organic or local, and I shouldn’t have to make that choice.

Even if there is a local and organic option, there are many other factors to consider that are not advertised by the market. What fertilizers does the farm use? What water systems could those fertilizers seep in to? What are their irrigation practices?

By helping people keep their own gardens, Installation Vivante is promoting not only local, organic food production, but sustainable water use as well. Their window box gardens are self-watering, which is a water saver as well as a time saver. The boxes only need to be re-filled once a week.

The self-watering boxes work by having water directed straight to the roots, as opposed to being sprayed on top of the soil and percolating down. This prevents water from being lost to surface runoff or evaporation.

As young as their company is, they already completed about two dozen jobs last summer. Each project takes a day or two to complete, starting early in the morning and working through the day. However, their success has not come without a few challenges and a lot of hard work.

“Our biggest challenge has been working with other people, like having employees who are twice our age and way more experienced,” Symon explains. “It’s been challenging to get things done in a respectful manner for everyone.”

They have also been working on how to be taken seriously in the professional world as “kids” in their early twenties. “Being able to prove ourselves has been a big challenge, which we’ve met successfully.”

As a student, David has some advice for other students who are thinking of starting their own business. “Work really hard, be prepared not to eat much, be prepared not to sleep much. The biggest key is to love every aspect of what you do. Find ways to integrate your personality and what you love into your business.”

When asked where they want to be in five years, Symon replied that he wants multiple crews doing custom projects around Montréal and products that people can buy and install themselves (such as the self-watering boxes).

Living Wall
“Living Wall” Image courtesy of David Symon at

For those wanting to start their own garden, Symon has some tips for plant care. “Be aware that plants are a lot more sensitive than people give them credit for.… If you put good energy into them, they’ll do better. They’re like pets.” He also advised playing music, such as classical and smooth jazz, to gardens to improve their productivity.

When asked his opinion on gardeners talking to their plants, he said he encouraged it, though it might be best to not let it get out of hand!

To learn more about Installation Vivante, visit their website and Facebook page:

Emilie is a University of Waterloo student studying Environment and Resource Studies and Biology, and the Editor of The Green Student.

Emilie Wilson

Emilie is a University of Waterloo student studying Environment and Resource Studies and Biology, and the previous Editor of The Green Student.

  • David Symon

    thanks Emilie !