This past weekend (June 16-17, 2007) I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Toronto Botanical Garden’s (TBG) 20th annual garden tour. Through the Garden Gate: Wychwood Park & Davenport Ridge provided access to over 20 private gardens, as well as the grounds of Spadina House.
I volunteered on Saturday, and was stationed as a host at 57 Hillcrest Drive, just west of Christie and north of Davenport. The front and side garden (this corner lot used to be two addresses) are beautiful examples of sunny English borders—roses and clematis twining through the wooden fence, with peonies, spirea, rununculus, and other assorted species spilling blooms everywhere. A surprise hit with visitors was an annual penstemon from the President’s Choice cut flower collection (yes, from Loblaws). Also eliciting cries of “what’s that?” where two specimens of Sambucus (cutleaf elder) that resemble a lime-coloured Japanese maple, a variegated Japanese maple (that resembled a variegated dogwood), and the largest goatsbeard anyone had ever seen. Also not to be missed was a stunning container planting by the front door—a Boston fern was surrounded by a ring of dark Alocasia, followed by a layer of white fibrous begonias, finished off with loads of ivy spilling over the planter.
The back garden was quite a different story from the front—it was a shaded contemporary retreat that looked like it stepped from the pages of House and Home or Canadian Style at Home. Honey locusts provided an overhead canopy (with a large variety of mature trees blocking neighbouring views). A large concrete patio area held a set of dark brown wicker-like outdoor furniture. Almost all of the ground level planting consisted of 6” of mulch topped by a creeping/low euonymus. The homeowner shared that she had created this garden retreat because of her dog—in the previous garden (presumably, a more traditional one matching the front and side yard) her puppy constantly tracked mud into the house and his galloping (he’s not a small dog) damaged the plants. With the euonymus as a groundcover there is no mud and the dog can’t really do any damage.
Interestingly, garden visitors were impressed with the rare specimens and excellent cultivation of the sunny English garden, but it was the contemporary back garden space that caused them to say “wow!”. I’m not sure if it was because one felt like one was walking into the pages of a design magazine, or if this truly is the most pleasing aesthetic. As a voracious plant collector I know I will never have a space like the back garden (I just can’t get excited about a monoculture), so I think I’ll strive to borrow the best ideas from the front garden.
Plans are no doubt already underway for 2008’s TBG garden tour. Watch for details next spring.