Garden Bloggers Fling - Day 1 (Morning)

The Garden Bloggers Fling was all about stimulating the senses – sight, smell, sound, touch and taste (those box lunches were so good!).  Originally I was going to write one post for each day, but since our schedule was jam packed with so many different destinations, I decided to break it up into morning & afternoon posts.

Most out-of-town flingers stayed at the Royal York, a historic & grand (which is really the best way to describe it) hotel in Toronto’s financial district.  Since I’m about 1 hour from the city, I opted to commute each day, either driving in or taking the GO train.

Royal York Hotel
as seen from the corner of Front & York
Each day started off at the west entrance of the hotel.  The morning of the first day, there were 3 tours scheduled.  So as not to overwhelm any one destination with a horde of over 70 bloggers all at once, our group was split up amongst 3 buses and then we alternated between the three locations, meeting up at midday for lunch.

Destination #1 – High Park Oak Savannah Restoration Project

First stop for my group was High Park, which is often referred to as the Central Park of Toronto.  High Park covers a 398 acre area just west of the downtown core.

One of the entrances to High Park

Before the European settlers arrived, Southern Ontario was primarily an oak savannah & prairie grass plain.  As we walked down the sandy paths, we were surprised to learn that the sand was indigenous to the area.  I don't normally associate soft, beachy sand with Toronto.

Sandy soils from the former Lake Iroquois,
which covered this area 13,000 years ago

Today, only 0.1% of those native landscapes remain.  When I see statistics like this, I always get that sinking in the pit of my stomach feeling.  It’s just so incredibly sad when you think of the enormity of what was lost.

I loved the architecture of this tree

High Park serves as an important stop for migratory birds and many bird species (over 50) call High Park home - this collection of birdfeeders hanging from the trees was simply wonderful:

Multiple bird feeders hang from the trees

One of the biggest battles faced by the restoration team is that of invasive species removal.  Some of the worst offenders are Norway maples, buckthorn (I'm battling this one myself) and Asian bittersweet.

A Grand Oak
This tree is in a reclaimed area but many others in the park are
threatened by the stranglehold of invasives such as Asian Bittersweet

Sheet mulching as well as controlled burns are used extensively in the Parks efforts to reintroduce & encourage the spread of native species in the area.

Wild lupine - The only native species of lupine

What can we as individuals do to help?  One of the easiest things is to avoid planting invasive species.  You may be surprised at what you will find on that list; I certainly was.  In southern Ontario, the list includes many common garden perennials that are widely available at local garden centers such as barberry, euonymus and periwinkle – all three of which grace(d) my ornamental borders.  I did get rid of the barberry before I even realized it was an invasive as it was in a bad spot and those thorns kept getting to me.  The periwinkle & euonymus are still in one of my beds & removing them is on my project list.

Our guide gave us a great little booklet entitled “Grow Me Instead”.  It’s a wonderful resource that gives practical alternatives for native or non-aggressive species to replace these invasive plants.

The "Grow Me Instead" Booklet
Wrinkled pages courtesy of the major soaking we had later that day in the Toronto Islands
The High Park Nature website has some great information on both the history of the area & the restoration efforts if you are interested in learning more.

Destination #2 – Swansea Private Gardens

Running along the western boundary of High Park is the Swansea District, one of the last villages to be amalgamated into the City of Toronto back in 1967.

Quite the backyard view
Bordering both High Park and Lake Ontario and only minutes from downtown Toronto, while still being a quiet neighbourhood dominated by mature trees & beautiful properties, it’s not surprising that this is also one of the more expensive neighbourhoods in the city with an average house price of $1.6 million.

We toured three private gardens, all within walking distance of each other.  I loved the lush and often curvy perennial borders:

Lots of hostas - one of my favourite perennials
The hilly topography of the area also added another dimension of complexity and beauty to the gardens we saw.

Ornamental planter with a lower level gazebo in the background

If you have a slope,
you naturally need a waterfall
These were the first gardens we toured and, being the newbie photographer that I am, I only realized after the fact that I had taken nowhere near enough landscape shots (vs. specific plant shots).  Lesson learned:  Don't hold back on the photos.  Well, don't hold back unless your camera battery runs out because you didn't realize that your new camera doesn't charge when it's connected to the computer (like your phone does) and then your phone, which is your backup camera, also runs out of batteries.  Thank you to all of the wonderful ladies that helped me out with this unfortunate battery fiasco when we were having lunch at Parkwood :).

And now for a bit of eye candy.  As many of you are MORE than aware, I don't know that much about ornamentals - but that doesn't stop me from appreciating them!  And if I've goofed on the identification in any of the photos, please feel free to correct me.

Ornamental allium
The unofficial Fling Flower


Brunnera macrophylla


Beautiful colour contrast between the deep purples & greens



A scattering of dramatic petunias



One of my favourite shots...I really need to get a birdbath

Destination #3 – My Luscious Backyard

Sarah Nixon is the owner of “My Luscious Backyard” (, a business in which she grows annuals and perennials (organically, of course) which are then used in arrangements for individuals and local businesses.

Sarah Nixon explaining her business
When she first started her business, however, she had a problem.  Sarah’s backyard, like most residential backyards in Toronto, was tiny…much too small to support the quantity of plants she needed.  And that is where her ingenuity kicked in.

Sarah went around to her neighbors and asked if she could use their backyards (and/or front yards) to grow flowers.  She would do all the work (soil amendment, planting, weeding, etc.) and all they had to do was sit back and enjoy the flowers…and maybe do a touch of watering during a dry spell.  Not a bad deal, especially if you are the type that appreciates a yard full of greenery and colour, but are not inclined to do any of the work that would entail.

Sarah does, of course, also grow many plants and flowers for her arrangements in her own backyard, which was packed from end to end.  To get the most out of our short season, she makes very good use of some portable season extenders:

One of these days, I may be organized enough to need a season extender
Her arrangements are just lovely – she uses many native flowers and even weeds.  Makes me look at Queen Anne's Lace in a whole new light.  Global News posted a great little 2 minute clip about Sarah and her business HERE.  It's well worth watching and gives you a much better idea of her business than I could ever describe in words.

Question & Answer Period
Her use of space was inspiring as well.  You can just make out a white structure underneath the vine covered trellis on the above photo.  That's a potting shed that she squeezed in between her house and the neighbors.  That shed sees a lot of activity come spring when it's time to start all of her plants, which she grows from seed.

To end our tour, Sarah walked us over to one of her "borrowed" front yards.  Since it was early June, this yard had only recently been planted up but I have a feeling that it would be a riot of colour right about now.

"Borrowed" front yard that was recently planted up
Whew…can you believe that we are only half way done the first day?  After speaking with Sarah, we were whisked back to High Park & met up with the rest of the group for a leisurely box lunch.  And then it was off to the Toronto Islands.

Till next time…


  1. Well that Fling sounds like an amazing event! Hopefully it has provided loads of info and inspiration for you. Being pedantic... the photo labelled "Snapdragon" is of a Foxglove / Digitalis. The birdbath you show is very similar to mine - which is a green glazed ceramic of some sort.

    1. Thanks Mark - I've corrected my mistake! Of course, that was one of the few I didn't look up because I thought I "knew" what it was. That birdbath was so lovely but I'm wondering how it would survive our cold weather extremes if it stayed outdoors during the winter.

  2. It sounds like you had an amazing adventure! It's great to meet people that share the same passion. You have inspired me to grow German chamomile next year, I've had the seed for awhile and never thought it would produce enough to dry for tea.

    1. Well, let me tell you Phuong, I've made a note to only grow 4 plants next year, if that gives you any indication of how much they grow/produce. I hadn't picked any in a while & many of the flowers were going to seed, so I gave the plants a good trim last week so that I can encourage a new flush of flowers.

  3. We have so many invasives here. And barberry that you mentioned is even worse than just being invasive. Woods with barberry have a 10 fold level of ticks that carry lime disease than the ones that have just native species. It really is a bad plant. I had some at my last house and had I known that I'd have pulled that plant so fast.

    1. Oh boy, that is bad. I just wish that nurseries and greenhouses were a bit more responsible about selling these plants. Ideally, they shouldn't sell them at all, but at the very least, they should educate the customer about what they are buying. I have always liked euonymus & even purchased & planted it in one of my old gardens. It never would have occurred to me that it was a problem.

  4. Great coverage, Margaret! This brings back so many wonderful memories of this great event.

    1. Thanks Beth! When I look through the photos I get the same feeling I had during the tours - I just want to get out there and work on my perennial borders. But my time and energy are not unlimited, so I tell myself to be will all happen in good time.

  5. What a fun and inspiring and eduational event. You've done a great job of documenting it and sharing it. I didn't realize what a tough weed Periwinkle is. It obviously survives freezing winters, and guess what, it also survives drought. I've been trying to get rid of it in my garden and it hasn't gotten any more water than what fell from the sky for the past two years (only 27 inches). Summers are completely dry here. I dig it up every time I see it and it resprouts as soon as we get some rain. Dang it's tough stuff. Looking forward to seeing more about the fling!

    1. Thanks Michelle! Ugh - I haven't tried to take the periwinkle out yet, but luckily it's contained in a narrow area between my front walkway and the house so it hasn't spread too much. Thanks for the heads up on the battle I'll be facing with that one!

  6. So glad we have YOU to show us the fling---I'm not much of a people-person, I could never attend something like that, and yet---I would certainly enjoy the lovely gardens.
    Glad you're having a great time and seeing so much (and of course taking a BUNCH of photos to share!!)

    1. Thanks Sue. I'm kinda shy around new people but a bit of a chatterbox once I get to know you, especially if we are talking about the garden! Being an only child, I'm more than happy to putter around, doing my own thing most of the time.

  7. Such variety on your first morning, It sounds like there was plenty happening to keep everyone interested. I think the private garden tour would have been my highlight of the morning, I do like looking round other people's gardens to see what they're growing and there's usually lots of little ideas that you can implement in your own garden.

    1. One of the great things about the Fling was definitely the variety - each designation was very different from the last - it was incredible. I so enjoyed the private gardens and each one had me itching to implement some changes in my own backyard. But I know I have to be patient and tackle one thing at a time. I'll get there eventually.

  8. I love garden tours and it sounds like there was something for everyone! Our place came with barberry already planted and we yanked it out ASAP, if only because of the thorns. It also has nandina, which is invasive down in the southern U.S. but I believe all ours is sterile, since it hasn't sprouted up anywhere yet.

    1. Yes, those barberry thorns are vicious - I remember wondering why on earth they planted something like that as I was pulling it out. Your lucky that your nandina is sterile - we have a huge problem with buckthorn whose berries are spread in much the same way (by birds). They literally seem to come up overnight - one minute there's nothing there, the next there's a 4' tree.

  9. I used to live not far from Swansea area when I lived in Toronto a decade or so ago ... so amazing what some of the residents do with limited space. I love the idea of borrowing space from neighbours. It is often surprising what is on the invasive species list. If I have my facts straight, milkweed used to be on the list as a no-no in these parts but seems to be allowed now due to the beneficial aspects for supporting the monarch butterfly.

    1. It's so funny you should mention that as I just read an article about the different kinds of milkweed. I've let mine grow in the garden this year, specifically for the butterflies, but it's common milkweed which is not the best choice for a perennial border due to the underground rhizomes. I'm going to leave it be for now, however, as I don't want to get rid of it until I have an adequate replacement planted up such as purple or swamp milkweed.

  10. What a great morning it was! When I got home to review my photos I too felt that I didn't take enough (and I did take a lot) but sometimes it is good just to take it all in and experience the moment and forget about the camera.

    1. Considering the hundreds of photos we take now compared to the pre-digital age, it's quite funny that we feel this way. I remember going on a weeks vacation and taking 3 rolls of film with me and thinking that was a lot!

      And you are so right about putting down the camera, Karin. Sometimes I find myself thinking exactly that, especially when I'm on family trips....just forget the camera for a while and enjoy.

  11. What a great morning! We have problems with invasive non- native plants over here too. Giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam are particularly bad plus lots of aquatics.

    Great idea to utilise other people's gardens. I Was reading recently about a veg business in the USA somewhere (can't remember exactly where) and he does the same. Then he delivers everything using his pedal bike, brilliant!

    1. Giant hogweed is so bad that is on our governments list of noxious invasives which means that it is one of the few plants that you are legally allowed to use Roundup to get rid of it. Wow, just judging by the amount of time my own garden takes, growing veg in other peoples gardens would be a lot of work. But I'm sure his clients and the homeowners sure appreciate it!


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