Hillside Swansea gardens: Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling

For 8 years I’ve been fortunate to attend the annual Garden Bloggers Fling, a 3-day international garden blogger meet-up and city-wide garden tour, organized each year by volunteer bloggers from the host city. This year, in early June, Toronto’s garden bloggers hosted the Fling, led by sisters Helen and Sarah Battersby (Toronto Gardens), Lorraine Flanigan (City Gardening), and Veronica Sliva (A Gardener’s World).

I’ll show you my favorites in a series of posts, starting with a trio of gardens in the hilly Swansea neighborhood, which overlooks High Park‘s scenic Grenadier Pond.

Garden #1


A stone house seemingly straight out of a fairy tale stands high in Garden #1, with a whimsical wrought-iron railing created by artist Wojtek Biczysko, a friend of the owners.


The small gravel entry garden contains a seating area and this glorious red Japanese maple. But the big reveal comes in the back garden.


As you enter, you realize you’re standing atop a steep hillside overlooking the pond. A stone terrace off the back of the house is bounded by more creative metalwork by Biczysko, who was actually on hand to answer any questions we had.


The railing resembles living reeds, referencing the pond below.


To the right of the terrace, a gravel patio edged with sculptural tree trunks holds a small fire pit and a kinetic sculpture — also by Biczysko, I think — made of long, crinkled metal strips.


It makes a sort of scrim amid the trees.


Behind the terrace, the garden plunges down a steep hillside terraced with a quarry’s worth of stone. A narrow stair winds its way down.


Lush vegetation fills all the planting crevices. Imagine the challenge of gardening in these steep spaces!


About halfway down, a flagstone path leads along a level stretch with terraced beds on one side and glimpses of the pond on the other.


Another work of Biczysko’s hangs from a tree here: upside-down metal flowers (I believe he said they were lotuses) strung individually for screen-like effect.


The path leads down to the pond, where a second fire pit awaits.


The fire pit, with Adirondacks and rustic stump seating. This space felt Swedish to me, or at least how I imagine a summer place in Sweden to be.


My eye was drawn, however, to a metal sculpture of a leafy pattern colored in with brilliant cobalt. Gail of Clay and Limestone takes a closer look.


That’s when we realized that the metal panel with leaf cutouts is simply backed with painted plywood to add that pop of color.


I’m totally going to try something like this in my garden. You could even change out the background color to suit the season or your mood.

Garden #2


The next garden along the street was this Tudor tucked behind a richly planted front garden.


A pot of nasturtiums picks up the red of a Japanese maple by the door.


Amid a shade garden of golden yews and hostas, a painted metal bird adds a whimsical note.


Following a side path through the front garden, you reach a wooden screen and wrought-iron gate offering peek-a-boo views into the back garden. A dining patio shaded by a yellow umbrella…


…is framed by a small lawn and lush, leafy garden.


Pat Webster of Site & Insight was working the scene too. Pat is a Quebec blogger, first-time Flinger, and talented photographer. Check out her blog for beautiful pictures and thoughtful writing about artful design.


Below the lawn, a sunken, circular stone patio overlooks Grenadier Pond. That’s Andrea of Grow Where You’re Planted on the left and Laurin and Shawn of Ravenscourt Gardens on the right, fellow Texans all. I’m afraid I can’t recall who the man in the yellow shirt is. The man in the yellow shirt is the garden’s designer, Steven Aikenhead. (Thanks for the info, Helen.)


Colorful geraniums (Pelargonium) brighten the edge of the patio.


Looking outward, here is the lovely view. A gazebo at the lower level makes an appealing destination.


Wooden wind chimes hang from a tree.


The stacked stone steps into the lower garden are beautifully crafted, twisting and turning down the steep hillside.


The gazebo offers a shady spot to admire the picturesque pond for a few moments before climbing back up.

Garden #3


The third garden, on a corner lot bordered by two streets, does not enjoy an overlook of the pond and must create its own views. This large flowering viburnum enticed me over.


A classic scene, including a boxwood parterre and a garden arbor, presented itself in the back garden. The boxwood had taken a hit during last winter’s severe cold and was still showing browned foliage. We saw similar evergreen damage all over town during the Fling. I felt for the gardeners, who I was sure had fretted over it. But as we know, the show must go on.


A long deck along one side of the garden overlooks the parterre. At the end, a charming shed terminates the view and stretches into the garden via a columned arbor.


A retaining wall is dressed up with a planted fountain.


A bench anchors the far end of the garden, tucked amid borders of lush foliage.


Andrea admiring a variegated hosta in a row of alliums


A massive rhododendron was blooming in the long border. I like the way it harmonizes with the burgundy Japanese maple in the back corner.

Coming up next: A visit to the home garden of floral designer and micro-farmer Sarah Nixon of My Luscious Backyard.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Every picture tells a story, don’t it?


Poor grammar and all, Rod Stewart’s lyrics are in my head as I submit my entry for Gardening Gone Wild’s Picture This photo contest. Pro garden photographer Saxon Holt is judging, and he says he wants your best photo from 2014 that not only has “a strong composition that uses the entire frame” but “tells a story” about “something special” from last year.


My fall garden-visiting trip to NYC with my daughter immediately sprang to mind, so I perused my images and found three I particularly like. This one is from Wave Hill on a chilly, rainy morning (the day after leaving sunny, warm Austin), during which my daughter explored the garden with me. There she is at the far side of the pond, gazing at the gold, green, and copper scene, unknowingly providing a sense of scale for the dramatic yuccas along the hedge.


This one is from New York Botanical Garden, which we visited after the rain had let up. A meadow garden stopped us in our tracks, its matrix of asters, daisies, and grasses blooming in rich profusion, with gone-to-seed garlic chives adding clusters of tawny brown.


But the image I’m submitting for my entry is this one: my daughter walking ahead of me along the path (soon to grow up and make her own way in the world, as I’m all too aware), with an autumn leaf tucked into her messy bun — a moment that still touches my heart.

If you’ve never participated in a Picture This photo contest, I encourage you to do so. Gardening Gone Wild hosted a run of them for a few years, and they’ve just brought it back. You can learn a lot from Saxon’s comments, and it’s all in a spirit of friendly competition and sharing.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Leaf peeping and Living a Great Story at Lady Bird Lake


After sightseeing and shopping on vibrant South Congress Avenue on Sunday, yesterday my dad and stepmother joined me for a post-lunch, 3-mile walk around Lady Bird Lake. Rusty orange bald cypress, golden cedar elm, and fiery red crepe myrtles have set the shore ablaze. This is as good as it gets in Austin, folks, so if you can spare an hour or two, go! — don’t miss it.


Washed clean by a cold front that had slipped in overnight, the sky was a blue dome and the perfect backdrop to the hundreds of majestic bald cypresses lining the shore.


Barton Creek, where it flows into Lady Bird Lake, was looking a bit muddy — and very full — following the heavy rain on Saturday.


Turtles were sunbathing on fallen logs, as turtles do.


Native cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) is one of my favorite shade trees, partly for its beautiful and reliable fall color.


This year, right now, they are just spectacular.


Crepe myrtles, so ubiquitous in Austin that I almost don’t notice them in riotous bloom in the summer, are now on fire with red foliage, renewing my admiration.


Crossing the lake on the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, we enjoyed views of the trees and new condos popping up like mushrooms north of the river. I realize I’ve called this body of water both a lake and a river, but that’s what it is and how Austinites talk about it. The Colorado River was dammed decades ago for flood control, and the resulting constant-level lake, which still looks like a river and has a current, was called Town Lake until 2007, when it was renamed in honor of Lady Bird Johnson. We use it as a point of reference — is something north or south of the river? — and longtime residents often still call it Town Lake. Lady Bird Lake (and nearby Barton Springs, which feeds into the lake) is the heart of Austin.


A flock of the state bird of Texas is visible downtown (the crane — haha). Graffiti artists have been busy on the railroad trestle.


Exiting the Pfluger Bridge via the spiral ramp, you see a native-plant garden designed by Christine Ten Eyck (click for a tour of Ten Eyck’s personal garden). I like how she expanded the concrete sidewalk with a circle of decomposed granite surrounded by limestone-block benches. On a smaller scale, this would be a great treatment for a residential front walk.


Heading back now on the north side of the lake…


…I spotted the historic Lamar Boulevard Bridge through the trees.


More beautiful leaves


Arbor-shaded views beckoned us to stop and just look.


To our right, a duck was preparing for a swim. That water’s got to be getting chilly!


In a berry-laden possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), a mockingbird — our true state bird — was feasting on them as if they were popcorn at the movies.


I hope all these healthy runners were appreciating the foliage and the views as much as we were on our leisurely stroll.


Native bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) lines the banks like cathedral columns.


Inspired by natural bald cypress allees, Austinite Tom Spencer planted a double line of bald cypress in his former garden. It was lovely.


Novice scullers were being coached on how to row. Look at that dog at the front of the coach’s boat — he appears very attentive, doesn’t he?


Other visitors were keeping the benches warm.


What a lovely spot for a chat.


Bald cypress and dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor). Though called dwarf, these native palmettos can still reach 10 feet tall. They are very slow growing, however.


Crossing the lake one last time under MoPac Expressway, I stopped to admire a gold, orange, and green tapestry — very 1970s, now I think about it.


Downtown buildings peek up behind the trees.


A swan and egret were enjoying this spot too.


Turning to face west, away from the city, I watched a paddleboarder work his way upstream. This is where I photographed slackliners balancing high above the water on another beautiful autumn day.


Days like this make you happy to be alive, living your own great story.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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