Island hopping, Toronto-style: Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling

Seventy garden bloggers boarded a ferry earlier this month and were transported from bustling downtown Toronto (pictured above) to the idyllic lanes of the Toronto Islands (below), a mere 15 minutes across Lake Ontario but seemingly a world away.

This was the last tour on our first day of the Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling, and we were treated to a preview visit of the islanders’ private gardens, which would be open for a public tour the following weekend (June 6-7).

First we were herded together for our official Fling portrait, with the spectacular Toronto skyline in the distance. Then, with maps in hand, we were set loose, free to wander at will between Ward’s and Algonquin Islands, which are connected by a footbridge.

The islands are said to be the largest urban car-free community in North America. Traffic-free lanes lead to densely built cottages, where bikes are parked beside every door.

Bicycles with trailers are the transport of choice for residents and visitors alike. I saw these on the ferry as well.

Of course one could always sail over from Toronto.

Ownership of one of the 262 homes on the islands is coveted and strictly limited. Due to a government settlement over a land dispute, homeownership on the islands really amounts to a 99-year lease on the property and ownership of the structure only, not the land. Those wanting to buy in must sign up on a waiting list of 500 names and be prepared to wait approximately 35 years for a spot to open.

Happily, anyone can visit the islands and stroll or bike around to see the charming cottages. Everything, even construction and landscaping materials, must be brought in on bike or non-motorized cart, we were told, and trash goes out the same way, so islanders tend to be creative recyclers in their garden decor.

Gardens that were open to us were marked on our map, but many others could be enjoyed from the lanes.

As we strolled around, friendly islanders working in their gardens sometimes invited us in, even if they weren’t officially on the preview tour. This rear garden was in full spring glory (even though it was June!) with golden chain tree and alliums.

More alliums — the official flower of the Toronto Fling, by the reckoning of head planner Helen Battersby. I’d have to agree. They were everywhere.

Dark purple tulips, nearly black, harmonized nicely.

Tulip and allium combo

This house was nearly swallowed up by vines.

But its twin, nearby, was stunning, with double orange poppies echoing the color of the front door.

This one looked like a fairy tale cottage in the woods.

Small lots mean creative gardening — and a lot of container gardening.

This one pulled off a secret garden vibe.

Variegated lilac blossom

I tried to guess what this arbor was made of. It looked like metal mesh baskets wired together.

Next to the harbor, yellow sail covers on the sailboats serendipitously matched yellow iris blooming around a massive old tree stump.

Lilacs and iris beckoned me into this garden.

It was lovely.

I admired these glass dragonflies buzzing around a chartreuse-leaved hosta.

Porch pots

Bucking the island’s cottage-garden trend, this back garden was formally designed and centered around a circular pool.

Rhododendrons and spirea were showy that week, appearing in many Toronto gardens we visited.

But only the islanders get to enjoy this view — and we lucky visitors.

Coming up next: A tour of But-a-Dream, the garden of Jeannie Parker on Algonquin Island. For a look back at Sarah Nixon’s urban farm and floral demonstration, click here.

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

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.