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Garden Tour

Masterful gardens

The TBG’s annual tour wends its way around Riverdale with lots of master gardeners along the way to answer everybody’s potty questions

June 7, 2008

Sonia Day

Is that a heuchera or a hardy geranium? A bergenia or a brunnera?

The world of gardening can be mighty confusing, even to experts. And when you’re a new homeowner who doesn’t know a daffodil from a dandelion, how to find out what to plant? No problem. Go on a garden tour. Cruise around with a notebook. Ask.

Local gardeners are by far the best sources of information about the good stuff (and equally important, the baddies). They’re also a remarkably generous bunch who love talking about their faves.

Such tours are currently popping up like mushrooms all over Ontario – and probably the best of the barrowful is scheduled for the weekend of June 14 – 15.

That’s when the Toronto Botanical Garden holds its prestigious annual Through the Garden Gate walking tour of private neighbourhood gardens. This year, the 21st consecutive tour in its history, Riverdale received the nod.

As with all previous efforts, there will be rubbernecking opportunities galore. There’s also an impressive variety of gardens on offer.

No less than 28 are opening up to visitors (who have bought tickets). Many are tiny and modest. Others look as long and narrow as the red carpet at the Oscars. A few grander ones have obviously been the work of landscapers, with big bucks spent. However, almost everywhere, there are practical and charming ideas on how to lay out front and back yards – and then equip them with plant choices that will work, even on a limited budget.

In fact, if you’ve never explored the area on each side of Danforth Rd. between Broadview and Pape Aves., this is the time to do it. The southern part in particular is surprising: an oasis of hilly treed streets with character-filled houses (some Victorian, others boxy and modern), which seems amazingly quiet, given the proximity of busy city traffic.

It’s also the kind of neighbourhood where people, whatever their station in life, take pride in having photogenic front yards. Boring scraps of lawn are definitely on the way out in Riverdale. Instead, imaginative raised beds and pathways, plus striking perennials, shrubs and ornamental trees abound (including, I noted in one front yard, a nastily prickly cactus called Opuntia, which is hardy in our climate and a great choice for any homeowner plagued by delivery guys with careless feet.)

What makes this tour a bit special is that it’s conceived, organized and run by master gardeners – those sometimes intimidating folks who really know their stuff (and who in fact love sharing their knowledge with anyone who asks). Teams of MG volunteers from the TBG, aided by enthusiastic locals like Jane Hill, an organizer of previous Riverdale garden tours, spent months last year scouting local streets, looking for “possibles.”

Then they had the job of persuading those possibles to participate – which is no easy feat in our anxiety-filled times. But most do agree, according to TBG head Margo Welch.

“The word has got around that ours is a quality tour, with well-behaved visitors,” she says. “The people we approach are usually delighted. In fact, they mostly all want to be at home on the days the visitors come.”

And come they do. These tours are usually a sellout, in spite of their $40 price tag (which is steep because this is a fundraising effort for the TBG) and the fact that tickets must be bought in advance.

So revel in Riverdale this spring. It’s truly a treat. Two caveats: Many gardens have lots of steps. This tour is not suitable for anyone who has difficulty walking – or who is in a wheelchair.

Also, virtually none of the gardens feature vegetables – a disappointing omission now that growing our own food has become one of the hottest gardening trends.


A one-day pass is $40 for the public and $35 for TBG members. The ticket includes a garden guide with map, access to over 25 gardens with a master gardener in each, and a shuttle service.

Purchase tickets online at toronto or at: TBG Shop, 777 Lawrence Ave. E.; Blossoms Rosedale, 2 Rowanwood Ave.; Bill’s Garden Centre, 908 Pape Ave.; Plant World, 4000 Eglinton Ave. W.; Sheridan Nurseries, 2827 Yonge St.

Sonia Day is a writer, painter and master gardener. Visit

Toronto Star