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The Leaside Gardener: Embracing our roots!

Leaside has been fortunate to have in its history a series of events where each change of hands made a positive difference in embracing our rich nature. John Lea knew it with his farmland in 1819 and so did his son William, the poet and nature lover who expanded the farm. Fredrick Todd knew it too when he designed our streets with the Garden City principles and envisioned these streets filled with our native plants. Each one embraced this land for its natural and unique qualities, and so should we.

So why do so many of us go against the natural grain of our landscape? Imagine a beautiful garden in Brazil or any lush tropical place. Now imagine that naturally beautiful garden being made to look more “Canadian”. Clear out that agave, remove those palms, change the soil and insert a mass of golden rod, add a few sugar maples, some white pine and one big yellow birch. Sounds silly, right?

Yet gardeners and landscape designers have been doing this to environments for centuries, altering, “correcting,” and reinventing. One part creator, one part artist and some strange need to be a master over nature. I too have been guilty of this.

My first garden design was more akin to the south of France than to southern Ontario. Though beautiful, it took me years to understand how wrong that was and even longer to correct. I still have a long way to go to make it truly local, but I’m more proud of it today because now it does more than just look pretty, it functions as a local ecosystem. It rarely needs watering because it’s more diverse, with a variety of compatible companion plants that support each other and allow it to take care of itself. It makes a hospitable home for the pollinators and our native wildlife, and all of that is what a good garden can and should do. Does yours?

If you’re struggling with your garden or wasting resources on it, then you’re probably fighting a garden rather than working with one. Whether you’ve been here for years or just moved in to the neighbourhood, take a good long look at your garden and ask yourself if it truly belongs here. How many native plants do you have? Does your garden help the pollinators and native wildlife or is it purely decorative? Are you working with this land or trying to make it some other place?

We have great roots in Leaside. Why not embrace them?

Leasiders live in a special area of rich natural beauty. That’s because this is a part of the deciduous forest region. The smallest of all forests in Canada, yet home to the largest diversity of any of our forest regions. This is what gives us our fertile soil. But botanical fascination, artistic expression and design trends encouraged much of our disconnected behaviour. Somehow we forgot that land is a natural part of the biosphere that connects us to all things. Along the way, we placed our needs above all others (the flora and fauna) in the natural world.

It’s up to each of us to reconnect and understand how nature works. Take a stroll through Serena Gundy Park and see how a forest works close up. Drive down the Don Valley Parkway and witness that raw diversity as one great mass. This is where to get your understanding and inspiration for how we need to garden in Leaside.

I’m not suggesting you turn your yard into a forest, nor am I saying to restrict your choices to native species. Be conscious of what you put in the ground and when in doubt, choose natives first. Be aware of invasive species because this list is growing. Seek out information and share what you learn. Join the Leaside Garden Society, our very own group of garden specialists and enthusiasts.

With knowledge and understanding, your garden can be a piece of our natural environment once again.