When my friend Stef asked me if I was interested in attending the Garden Bloggers’ Fling in Toronto, I immediately said yes. It was absolutely the right answer. What more could a gardener ask for–great people, beautiful gardens, and terrific swag. I’m a social kind of girl, so being surrounded by so many friendly and knowledgable people was the biggest plus. But I am still marveling at the wonderful gifts I received from Lee Valley Tools. The long bladed trowel is fabulous and the hand rake is going to be so helpful now that the mulch has been spread in all the gardens. Yes, I still have planting to do. Later we were blessed with Corona garden tools. I’m going to need a bigger tool box and maybe a garden tool belt!
We began our fling at High Park, a 400 acre recreational and conservation space. There is a continuing effort to save native plants and raise public awareness of the fragile nature and tremendous value of those plants. We saw introduced species that have invaded other parts of the park and learned about the efforts to restore places in the park to native plants and animals that depend on those plants. Because non-native invasive species are crowding out natives, there is a dangerous decline in native pollinators. More about that below.
That evening we learned more about the Fairmont Hotel’s efforts to provide habitats for native bees. There is a rooftop chef’s garden and a number of honeybee hives. But more importantly there are solitary bee houses. I’ve had my suspicions that our efforts to save our declining honey bee population have been a bit misguided and prompted by corporate interests rather than conservation. The little presentation we saw that night affirmed my suspicions. I recognize the value of honey bees, but the truth is that they are not indigenous to North America and have crowded out native bees. As we diminish native bee habitats, we diminish our knowledge that the bulk of the pollination work in our natural world is carried out by native solitary bees.
I love the bumble bees that visit my gardens, though these are not solitary bees. The carpenter bees are solitary and there are lots of them nuzzling anything that blooms. I didn’t know about mason bees who are also indigenous and excellent pollinators.
There are hundreds of native bee species and I’m starting to learn about the role they play in our own survival. We will disappear when the bees do. And if we do not pay closer attention to the needs of native bees, we will pay a tragic price for our ignorance and our carelessness. You can learn more about the Fairmont’s efforts here. And you can read more about the role native bees play in our own survival here and here. Native bees do a better job of pollinating than honey bees. Who knew!?
We also toured a private garden that has been in the making for 40 years. The owner has paid such careful attention to height, texture, color, and the needs of the plants. There was a lovely water feature full of tadpoles. I tried to find parents, but they must have been nestled into a moist safe place waiting for dusk.
We feasted in several ways at the former estate of General Motors Canada’s first president–Parkwood, now a national historic site. It is a wonderful example of art deco garden design and is the venue for weddings and other events. There were two wedding parties on the estate the day we toured. We were treated to a lovely luncheon in the tea house next to a long reflecting pool. The swan pictured above was one of two fountains at the top of the pool.
We toured more private gardens that afternoon, so many that they have begun to merge in my memory. Cabbagetown, though, was a stand out. Initially a neighborhood settled by Irish imigrants, the neighborhood is now in the midst of restoration and home to some lovely gardens. Narrow lots have become eclectic gardens that maximize space. And we toured Evergreen Brickworks, the site of a large brick making company that has been repurposed into a farmers’ market, wetlands, and window into Toronto’s past.
We also looked at a garden the nestles into a slope that goes to one of Toronto’s ravines carved by a stream system that feeds into rivers that in turn empty into Lake Ontario. And we visited the Aga Kahn Museum that has the most amazing reflecting pools.
It’s been a rough winter for me. My rheumatoid arthritis flared up big time and there were days when it was a struggle just to get out of bed. I made arrangements to get a wheel chair just in case things flared up. But, I didn’t need it. Those with fitness monitors reported that we were walking upwards to 14,000 steps in a day and I trudged along. I didn’t break any speed records and I was pretty slow getting on and off the bus that took us to all those wonderful gardens, but, damn, I did it.