Vivian Reiss’s Artful Garden

Taro plant with rescued and repurposed piece of decorative concrete. Vivian saves architectural pieces from demolition giving new life to old beautiful objects.

As you approach Vivian Reiss’s Victorian house in Yorkville you know it’s no ordinary dwelling, but a house and garden space created by a gardener of unusual and vivid passions. There was no number on the house, but I guessed it was the right place by the exuberance of the boulevard plantings —mostly edibles—and also by a peek through the window at a glittering, oversized disco ball on a pedestal. Completely charming, especially to a magpie like me!

Artist Vivian Reiss is a painter, designer, traveller, and passionate gardener—one who gardens with not only art in mind, but also with history: the tradition of growing useful plants, as well as the history of her own family who once worked in textiles.Vivian has an appreciation for the beautiful—her house is exquisitely furnished—designed with a designer and collector’s eye but also with unique whimsy.

Who else would have antique beds as couches in the living room? She also appreciates the beauty in the mundane. A large tree that was cut down offered a chance to create rolling stools out of the severed trunk pieces.

Her backyard is full of wittily conceptual sculptural pieces. There’s her oversized “scissors” chair, and a sculpture of knitting made from knotted garden hose. A wool ball of dried twines is lodged high in the crook of a tree, along with giant knitting needles.

Her lawn is designed to look like a flattened bolt of paisley fabric, with cut out garden beds serving as paisley shapes dotted throughout. Inside the beds are hot coloured annuals, the colours of India, where paisley patterns originated, as well as blue flax, in keeping with the textile theme.

Eyestoppers are her fabulous sculptural pieces brought home from world travels, like the massive wheeled elephant and the cheeky leopard tucked next to the fence.

Everywhere else, in beds or containers are simple tomatoes and beans growing up bamboo poles; but also artichokes, taro and even banana plants. Vivian pointed out her massive patch of horseradish ruefully, saying, “Never plant horseradish! It’s worse than mint.” She has been hacking away at it for several years, trying to get it under control. It is a handsome, sculptural plant, though, and makes a great statement by her front gate.

The front boulevard is the site of her collections and experiments with edible and useful plants: everything is either one or the other. She has three kinds of edible amaranth, eggplant, broom corn, and now is even experimenting with growing cotton—from seed! In fact, most of her front garden is started from seed, often direct sown. I asked her if she had some kind of seed starting area, like a grow light. She laughs, “No, I’m very low tech, I just use the windowsill.”

Vivian’s sense of humour is evident when she points out her “front chard”, a section of boulevard planted in a grid of, what else, swiss chard. The day I was there, tourists from Tennesse were intrigued by the unusual street display, and Vivian mentions that passers by often ask about the different plants in her garden, or tell her “We grew that plant in our country back home.” She enjoys talking to them, happy to share the garden magic.

Vivian Reiss’s garden is at once beautiful, practical, and exotic, but overall fun, and bursting with life. However, Vivian’s primary passion is her art, and her painting studio is where her inspiration from her garden takes flight.

Another post — coming soon — will talk about Vivian’s amazing office roof garden — all edibles, thriving amongst Toronto towers, including fruit trees — a new project that she is very excited about.


  1. Great post, Sarah. I wish I could have been there to see the garden (gardens, really) in person. Love those wheeled trunks. I have such a trunk that I might just steal that idea for (thanks, Vivian!).

  2. Now that's definitely NOT your typical (sub)urban yard! How nice to see a gardener who doesn't take it all so very seriously and can have a little fun with it! It's always nice to see someone's unique sense of design displayed front and center.

  3. This garden is really unique. This woman is very creative, and expresses it in the most interesting and unexpected way. I think this type of creativity is great in a garden, because the viewer is always getting a surprise. Not a typical garden in any respect.

  4. Thanks for all your comments, folks. Glad you enjoyed Vivian's garden like I did.

    Yes, Vivian is completely delightful and delightfully creative. Her "front chard" really made me laugh. I guess she'd better trademark that term quickly!

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