Hidden Gardens: Toronto’s Alleyways

Finding hidden gardens is always a sneaky treat. Sometimes they arrive all by themselves, or with help from humans, in tucked away places, like Toronto’s famous back alleys.

These alleyways, constructed in many Toronto neighbourhoods to facilitate access to garages, usually extend the length of a block. There is something so timeless about walking down one of these hidden thoroughfares, away from traffic and noise. I love seeing the back view of the city. Everything is a little messy, a little countrified, because nature has had her way with the space. It’s the kind of mess I like. When dog walking I’ll often detour into the alley. It makes a walk more like an adventure.

When was the last time this garage door was slid open, I wonder.

Not only do we find wildflowers, wild vines and weeds galore, but we see garden delights peeking up over the fences here and there. A vine threatens to engulf a car here. It’s a taste of what happens to humans’ “stuff” when nature takes over what we leave behind.

This painted door is especially fun to encounter on a gloomy day.

Garage doors line the alleys, painted different colours, in various states of disrepair or fastidious renovation. Sometimes a cheerfully whimsical painted mural will appear.

It’s like Richard Florida’s “messy urbanism” in a citified country stroll, and is part of what makes Toronto, Toronto.


  1. Those look like fun little areas to explore and surprises to find.
    Also, I just noticed on your sidebar the CWA 2010 nomination…congrats and well deserved!

  2. Hidden gardens are a treat to discover! In a neighborhood not too far away is a garage door painted with a world war fighter jet. It's always neat to come across these.

  3. I love the alleys in the small town around me in central Pennsylvania. They run through many blocks–dividing the blocks into quarters. Originally, alleys here provided access to carriage houses–small barns with large hay lofts, room for a horse or two, and of course, room for the carriage.

    These days, the carriage houses hold cars and lawn care equipment. When we moved here, we toured a property whose carriage house was just a bit too small to use as a billiards room, though it would have made a great office.

    It's cool to see these enchanting byways are common even in your very exotic foreign land 😉 Thanks for the tour.

  4. I like alleys too. Whether or not they have plants in, to walk down one is to enter a different world.

    Near where I live, a cluster of alleys converge onto a sort of irregular green, surrounded by the backs of houses. Sometimes, the garden gates are left open and one can look in behind the high walls and see that the gardens are tiny, just about big enough for a table and a couple of chairs – yet there are pots crammed in there – and troughs of plants just outside, on the alley side of the gate.


  5. There is nothing better than roaming around the city freely and exploring places like these! The other day I was painting my entrance door a bit like in the pictures and I cannot even count number of people who came talking to me – it only takes a bit of creativity and green spaces to make your street happier 🙂

  6. I loved this post because I love Toronto's alleyways (although I have always called them laneways…maybe there is an east-west divide on how to refer to them 🙂

    A neighbour gave me a photo he took of some beautiful porcelain vine berries he found growing in a local lane. The lane behind our street is bursting with all sorts of plant life and at least half a dozen garages that have been spectacularly painted by a local graffiti crew. It's not to everyone's taste but I think it makes the lane really special.


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