12 things to like about 2016

By many measures, 2016 was one of the most deplorable of annus horribilis-es. The Grim Reaper was unusually busy, and some things did not turn out as hoped. But let’s try to bright-side it. A look back:


One thing to like, every year, is Toronto’s skirt hem along the great freshwater sea that is Lake Ontario. A warm, dry winter 2015/16 gave us an ice-free shoreline to explore. Ice can be nice, if you don’t have to walk on it. And low precipitation levels are not best for the garden. But look how great it made the lake look!

The eastern Beach of Lake Ontario, looking primordial

On that ice-free stretch of eastern Beach, we enjoyed the second year of the art installations called Winter Stations (year three opens Feb. 20, 2017, running to March 27). Each transforms a lifeguard tower into a (literal/figurative) cool art piece. As a regular walker here, I know the fun starts earlier, as winning teams in this juried competition begin to build. In 2016, the theme was Freeze/Thaw; it’s Catalyst in 2017.

Fluid Architecture, one of the 2016 Winter Stations, designed by Calvin Fung and Victor Huynh.

Admittedly, in 2016 a sudden burst of spring mid-March tempted us to stay outdoors. Usually, Canada Blooms lures us inside to begin our bye-bye to winter. The best thing about it isn’t green. It’s the humans of all shapes and colours who help design, build and support it. Canada Blooms runs on volunteer energy. They include the Toronto Master Gardeners – as presenters, tour guides, and advice clinic know-it-a-lots – and the volunteers (and salaried souls) from the Toronto Botanical Garden. In fact, everyone associated with Canada Blooms puts in extra hours and unlimited brain power trying to please us.

Paul Zammit and Jenny Rhodenizer making magic for the TBG exhibit at Canada Blooms 2016

To call The Gladstone’s Grow Op the city’s alternative garden show is too limiting. While it is inspired largely by landscape, it’s broader, ranging from art to urbanism. We found the 2016 Grow Op to be one of the year’s event highlights, and look forward to seeing Grow Op’s fifth anniversary, April 20-23, 2017.

A tasty bit from The Gladstone’s Grow Op 2016. (We could’ve shown you the countertop cricket farm.)

Sometimes May hurries June along with it – and the weather I call a “sudden summer” pops open all those spring bulbs only to fry them quickly in summery sunshine. All that time spent planting bulbs, and they’re gone in no time! But in 2016 a long, mild spring made those tulips last much loooooooooonger.

Seeing our bulbs finally bloom makes all our fall labour – and a weary winter of waiting – worthwhile

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – for a gardener. Garden tour season! In 2016, we peeked into the often grand gardens of The Kingsway with Through the Garden Gate and toured the charming Gardens of the Beach – two of many neighbourhoods that open their doors to inquisitive gardeners in and around the month of June. (A heads-up that the 2017 Through the Garden Gate celebrates the event’s 30th anniversary with – fingers crossed – 30, count ’em, 30 North Rosedale and Moore Park gardens.)

In 2016, Through the Garden Gate highlighted The Kingsway

June and July 2016 set records for drought in the GTA, and July temperatures were above normal. But our ravine system and our many maintained trails along the city’s waterways (even as they slowed to trickles) offered cool respite and the chance for restorative shinrin-yoku or forest bathing.

Toronto’s many ravines offered natural air conditioning

The drought did do one thing right: make it harder for fungal diseases to thrive. That’s why we had fewer problems with blight on tomatoes in 2016. My tomato vines grew and grew, giving me my best crop ever (that is, until the squirrels discovered them). Perhaps it’s also why we had no black spots on our maple leaves. Yes, 2016 was a year when Nature took away with one hand and gave with the other.

Hey, Ma, look – no blight!

Canadians should be proud. In September 2016, and for the second time, our own Garden Making Magazine won Gold from the Association for Garden Communicators (which still uses the abbreviation GWA, for Garden Writers Association). I love this magazine so much, I’m subscribed till about 2022. Honestly. Even if you don’t subscribe yet, do check out the Garden Making website for garden events and tours, organized by region – a generous (free) service from Canada’s finest garden magazine.

Michael and Beckie Fox, when Garden Making won GWA Gold

The long spring of 2016 was matched by a long, mild fall. October was particularly bountiful. By luck, I was able to get up to the Toronto Botanical Garden a few times this autumn, and found much to be inspired by or admire. While the Piet Oudolf Entry Garden seems to get all the love, I’m continually impressed by creative plant combinations in other parts of the TBG – like the greys and whites this year in the knot garden below.

Inspiration from Toronto Botanical Garden’s knot garden

Torontonians are lucky folk in many ways. People keep touting Toronto for being a livable city. Maybe I’m biased, but I’ll wager one reason is that we have neighbours who garden. This year’s mild fall extended into November, giving us even more time to inspect what’s growing next door and around the corner. Often, this inspires me to “find stuff out” when I meet a stranger (like the one below) in someone’s yard.

‘Fine Line’ fern leaf buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’) which might or might not be a good guy

Confession: I found the preamble and aftermath of Nov. 8, 2016, to be anxious-making. Luckily, writing a post a day for #NaBloPoMo kept me somewhat preoccupied, but that evaporated on November 30th Add Christmas, and you might guess why the blog archive for December 2016 looks so bare. How glorious, then, that Allan Gardens offered the simple distraction of the conservatory’s Christmas Show. Go. It’s free, and happens every day, 10 am to 5 pm, now till Jan. 8th.

A burst of colour at the Allan Gardens Christmas Show
And for the bonus:

My wish came true – the one made when I wrote about Chihuly glass art at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. We did visit the Royal Ontario Museum to see the Chihuly show over the holidays, and it was worth it – especially when combined with the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit. Like the Allan Gardens flower show, Chihuly is all over after Jan. 8th, 2017. Go for the glow. I hope you’ll like it.

At the Royal Ontario Museum, Chihuly’s Laguna Torcello, described as a garden of glass


    1. And to you, Margaret. Although my focus was on Toronto for this post, sharing some time in Minneapolis with you was one of the year’s personal highlights. Cheers!

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