How do you create a tour like Through the Garden Gate 2019 in the Beach?

Over the years, I’ve volunteered many times to be a Master Gardener stationed in the private gardens open for the Toronto Botanical Gardens’ annual tour – now called Mark’s Choice Through the Garden Gate. And I gotta tell you, a show like this can’t go on without a lot – hundreds and hundreds and, did I already say this? Hundreds! – of volunteer hours. Volunteers from the TBG check your tickets on the way in. Volunteers plan the routes and write up the programs. Master Gardeners stand all day in all weathers to answer your questions and provide a measure of security in the gardens. And so much more.

Then, of course, the generous homeowners and their hard-working helpers spend a whole year planting and primping and pruning and generally fluffing. All just so we can walk around for the price of a ticket (which goes to support the TBG) and admire beautiful gardens on the weekend. This year, that weekend is this weekend, June 8 and 9, 2019.

What scouts look for is a front garden, like this one, that hints what garden treasures you might find all through the property – and what it might look like next year at this time.

Last year was the first time I volunteered to be a garden scout for this year’s tour in my Beach-area neighbourhood, and came to appreciate a whole new level of volunteer commitment. It starts by walking around, a year ahead of tour time, looking for gardens. Then we knock on doors.

For an introvert like me, this kind of front door salesmanship can be stressful. Luckily, we work in small teams and are equipped with a sales pitch. We know we’re asking a great deal from the homeowners. In addition, all we’re scouting for at this time are possibilities. Anything might happen to prevent a garden from appearing on the tour.

Once the homeowner graciously agrees to allow us to look at their garden, we walk through to try to identify plants of note. Great foliage is an asset, because it will (almost) always be “in bloom” at tour time.

This year, each team was assigned specific streets to scout, all within a predefined area north of Queen Street – so tour guests wouldn’t have to worry about weekend traffic on that busy main thoroughfare. Our team was fortunate to be given the area where the owner and creator of the amazing garden you see in these photos had already agreed to participate in the 2019 tour. Our job was to find nearby gardens that would create logical garden clusters that make it easy for the (volunteer!) organizers to plan bus routes and bus stops.

The logistics of creating an event that feels seamless are vast and complex.

Look at that foliage combo! There’s something to be learned from or inspired by in every garden.

Last year, that’s two years ahead, the neighbourhood for 2020 had already been selected. My lips are sealed! For the moment. And, in fact, the scouting teams for the 2020 garden tour are being put together right now, and will soon be walking the streets to select possibilities.

There are about 130 members in the Toronto Master Gardeners, and our volunteer time is spent doing many things. Answering online and phone-in questions. Being there in person at advice clinics, workshops, and presentations – like the one I’m just about to leave for at City Hall. To name a few! Plus, being administrators and coordinators for volunteer opportunities like these.

Like all volunteers, we do it because we love it. So I hope you’ll stop to ask us a question when you’re passing through a garden. We do like to talk about plants and horticulture.

This garden was created by a passionate gardener. Take advantage of this rare chance to see it, and other private gardens in the Beach.

And for our last image, let’s zoom on the picture that’s the covergirl of this blog post. Let me tell you, it’s far nicer to look at gardens in real life. Click the link at the top of the article to buy tickets for this weekend – a two-day ticket is always a good investment.

Wouldn’t this be an exciting garden to volunteer in?


  1. These are too gorgeous! I’m afraid to go because I know I’ll be seized with serious envy and a case of “gotta get that”-itis!! LOL!

    You might want to scout our neighbourhood, Guildwood, for one of the tours. For the most part, the magic happens in the back yards, but we used to have our own neighbourhood tours and I can probably put you in touch with the organizers of a previous tour. Now that the Guild Inn is back up and running, it would be a nice focal point of the tour

  2. Hi Helen,
    what beautiful images! yes, putting on a garden tour takes planning a full year in advance. we hope you will come to our Port Hope north of 401 country gardens tour on June 16th. 10 to 4pm. some garden are park-like with sculptures and others are chock full of perennials. One is a certified wild life habitat. Hope to see you that Saturday, Moya

  3. Hi Helen,
    I made a mistake. the Port Hope garden tour is JUNE 15th Saturday. I have been too preoccupied with all the plans and gardening too! HOPE YOU WILL COME.

    1. Oh, Moya, I’m gutted! I’ll be away that weekend. I loved the Port Hope garden tour last time Sarah and I went. Hope you have a sell-out crowd.

  4. I would truly LOVE to be able to visit the gardens on this tour; the foliage looks inspirational. Maybe I could even find a big clump and manage to get lost in it indefinitely. Will give garden advice for food.

  5. I wonder how many garden walks send scouts to look for outstanding gardens. It’s an excellent idea, and I imagine it prevents the garden walk from just highlighting the gardens of people who are part of an “insider” group.

  6. First, I’d like to say that I think this is a great idea and I know it takes countless volunteer hours to coordinate. I do however, have a complaint. I am a home owner on the bus route. No one asked me or my husband if we would mind a bus stop in front of our house. We would have happily agreed. Instead, we had no information and I came home from work yesterday and there was a large sign on my lawn stating that this was a bus stop. To top it off, there were people standing on my lawn who refused to get off of it when asked while they were waiting for the bus. In future, in order to garner more community support there should be more advertising to those affected when planning your events.

    1. Oh, no, Samantha! That sounds like a major oversight. Sorry this happened, and thanks for your feedback. I’ve passed your comment on to the organizers.

You might also like