A love letter to my neighbours for Canada’s Garden Days

In 2020, with garden trips and tours and meetings cancelled left and right due to you-know-what, Canada’s Garden Days, June 13 to 21, is all about GLU (Gardeners Like Us). It’s about how garden-variety GLUs find pleasure and activity and peace of mind, even with the usual garden frustrations, in the garden.

I’ve learned a lot about gardening from my neighbours – just from walking past their gardens. A garden tells you who has a passion (sometimes, an obsession) about growing things. It also tells you who is just starting out and is proud of their successes. And, in this post, those who are about to garden salute you all!

Walking through the city, I’m often stopped in my tracks by the creative things people do with woody plants, clippers, patience and time. Studying them in person (okay, staring nosily!) then following up with research has been an independent-study course in horticulture that will probably last a lifetime.

It isn’t only the complex clippery that arrests me. Often it’s simple and doable, like this square-cut blue spruce. One of many ideas to file away, courtesy of my neighbours.

Woody plants are the largest, longest-lasting, and often most expensive perennials in our gardens. Our neighbours might have space for things we don’t have room for, so a stop can be a small moment of admiration. On the other hand, they often have the same growing conditions we do. And that might suggest something we can grow that we hadn’t thought of or didn’t know about.

When the gardener’s missing and Mr. Google or other ID resources are at a loss, my virtual neighbours on Facebook can often help. This gorgeous specimen of serviceberry was identified as Amelanchier laevis by ID wizard and photographer extraordinaire Janet Davis. You should visit her at The Paintbox Garden.

We don’t have to travel far to experience a garden tour. Our own neighbourhood streets can be like an arbortetum, if we give them a chance. Mouse over any thumbnails (or uncaptioned images) to see the captions, then click any image for the larger view.

In nearby gardens, without leaving the sidewalk, I’ve discovered some rare beauties you don’t often see, like the shrubs below. If the gardener is on their porch or in their garden, I talk to them about what they’re growing. Even when they’re not housebound, gardeners are happy to share information – and sometimes even a cutting. And if they aren’t around, then it’s another excuse to find out something new. Such as the fact that the yellow Scotch broom below (this one’s a hybrid, possibly ‘Moonlight’) might be borderline hardy here in Toronto, but is an invasive plant in warmer climates. These things are good to know.

Standing on tiptoes informed me than the beautybush here (Kolkwitzia amabilis) is not only appropriately named, it is fragrant. Always seeing it from a distance before, I had not realized this.

When we were first encouraged out onto the streets for fresh air and exercise, seeing what was emerging in OPGs (Other People’s Gardens) filled me with elation. Really, there’s no better word for it. It was like being freed from prison and stepping, like Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz, into a world of colour and light. I still get exercised when I exercise by what’s blooming just over there, and there, and there.

I knew that certain paddle cacti (Opuntia) were hardy in our zone, but didn’t know there was one as spiny as this one. I wonder what colour the flowers will be.
Depending on the way the wind blows, the fragrance from a neighbour’s dwarf Korean lilac bushes (Syringa meyeri – though the species might be different now) wafts up and down the street. Heavenly.

A short walk always seems to add something to my wish list. Like: I wish I’d planted more alliums. Or: I wish I had a grand estate with room for a whole allée of saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangiana). Some wish-list items are easier than others to grant.

It’s endlessly interesting to see how people express themselves through their gardens. When it comes to gardens, I’m not judgey – unless it’s my own garden (all I see are the flaws), or the misguided ways misguided people treat trees, or when I growl at invasive pests like dog-strangling vine. Instead, I’m more of a fangirl.

A thyme lawn in East York

Tastes differ. That’s okay! People are at different levels of learning – but there’s always, always something new to learn. Even the best gardeners make bad mistakes. Even the least-experienced gardeners do wonderful, inspiring things. And the best school of horticulture might be right next door.

To all you gardeners out there, thank you for all the things you do and keep doing. I’m a fan.

Here’s to having fun in the garden, however we define it.


  1. Here, here! I am inspired by at least one thing in every single garden I visit. And your statement about experienced and less experienced gardeners – LOVE!

  2. I LOVED this post! Thanks for sharing the beautiful late Spring photos. Made me feel like I was walking thru the streets of Toronto.

  3. Loved your ramble! OPG’s are a source of delight to me where I live and Llike you, I try not to be judged, though I can except for those atrocious tree scalping acts that I encounter. I’m your newest fangirl. Thsnks for your time and trouble.

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