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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Small Gardens With Big Impact - Toronto Islands and Cabbagetown

There were two places we visited in Toronto that really demonstrated how a small space can have just a big of impact as a large estate garden.

Just offshore of Toronto is a small chain of islands that are the largest urban car-free community in North America. We took the ferry and spent the afternoon exploring Ward's and Algonquin islands. There were several yards open to us to tour and meet the gardeners.

The first word that rushes into your brain is "charm". It's like every amazing cottage photo you've ever seen plunked down onto the same real estate. Being there in early June meant we got to see the plants at their lushest - all contributing to the intimacy and magic of the moment.

What I really appreciated about the island community was the lack of, and in some cases, refusal, of conformity. No two places were alike and in many cases the plants were very different. The gardeners weren't afraid of color and jammed plants into every corner possible.

I took a side route and came upon this lovely seating area tucked into a leafy bower. I love how it is both private and public. Peaking through the foliage at those adirondack chairs really tempted me to creep in and sit a spell - but I resisted. Barely.

A similar vibe can be found in Cabbagetown on the east side of downtown Toronto. It is a neighborhood that got it's name from the poor Irish Immigrants who grew cabbages in their front yard. Rankles me that even back in the 1840's people were mocked for growing food in the city. Of course the joke is on those snobs because now it boasts one of the largest continuous areas of Victorian-style houses in North America.  
It is also home to quite a gardening community. We were able to visit gardens that were featured on a recent garden tour.  All of the gardens we visited were quite small - but I found I got more ideas from these small gardens than the other large properties we visited. I think part of the reason is that these spaces are LIVED in. They aren't just showcase views but part of the homeowner's lifestyle.

You really get to appreciate the individual elements of the garden. A colorful rug, a little bonsai on a table. A clay pot laying on it's side with plants spilling out into the flower bed.

Most of these gardens also had some great art incorporated into them. I love this chicken wire globe spray painted an electric purple. So much more fun than an ordinary gazing ball.

I also enjoyed this art wall of planters and objects. It made me pause and consider each one.

The planter built to look like a painting on an easel was awesome too. You can bet this will be showing up in my yard soon.

A metal bird wading through grasses made me smile.

All of these gardens really reminded me that beauty lies in smaller things. A small garden gives you the ability to consider and appreciate each element much more. No sweeping vistas or planting beds to distract you from the examination of a particular plant or object. Not only that, but it is these smaller spaces that are ultimately more inviting. I really wanted to stay in each yard and enjoy it. I even had a hard time remembering to take photos at both locations because I became so relaxed.

Me?  Relaxed in a garden?  An inspiration for my own patch of ground.


  1. Fabulous post! Made me "homesick" for Toronto!

  2. I love that little picture garden! I'm sure the husband would really hate it, but I think I may be able to get away with some statues in the yard...

  3. I really enjoyed the island gardens too. What a delightful place, with such charming inhabitants.