Harbord Village Gardeners


Monarch butterfly on buddleia flowerDo you love gardening and talking about gardens? Do you want to help make Harbord Village green and livable? Then you belong in the Harbord Village Gardeners, an informal network of people who like growing things in our downtown neighbourhood.

The group includes gardeners of all ages and experience, and we work together to encourage other gardeners and implement public greening projects. This page outlines a variety of our initiatives, with links to helpful files and to more news on other pages.

To receive occasional messages about local gardening projects and events, offers of plants or produce being given away, and questions and answers about gardening topics, email gardeners@harbordvillage.com and ask to be added to the email distribution list.

Summertime Sidewalk Strolls

2019 poster for Harbord Village Gardeners strollsSince 2017, local gardeners have been gathering on Tuesday spring and summer evenings at Margaret Fairley Park around 7pm (6:30pm in September), conferring on a route, then setting off to stroll around a block or two. We stop to admire plants in front gardens, chat with each other about what they are and how to grow them, and share enjoyment and questions about city gardening. Sometimes we end up talking with—and thanking—the gardeners in person. All are welcome to these small informal outings. The group is different every week. Come when you can!

  • Browse the descriptive notes by participants for 2018 and another set accumulating for 2019. Luscious descriptions block by block, amusing reflections on gardens and on this neighbourly activity.
  • And here is a selection of photos from Summer 2018, with thanks to photographers Leslie Carlin, Sarah Hastie, Marilyn Martin, and others. Click on any to see a larger view. (More to come from 2019.)

Winter Outings

Kate Hamilton interrupted the bleak winter of 2019 with a suggestion that we visit Allan Gardens, a short streetcar ride away from our icy streets. Nine of us took that trip on Sunday 17 February. Kate describes the experience:

We were nine in all I think at Allan Gardens today. Riots of amaryllis welcoming at the entrance, then the rotunda of big green tropical plants towering 20′ above us. In the wings, o my — Yellow and white angels’ trumpets in bloom. Delicate orchids. Tiny purple jewel-like fruit on a grass. Fat lemons (or are they grapefruit). Warm moist air — except in the desert room of course. Children marveling at the turtles. Green everywhere — my eyes are filled up with green — and a glory of textures. I knew a visit was a good idea, but hadn’t anticipated just how satisfied I’d feel after an hour in a livable environment with friends & feasts everywhere for the eyes & mind.

Here’s the evidence — photos by Leslie Carlin, Carolyn Franke, Marilyn Martin, and Angela Miles. Put your cursor on the first photo, then use the arrows to see a slide show. 

Summer 2018 Pollinator Study

Lydia Wong in Harbord Village garden, Summer 2018In Summer 2018, a dozen Harbord Village back yards became sites for a student’s study of pollinators in urban residential gardens—a very special experience for all. Undergraduate Lydia Wong was an intern at U of T’s Centre for Global Change Science, supervised by Harbord Village resident and Forestry professor Sandy Smith. She visited the gardens at least weekly to watch closely and take photos.

Her study was on pollinators in urban habitats, and participants learned a lot about tht subject too—for instance, that most of the bees in our gardens don’t live in hives or produce honey. Lydia’s excitement about her topic is contagious, and she has generously shared images and notes about what she saw in our gardens. Browse through the slides from her enthralling talk at the October 2018 AGM, or look at the images and notes she sent periodically through the summer.


Even after two hours of an HVRA business meeting, the audience for Lydia’s half-hour talk on October 17, 2018 were mesmerized by her presentation. The photos and drawings she showed display wild urban bees as a natural phenomenon, and as our co-residents. Click on this link to see her Power Point slides: The Bees in Our Backyards: A Report on the Bee Residents of Harbord Village.


  • leafcutter bee on coreopsis, pollen on abdomen
    Leafcutter bee on coreopsis, with pollen on abdomen

    Photo Album, 5 June to 17 August 2018: Amazing closeups and fascinating short movies from a range of gardens, showing pollinators at work on individual flowers. Click on any shot to open a right-hand information bar identifying the insects and the flowers. Movies (tagged MVI_) will open automatically after a short loading period.

  • Two other short movies about activities in a backyard:
    • A leafcutter bee going in and out of a fencepost hole. See Musing #1 below for an account of leafcutter bees.
    • Syrphid flies mating. They’re not bees, but they function as pollinators because their hairy bodies carry pollen from one plant to another.


bird toad cartoonLydia sent out periodic brief messages to the gardeners in her project, modestly calling them Musings: “I’d like to give you snippets of some of my most interesting findings. I will do my best to accompany these letters with photos, cartoons, and captions so you can feel free to share them with your kids.” You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate the interesting information and amusing drawings in these notes. Click on the links below for the PDF files:

Springtime Plant Fair

adult and kids planting at HVRA Plant Fair
On June 4, 2017, Rose Laki Rodrigues and helpers pot up small plants for taking away; Ann Eyerman (background) surveys the offerings.

In early June each year, Harbord Village neighbours mingle with longterm-care residents and visitors on the south patio of Kensington Gardens Residence. We reminisce about past gardens and look forward to future ones, and we enjoy the display of plants for giving away (with a donation jar on the table). We also share books and magazines, equipment, and ideas about gardening.

This early-summer event is a great way to celebrate the start of the planting season, meet like-minded people, and encourage the greening of our city.

Concrete Street Planters

Harbord Village residents have been trying for years to make green spaces out of the concrete planter boxes placed at internal street corners by Toronto Transportation Services to remind drivers about our traffic maze. They were never things of beauty in themselves, and the trees they came with seldom survived. But residents created colourful miniature gardens in them nevertheless. Their volunteer work includes production of advice files (linked below) for choosing and tending perennial plants in containers.

Now the City is replacing these in-ground plantings as one step in implementing the Harbord Village Green Plan. That transformation rests on the City’s respect for our gardeners, who continue to care for the new plantings, and is coordinated by local resident Jennette Boehmer. The replacement is happening in two phases. Phase 1 transformed the intersections at Lennox and Borden, Sussex and Major, Ulster and Borden, and Major and Ulster. The other installations will take place in late 2019 or early 2020; meanwhile, local gardeners continue to care for the boxes. (All plants are guaranteed by the grower, and will be replaced if they do not survive the harsh winter.)


Here’s the story of how this initiative grew from a local effort into a city project:

Early Efforts: As a followup to the Tree Inventory of 2007-8, resident Dinny Biggs made a list of all the boxes and the conditions of their trees. In spite of the poor soil and harsh conditions, a few boxes had healthy plants and living trees. In the HVRA Newsletter of Fall 2013 (page 4), Wendy Smith asked who the caregivers were, and by the next summer she had posted photos that inspired others to look after boxes near them.

2015, First Steps in Coordination: When the Harbord Village Gardeners’ group formed in 2014, several of the members had experience in caring for the concrete planters, and shared frustrations in that role. By the next year, messages on the new Gardeners’ listserv had gathered more volunteers and put caregivers in touch with each other. In early April 2015, a few dozen residents gathered for a cleanup day. They pulled trash out of planters, then dug in wheelbarrow-loads of city compost from the Councillor’s Environment Day.

Through the 2015 growing season, caregivers traded advice on how to keep their plants alive and shared photos of encouraging results and also some cautionary tales. Kerry Clare, for instance, wrote a blog on June 16 detailing the joys of sharing planting, watering, and admiration with her young daughters. Her July 1 blog, however, fumed about the vandalism that uprooted their work—but also gave them the chance to save the day by replanting. Kerry’s photos dramatize that event.

2015, Our Own Signs: HVRA Gardeners' planter signSharing the concern about this type of incident, Leslie Thompson offered to design a sign reminding passers-by that the concrete boxes are miniature public gardens. Using a drawing by 6-year-old Finn (a resident of Major Street), and with a small subsidy from HVRA for the cost of printing, Leslie produced and inserted these signs into all of the concrete planters. They have been renewed when necessary, and have had a noticeable deterrent effect on mistreatment of the planter boxes. The only problem is a tendency of the signs themselves to disappear.

2016, Becoming Part of the Harbord Village Green Plan: Pinchpoint at Robert and Russell, TorontoThis document, accepted in 2015 by Toronto East York Community Council as an official plan, mentions the concrete street planters on page 11. It notes that they are much less attractive than the large ground-level pinchpoint at Robert and Russell (photo at left), where a birch tree and shrubs improve the streetscape as well as deterring wrong-way traffic. (In this case, the earth and rocks were simply piled on top of the existing asphalt.)

In a Spring 2016 meeting at City Hall to discuss implementation of the Green Plan, staff from the Transportation Department offered to provide perennial plants for the concrete planters as an initial act of support, and as a step towards installing in-ground planting spaces when budgets and construction schedules allowed. They consider the Gardeners’ initiative a possible model for future city-resident collaboration in caring for public green spaces.

Choosing Plants: To make the most of this significant City offer, Kate Hamilton, a local professional gardener, took the database of plants available and (with help from other amateur gardeners) created an annotated list of over 100 of the most relevant items to guide the caregivers in their choice of plants. Images, descriptions, and tips on use are provided. Now those files are available here for the interest and delectation of all gardeners:

  • Perennials and Shrubs (two separate files) used by the city on public property, with alluring descriptions and helpful annotations by members of the Harbord Village Gardeners (Ann Eyerman, Kate Hamilton, Margaret Procter, Nicole Schulman, and Leslie Thompson).

Enjoying the Results: The new perennials and shrubs, well-tended by local caregivers, took root and drew lots of admiration. Here are some scenes from Summer 2016.

Outcomes for City Planning: These are more than pretty pictures. Jennette Boehmer, coordinator of this collaborative initiative for HVRA, was able to provide them to the City, along with descriptive notes, as evidence that Harbord Village is a suitable location for further investment in public green spaces.

In October 2016, Robert Mays of the Public Realm section in the City’s Transportation Department delivered encouragement by speaking at the HVRA Fall AGM about potential designs for in-ground planting spaces to replace the concrete boxes in selected locations. Funding for this work is available from Astral Media, using shared revenue from the ads on Toronto’s street furniture.

2017: Planning for In-Street Planters

In March 2017, several dozen residents gathered to discuss next steps with Robert Mays. Here is the note sent to participants by Jennette Boehmer, the HVRA lead on this project:

Thanks to the more than twenty neighbours who attended our March 9 planning meeting. Robert Mays, our City contact, gave an informative presentation about the proposed in-street planter design and took our questions, thoughts, and ideas. Thanks too to Jeannie Hastie and Alistair Brown for describing how the Pinch Point at Robert @ Russell came into being and for offering insights and tips to the rest of us as we move forward.

Robert outlined a two-phased implementation:

  • Phase I will take place in 2017/2018 and include replacing up to half the existing planter boxes with in-street planters.
  • Phase II will take place in the following year(s).

The selection of Phase I planters was up to us, although Robert requested that we select potential intersections for replacement (rather than choosing only one planter at any given intersection) and that chosen locations be supported by strong neighbourhood commitment to maintaining the new plantings. By happy serendipity, those of you who expressed interest in participating in 2017/2018 met these criteria . . . and after some collegial discussion, we agreed on the following four Phase I intersections:

  • Borden @ Lennox (NE & SW planters)
  • Borden @ Ulster (NE & SW planters)
  • Major @ Sussex (NE & SW planters)
  • Major @ Ulster (NE & SW planters)

Congratulations to all those who are ready and excited to move forward on this and also to those who are willing to continue to maintain their planter boxes for a while longer.

Robert will now draw up the specifications, taking our comments and ideas into consideration, and get them back to us. I’ll pass the specifications on, along with a detailed description, as soon as they arrive.

NOTE: Construction and replanting of the first set of planters was completed in December 2018. 

Kensington Hospice Sensory Herb Garden

Volunteers from the Harbord Village Gardeners designed a Sensory Herb Garden in the back courtyard of Kensington Hospice at 38 Major Street and maintained it from 2014 to 2017. In 2018, maintenance was taken on by another volunteer from Kensington Hospice.

The collection of traditional herbs and other garden produce brings joy to residents, staff, and visitors, and can be visited by the public when the back gate on Brunswick is open.

It started in 2014 with a few large pots, then expanded to include in-ground plantings. The photos below show the original designer, Jess Lemieux, and one of the caregivers, Ann Eyerman. They also display the garden’s recovery after being crushed by a fallen tree branch in June 2016. The garden increased each year in size and variety. In 2017, it included both nasturtiums and mini-tomatoes. In 2018, hospice volunteer Katrina Buchanan experimented with growing vegetables as well as herbs. (Photos by Margaret Procter. Click on the arrows for a slide show with captions.)

Mirvish Village Plant Rescue, Summer 2017

With encouragement from the site manager, a group of Harbord Village Gardeners managed to save plants from the Markham St. stretch of the Honest Ed’s site just before construction took over.  A stalwart group arrived on August 10, armed with shovels, bags, and pots. We admired the persistence of abandoned plants, including some large shrubs and many weeds, and took home several shopping carts and a car trunk full of perennials. Many have been planted in the Croft Street planters; others are recovering in the rescuers’ gardens. The photo slide-show below tells the story.

Advice from Expert Gardeners

What can I grow in a container? Should I try perennials instead of buying new plants every year? Is this a weed? Why didn’t my lilac bloom this year? Here are written answers to questions like these. They were prepared by Harbord Village experts for specific projects, and remain valuable as practical advice.