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.

We especially like sharing photos. See the new Photo page with seasonal slide shows!

The group includes gardeners of all ages and experience. We work together to encourage gardening and implement public greening projects. This page outlines our regular events and occasional initiatives, with links to other pages with photos and advice.

Newsletters are sent a dozen or so times a year to share news about local gardening projects and events, offers of plants or equipment being given away, and questions and answers about gardening topics. To receive and contribute to those messages, email gardeners@harbordvillage.com and ask to be added to the email distribution list.

* Past newsletter messages are archived here.*

All-Season Sidewalk Strolls—Memories and Photos

2019 Harbord Village Garden Strolls -- flyer

From 2017 to 2020, small groups of local garden-lovers gathered on Tuesday spring and summer and fall evenings at Margaret Fairley Park around 7pm (6:30pm in September). We conferred on a route, then set off to stroll around a block or two. We stopped to admire plants in front gardens and laneways, chat with each other about what they are and how to grow them, and share enjoyment and questions about city gardening. Sometimes we ended up talking with—and thanking—the gardeners in person.

During the pandemic we haven’t been able to gather in groups. But photos from our own walks and gardens enlivened our e-newsletters (eblasts) and have been collected on a new webpage so you can enjoy them any time: just click on this link to Harbord Village Gardeners’ Photos, and bookmark it for return visits.

Early Summer Plant Fairs–Notes and Photos

adult and kids planting at HVRA Plant Fair
Rose Rodrigues and helpers; Ann Eyerman surveying.

In early June each year until the pandemic hit, Harbord Village neighbours mingled with longterm-care residents and visitors on the south patio of Kensington Gardens Residence. We reminisced about past gardens and looked forward to future ones, and everybody enjoyed the display of donated plants. All plants were given away free of charge (with a donation jar on the table). We also shared books and magazines, equipment, and ideas about gardening. See photos and notes from past Plant Fairs on our page in the HVRA Events section.

Sadly, in 2022 and 2023, we had to suspend the Plant Fair once again, largely from concern about inadvertently sharing undetectable Jumping-Worm eggs and cocoons in soil. (See this link for the YouTube recording of an excellent talk on this new garden pest: https://youtu.be/HiaX3B5Z_UE).

In 2020 and 2021 we turned to contactless sharing of seeds, seedlings, and perennial divisions. Since 2022, even with the Jumping-Worm plague threatening us, we have found new ways to keep sharing seeds, self-grown seedlings, and plant cuttings. Sign up for our seasonal email newsletters to see our new ways of managing safe exchanges and giveaways.

Winter Outings

The Harbord Village Gardeners periodically create other local events–a book club comparing our favourite books about gardening, for instance, and occasional group visits to sites of interest. Here are two outings from February 2019 (desperately needed) and February 2020 (very welcome).

An informal excursion in February 2019 was particularly welcome. Kate Hamilton interrupted the bleak winter 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: “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, and feasts everywhere for the eyes and 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 sights that brought solace in a hard winter.

The winter of 2020 wasn’t quite as desperate, but a small group greatly enjoyed Allan Gardens on February 22. We breathed in the plant-laden air, soaked up the colours, basked in the tropical heat along with the turtles, and enjoyed meeting several volunteer guides–one of whom turned out to live in Harbord Village and promptly joined the Gardeners’ group. Here are more photos to keep us believing in summer, at least in the form offered by a sunny greenhouse.

Concrete Street Planters

Harbord Village gardeners tried for many years to make green spaces out of the concrete planter boxes placed at internal street corners by Toronto Transportation Services, intended 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.

In 2018 the City began an initiative to replace these planters with larger in-ground plantings edged by low concrete curbs. In late November 2018, new structures were built at Lennox and Borden, Sussex and Major, Ulster and Borden, and Major and Ulster. Two used a large curved shape, designed by neighbour Daniel Suss. Unfortunately, the soil provided was sometimes of bad quality, and not all plants survived.

Completion of the project was planned for late 2019 or early 2020, but was suspended because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, local gardeners cared for the 2018 planting areas as well as the old boxes. As seen below, the new structures form larger barriers to wrong-way drivers, and the plantings are often spectacular.

After reminders from our group, in Fall 2022 the City replaced the remainder of the boxes, with a variety of shapes and a consistent set of plantings. In Spring 2023, the new planters are settling in, with consistent plantings of St. John’s Wort and good-sized red oaks, but some unfortunate instances of damage.

To our surprise, we found in Fall 2023 that the City had installed large new in-ground planters at College intersections with Major and Brunswick. They are clearly intended to divert stormwater and provide water to existing tree, though soil is scarce and trash is prolific. Photos to come once the trees and plants have settled in.


Pollinator Study, Summer 2018

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 that subject—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.

Lydia sent amazing closeups and fascinating short movies to the people whose gardeners she visited, showing pollinators at work on individual flowers. In her Photo Album, 5 June to 17 August 2018, click on any image to open an information bar identifying the insects and flowers.

In addition, these two movies (tagged MVI) will open automatically after a short loading period:

  • 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.

Lydia also sent periodic brief messages to the gardeners in her project, modestly calling them Musings.Click on the links below for her PDF files:

  • bird toad cartoon


    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 slideshow below tells the story.

    Kensington Hospice Sensory Herb Garden, 2014-17 and continuing

    Members of 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 a 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 and 2019, 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.)

    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? Use the green links below to get written answers to questions like these. They were prepared by Harbord Village experts for specific projects, and remain valuable as practical advice.