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. We work together to encourage gardening and to implement public greening projects. This page outlines our regular events and occasional initiatives, with links to more news on other pages; don’t miss the Advice files.

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.

Springtime Plant Fairs

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 everybody enjoys the display of donated plants. They’re all given away free of charge (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.

Starting in 2018, the City is now replacing these in-ground plantings. This initiative addresses a goal of the Harbord Village Green Plan, to take under-used public spaces and make them green. It rests on the City’s respect for our gardeners, who saw the potential of the ugly concrete boxes originally, transformed them into small gardens, and now continue to care for the new plantings. Local resident Jennette Boehmer coordinates their efforts with the resources of the city.

The replacement is happening in two phases. In late 2018, Phase 1 reconstructed and replanted 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.

As the photos below indicate, the new structures form larger barriers to wrong-way drivers. In spite of a late planting and some initial disappointments with tree and plant survival, most are starting to show their potential as public gardens. (All plants are guaranteed by the grower, and will be replaced if necessary in the fall planting season.)

Summertime Sidewalk Strolls

2019 Harbord Village Garden Strolls -- flyerSince 2017, small groups of local garden-lovers have gathered on Tuesday summer evenings at Margaret Fairley Park around 7pm (6:30pm in September). We confer on a route, then set 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!

As an incentive, enjoy this slide show of  photos taken by participants. It displays the range of front-yard gardens, from designed and cared-for to wild and random, and shows the seasonal variety of plants. This selection is arranged from spring to fall, with some of the later photos taken at dusk. Thanks to photographers Leslie Carlin, Sarah Hastie, Marilyn Martin, Margaret Procter, and others. Use the arrows or mousewheel to scroll through the selections. 

Winter Outing, 2019

The Harbord Village Gardeners periodically create other local events—a book club comparing our favourite books about gardening, for instance, and occasional outings to sites of interest. 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. 

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.

  • Photo Album, 5 June to 17 August 2018: Lydia sent amazing closeups and fascinating short movies to the people whose gardeners she visited, 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.
  • She also gave us two other short movies about backyard activities:
      • 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 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? Here are written answers to questions like these. They were prepared by Harbord Village experts for specific projects, and remain valuable as practical advice.

    • Two annotated lists of Perennials and Shrubs prepared for caregivers of the concrete planters and relevant to anyone wondering about choices for container and in-ground gardens.
    • Planting and Caring for Perennials, a guidesheet by Kate Hamilton for those new to this type of gardening.