Last weekend I visited my friend Barry Parker, the man with the best backyard garden in Toronto. Barry recently returned from a botanical tour of South Africa (he is starting to post pictures on his blog) and we were treated to a slideshow of photos he took on the trip. So of course, I have added the Quiver Tree Forest to an ever-growing list of places I would like to visit someday.
Back to Barry’s garden. Unfortunately, I was lazy and did not bring a proper camera. As a result all of these photos were taken with my phone. Still, they may not be the best photos I have taken, but there are some wonderful things happening at Barry’s that I know you would like to see.
My friend Uli Havermann has the most inspiring garden. [Note: you might remember Uli from the community greenhouse and this incredible succulent pot.] She manages to bring a passion for foliage and a love for vintage metal and terra cotta together in a way that is visually mind-blowing.
I first met Uli when I visited the garden that she shares with her partner Paul Zammit on a Toronto Open Gardens day way back in 2010. I did not do any research on the gardens that I would be visiting on that day, and had no idea what to expect. But the moment we drove up to Uli and Paul’s, I knew I was in for something special.
UPDATE (April 10, 2013): My plants have flower buds!
Are you afraid to grow hellebore? I am. Like clematis, they are a plant that I have long associated with hoity-toity gardeners and their fancy pants gardens. Their ticket price doesn’t help matters. Hellebores are notoriously expensive plants, often coming in at the $20-30 mark in most retail garden centres. That’s a lot of money to sink into a plant that I am almost certain I will kill.
And then I met Barry Parker.
Barry loves hellebores. He also loves clematis (but that’s a story for another day). And you know what? Barry’s garden is awfully fancy. Few fully staffed, public gardens I have visited have been able to pull off what Barry achieves in his urban Toronto backyard. While the initial shock has worn off, after 4 years, it still blows my mind every time that I visit it.
It may be fancy and a little bit intimidating, but I never walk away from Barry’s garden feeling like a failure in my own. I think this is owing to Barry’s heart of gold and his cheerful, encouraging, and generous charm. Instead, I always leave Barry’s garden with a can-do attitude and the drive to do better. Whats more, having Barry as a friend has helped me come a long way in undoing old, self-imposed stereotypes about gardeners, plants, and gardens.
Dear Margaret: Those two words are how each “letter” in this new series will begin, whenever I write here to my friend Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden.
2013 is a banner year for me. In just under 5 months I will turn 40. Hello, overnight occurrences of strangely oversized chin hair, indeterminate body aches, and an unhealthy addiction to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” Hello, mid-life crisis.
“So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore.”
I recently watched the comedy “This is 40” and while I have no illusions that a Hollywood film will “get me” and portray a reality that I know, I walked away feeling somewhat fortunate (or was it superior?) in that while my 40th may be A LOT flabbier and is not heralded forward with a full-service catered tent party in an expensive and dully landscaped flush suburban backyard, a decade’s worth of therapy has prepared me so that it is (at least I think) a lot less CRAYZZEE.
Anyways, just last month, my Internet website, “celebrated” its 13th webiversary. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing here about gardening in some form for 13 years. Did you say recently that you’ve been writing about gardening for 25 years? I never expected to be doing this for such a long time, but then again, I didn’t start off with many expectations period, so its all a bit of a surprise. 13 years later and I have changed careers, written books I didn’t know were in me, and experienced a host of wonderful, frightening, and sometimes surreal things… all because I wanted to create a love letter to plants and meet likeminded people. Life is funny.
All photos in this post are credited to Avant Gardens.
As a gardener with particular tastes and interests that border on obsession, it’s always a treat to meet someone who shares the same enthusiasm and passions. I was introduced to Katherine Tracy and her nursery Avant Gardens (located in Dartmouth, Massachusetts) through Margaret, who found out about this off-the-beaten-track plant treasure trove by word-of-mouth through some of her gardening friends. “She’s one of us,” Margaret explained, meaning to say through verbal shorthand that she’s a bit plant crazy (the best kind of crazy) and with impeccable taste to boot (because, of course, being somewhat mad, we happen to believe our own tastes in plants are impeccable).
Collectors of unusual and interesting plants since the 1980s, owners Katherine and Chris Tracey sell all manner of colourful foliage and dependable perennials. Like many of the most interesting nurseries, their business got started by way of a personal passion that simply got out of hand. They began doing mail order in 1997, focussing on uncommon annuals, but gradually moved on to include some of the perennials, trees, and shrubs they personally grew as well.