Toronto Star column – published July 19, 2014
All of us can absorb inspiration from a garden or a park-like setting. I have a letter written by Winston Churchill in my possession that reads, “The whole history of mankind is bound to-gether with romance. Gardens, Trees Bushes and flowers all have their legends woven with trysting places, love bowers, moon drenced meadows, romantic woods, with birds and bees attendant.” The spelling mistakes are intentional, as this is how he wrote it and [I believe] typed it himself, perhaps after a tipple or two in the wee hours of the morning. Just guessing.
The point is that we are at the peak of the season for colour and garden performance and, in my opinion, it is best to get out there while the going is good.
There are many public parks in and around the GTA that offer incentives for you to visit. Check out my list of many venues below and plan on drinking in the show… and stick around for the real entertainment brought to you by Mother Nature herself. The butterflies, bees and song birds know a good thing when they find it.
Toronto Botanical Gardens
Enjoy a 90 minute guided tour through Toronto’s one and only botanical garden. The property is only three acres but it is dense and rich with plants and garden design ideas. Tours take place every Tuesday at 10 a.m. and Thursdays at 6 p.m. [after the Farmers’ Market closes]. I guarantee that you will miss most of the nuances of the place without the guide, who is a volunteer by the way. So be nice to her (or him). Details at www.torontobotanicalgardens.ca
Music Garden – Waterfront
This is my favourite garden in all of Toronto. I could go there a hundred times a year and not get tired of it. It is small and intimate, packed with interesting plants, paths that take you on several journeys: up, down, under the canopy of arching trees and ultimately to a private bench where you can enjoy a view and dream a little. Coffee shops are located just across the street.
Forty-five minute tours occur every Wednesday at 11 a.m. and Thursday at 5:30 p.m. throughout the summer. There are concerts every Thursday at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. They are free. Arrive early for a good seat in the amphitheatre. This is perhaps the only garden anywhere that was designed for live concerts of classical music. Take advantage of it as it belongs to you. Details at www.harbourfrontcentre.com
Franklin Children’s Garden [Toronto Island]
Now something for the kids.
I was delighted to attend the grand opening of the newly renovated Franklin Garden earlier this month. It is pure delight. If you don’t have any kids, go anyway as the sound of children’s laughter belongs in a garden: it brings it to life in a unique way and, in my opinion, it always sounds sweeter when the kids belong to someone else and I can escape to peace and quiet at my leisure.
Visit the Little Sprouts Garden to find out how plants grow as your kids dig in the dirt [ed: clean dirt], sow seeds and weed and water the garden.
The brand new Franklin’s ‘Pollination Station’ is an educational garden for kids where they can explore and learn about the important role of pollinators in our environment, including our private gardens and public green spaces. Find out why butterflies, hummingbirds, song birds and bees are more than just ‘interesting’. They are essential to our existence. Maybe there are some adults who could learn from Franklin? Planned garden activities are available each day this summer from 1 to 4 p.m.
Go to http://www.toronto.ca/ and poke around for details.
While we are on the subject of kids, I want to invite you to Riverdale Farm. I rediscovered it last year when my daughter, the landscape architect, had a job about 10 minutes away by foot. We bumped into it while out for a picnic lunch. For Torontonians over the age of 50 this place has memories that are rich with polar bears and other exotic animals as it was the home of Toronto’s official zoo ‘back in the day’. In 1978 it re-opened as a public park and farm.
Today it is the perfect place to explore: 7.5 acres of historic buildings, farm animals and heritage veggie gardens. There are programs that you can involve your children in but be sure to sign up ahead of time.
Visit www.toronto.ca/parks and search “Riverdale Farm”.
Village of Yorkville Park: Summer Music in the Park
I love the summertime Yorkville buzz. People-watching is kind of fun too as you never know who you might bump into in this upscale neighbourhood, which [to its credit] is packed with creativity of all kinds.
As a Designated Tourist District, Bloor-Yorkville hosts Summer Music In The Park. It is a music series that takes place throughout the summer in the Village of Yorkville Park, located at Bellair St. and Cumberland St.
As their website says, “Have a seat and tap your feet to the smooth summer sounds ranging from jazz with Raz Hilland Trio, to celtic pop with David Leask, to latin with Farrucas, to swing music with Big Rude Jake Duo.”
The Summer Music in the Park concert series takes place all summer through September 13th on Fridays from 11:30 am – 2:30 pm and Saturdays & Statutory Holidays between 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm (weather permitting). Details at www.bloor-yorkville.com
Humber Bay Butterfly Garden
Speaking of stealing ideas, here is a garden/park where ideas are designed to be stolen… that is to say, ‘inspire’. The Humber Bay Butterfly garden features a shortgrass prairie, wildflower meadow, interpretative signage throughout, and a butterfly ‘home garden’ intended to help home owners build their own pollination garden.
This strikes me as an excellent investment of tax payers’ dollars [and no doubt some private donors as well]. The exploding interest in all things that relate to pollination lends itself to this living example of what you can do in your own private space, even, I might add, if you live off the ground in a high rise apartment or condo [with a balcony]. The entire lakefront around the Humber Bay estuary is alive with activities including this wonderful oasis. My friend Bob lives in a condo at the foot of Humber Bay and it is always a delight to explore the area by foot or bicycle. More information at www.toronto.ca.
St James Park
St. James Park is one of my favourite public parks in the city any time of year. During the summer it provides ‘family friendly’ films on the last Thursday of each month. July 28th features The Lego Movie and Aug. 28th The Philadelphia Story [if it is the same movie that I know by that title I am not sure that your 4-year-old will be riveted by it or, for that matter, even understand it… oh well]. A great experience regardless of the movie and worthy of featuring in your essay entitled, ‘What I did this summer’. Details at www.oldtowntoronto.ca
Add to your list High Park for the summer performances of Shakespeare [for some comedy and tragedy] and several evening nature walks. Note that August 30th features ‘moth night’. Now that will be a thrill for wildlife enthusiasts. My wife has some in her woollens that she would be pleased to donate to the cause. Go to www.highpark.org for details.
Whatever you do with the rest of your summer, be sure to take some time and enjoy the beautiful natural areas we have in this city. Who knows, you may even learn something!