Terry Fahey - Restoring Habitat At Hillside Gardens In High Park

March 25, 2013 Meeting. Our meetings are held at Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church, 250 Dunn Ave., South of Queen St. West. Doors open at 6:30pm. Social time starts at 7:00pm. The meeting starts at 7:30pm.

Discover High Park through archival photographs with naturalist Terry Fahey and see the plans to restore the wetlands and black oak savannah at Hillside Gardens to attract wildlife back to the park.

There’s an old saying, “you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy”, that reflects this month’s speaker, Terry Fahey. Although Torontonians are more apt to think of Kitchener as ‘country’, growing up in one of its new subdivisions must have seemed like being in the city. But Terry was always drawn to the wildness of the nearby woods, spending time with his boyhood best friend who grew up on a farm at the edge of the city. He was inspired by and drawn to the outdoors. It is no wonder then that he has spent all of his adult life working in gardens.

Terry trained in landscape technology at both Humber College and Ryerson University and spent 25 years as a residential garden designer/ builder. He is now in his 23rd season as a gardener with the Parks Department, the last eight seasons at Hillside Gardens in High Park. His assignment: the Hillside Gardens at High Park, located on the hill sloping down from the west side of Colborne Lodge Road to the east shore of Grenadier Pond. The area encompasses 14 acres, 2 of them cultivated as gardens. There are formal gardens around the building by the road which houses City of Toronto Parks offices; the little and big rockeries with their steps of cascading waterfalls; a rambling shade garden; the begonia maple leaf by the pond; various smaller beds; and now there is a pollinator’s garden which our own Clement Kent helped to initiate.

Terry hopes the success of Clement’s project will support his vision of a greater focus on native plants in these gardens; he sees that as the paradigm shift leading the latest of the progressive changes the gardens have gone through over the decades. Earlier incarnations that made use mostly of annuals (and still evident in the aforementioned maple leaf) have given way to the use of perennials and some natives. Terry thinks the gardens can take inspiration from the U.K.’s Beth Chatto’s ‘gravel’ garden theory.

He knows that management’s association of ‘natural’ gardens with shoddy messiness means this update to 21st century gardening has to be managed very carefully “in all aspects of design from frequency, juxtaposition, size of beds, and contrasting form”. The payoff, he believes, will be beautiful more resilient gardens that require less labour to maintain and therefore, fewer dollars. That should please the bean counters!

Terry’s interest in using plant material that is native and/or was on the site originally means research, both for what those plants were, as well as experimenting with them in the nursery. As we know from our volunteers at the Colborne Lodge gardens, there is some documentation available on these old time gardens. This month, Terry will share with us and also engage our members in learning about and envisioning our neighbourhood and the city’s premier inner city park, High Park’s Hillside Garden revitalization.

—Maria Nunes

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