Tree near the greenhouses in High Park.



Darren Heimbecker - Whistling Gardens Revisited


Meetings are held at the Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church, 250 Dunn Avenue, just south of Queen Street West. Doors open at 6:30pm. Meetings start informally around 7:00pm and the meeting starts at 7:30pm. Arrive after 6:30pm and enjoy coffee and cookies while you check out the Hort library, chat, and ask questions!


Four years ago Darren dazzled us with his plans. They’re now a thriving reality, making the gardens a knockout destination for viewing rare evergreens and unusual plants.

Courtesy of the Whistling Gardens Facebook Page


How many of us can truly say we’ve achieved a life-long dream? Not the majority, I’ll wager, at least not if it is the behemoth vision Darren Heimbecker shared with us four years ago. Twenty-five years in the making, it took a lot of dreaming, planning, money, and most of all, hard work and sheer determination, to create Canada’s newest privately owned botanical garden. It proudly holds the designation of “Norfolk County’s Premiere Botanical Gardens”.

Today, Whistling Gardens is a reality that is breathtakingly unique in its mission, vision, and operation; that is garnering awards and accolades as a destination botanical garden from the Canadian and International Garden Tourism Awards, the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation, Norfolk County’s Amazing Places program, celebrity horticulturists, and even wedding planners. Yes! It was featured on W Network’s Say Yes to the Dress as a “perfect garden wedding” location.

As a tourist attraction, the gardens provide much more than beautiful garden beds. Besides the various themed gardens laid out across the sprawling 20 landscaped acres, there is also an aviary. It is home to the most exotic collection of fowl from dazzlingly coloured Golden and Reeves pheasants from China to Royal Mute swans. And though they are not known for their birdsong, the gardens are nonetheless serenaded by an increasing number of native birds which the garden habitat attracts. The presence of the birds has generated a partnership with a local birding photographer who helps to document them.

But birdsong is only one of the sources of aural stimulation at Whistling Gardens. “Inspired by Andre Le Notre’s 1634 design at the Palace of Versailles”, the Fountain Amphitheatre is Canada’s largest. Yet you won’t find opera singers pacing the stage or the three 80 ft. stone staircases that Darren built himself. The mammoth stone masterpiece is the stage for water fountain spectacles choreographed to Darren’s own original compositions which play twice daily.

The word “unique” is most fitting for Whistling Gardens, including, of course, its plant collection. Darren, with his particular penchant for conifers, has amassed the world’s largest public display, surpassing 2500 species, cultivars, and hybrids. For the purists among us there are over 450 rare or native Carolinian trees on the site and a woodland walk takes you through 165 Dawn redwoods. And the gardens have received a peony collection of over 900 varieties. Who knew there were so many?  Lots of folks, because the spring show is apparently drawing a lot of interest.

Nothing that is part of Darren Heimbecker’s dream garden adventure is short of grand! Indeed, there is little about Whistling Gardens that can’t be described with superlatives. But a picture is worth 1,000 adjectives, and Darren’s presentation this month on the dream that became Whistling Gardens must be seen to be believed. Don’t miss the show!

Maria Nunes


Parkdale Seedy Saturday - March 5, 2016, 11AM - 3PM


Invitation to the January meeting

Hi. I’m Clement Kent and I’ll be talking at our January meeting about Caring for Our Planet, not just as gardeners and horticulturalists but also as ordinary people of any sort. I’ve been thinking and researching this for six months now, and some of the most interesting insights I’ve gained have come from asking people what the topic means to them. I’ve talked with gardeners and geeks and geographers, economists and ecologists and environmentalists, farmers, family and friends, landscapers and law students. I’ll present some of their answers but I also want to spend time discussing this with you. If you have friends who are engaged in caring activities, bring them along even if they’re not gardeners. I’ll be using feedback I get from you a few days later when I give the talk again to environmental studies students at York University. Although I’ll touch on ethics, spirituality, and philosophy, I’ll also describe very specific small acts you can do every day in your garden or in your life which help. Please bring your questions and friends! Come and help educate me on this fascinating subject!

Meetings are held at the Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church, 250 Dunn Avenue, just south of Queen Street West. Doors open at 6:30pm. Meetings start informally around 7:00pm and the meeting starts at 7:30pm. Arrive after 6:30pm and enjoy coffee and cookies while you check out the Hort library, chat, and ask questions!


Clement Kent - Caring For Our Planet


Meetings are held at the Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church, 250 Dunn Avenue, just south of Queen Street West. Doors open at 6:30pm. Meetings start informally around 7:00pm and the meeting starts at 7:30pm. Arrive after 6:30pm and enjoy coffee and cookies while you check out the Hort library, chat, and ask questions!

After 20 years, Clement will revisit ecological gardening from a spiritual and ethical perspective. He’ll ask how gardeners and horticultural societies can contribute to the development of what Aldo Leopold called The Land Ethic (1949), what Arne Naess called Deep Ecology (1973), and what Pope Francis calls Integral Ecology. These thinkers emphasize the need to expand our ethics and spiritual beliefs to include a deep concern for the state of the whole natural world. Clement will address gardening for the human spirit, for nature, and how we can spread integral ecology through our own gardens and through our society’s projects.


One of the interesting things about this job of bio writer is that, when we have repeat speakers, I already have a lot of material to work from. As some of you may guess, all of our speakers have bios on their web pages or have canned bios they provide to organizations they’re going to speak at, etc. So why do I put Barbara Japp through the ringer every month with my usually late submissions of bios that I insist on writing after doing a phone interview, instead of just cobbling together various bits from my archives and from the internet? Well, the response I’ve received from many of you over the years seems to indicate that whatever the reason, it results in something you enjoy reading.

So, back to the return speakers—the first thing I do is re-read what I’ve written in past years (I’m a digital as well as a physical pack-rat). I wouldn’t want to ask the same questions or repeat the same details; in fact, it challenges me to build on previous bios. In the case of Clement Kent, well, the fact that he’s ‘one of our own’ as well as one of our founding fathers, a past President a few times over, and that many of you might know even more about him than I could ever get into 300 words, means that I have to reach far and deep into the question of who Clement Kent really is. So this month, given he’s written a very nice description of his presentation himself, I’ll make this slightly different.

Clement and I met some thirty years ago when we both worked for a leading edge software company, I.P. Sharp Associates. We crossed paths again here at the Hort when I joined around 1996. I was surprised, though later I realized I shouldn’t have been, that a computer nerd also liked gardening. Now that I’ve been studying at York University, that makes three different points of intersection in our lives and, if he wasn’t married to the lovely Lena, I’d probably be checking with a psychic reader to find out if we weren’t meant to be together or some such! I should be so lucky!

Yet, the various intersections of our lives still leave much ground to be covered (in mulch, of course), many species to be discovered, catalogued, cultivated, perhaps, or at least, observed and experimented with. Such, in a way, is Clement’s trajectory through computing, horticulture, and genetics and entomology. Wherever he turns his attention, Clement starts digging about, gathering experience and knowledge, and finally, trying to make some sense of how to turn those into something useful, beautiful, and good for us and the planet. Computing? Well, of course, it’s all about the elegance of efficiency in patterns and numbers for solving problems. Gardening? It’s all about observation and experimenting and we know from past years’ presentations that Clement is brilliant at discovering new plants, finding out new things about old favourites, and has a wealth of knowledge where gardening is concerned—both in the ‘how to’ and in the ‘why’ of all things plant-related.

His most recent venture, in academia, beginning with his doctoral research on fruit flies and now, his attention to honey bees is yet one more area where he has, in the most holistic way, applied his work and interests in an effort to improve our world. As he wrote to me, it is a “four year project to give beekeepers tools to breed honeybees that resist disease and adverse weather better, and that produce more honey”. A sweet, well-rounded goal that impacts human survival through our relationship with the natural world and a most noble goal that any of us gardeners would be proud to be part of, I’m sure.

One of my anthropology profs once answered my question about specializing versus dealing with the big picture (I was in first year and very prematurely grappling with this conundrum!), he told me you start with the particular all the way through graduate degrees, and that somehow you come back to the big picture. Clement has most certainly dealt with the particular, and not in just one discipline; but he seems now, more than anything, to be focused on the big picture.

That doesn’t mean the fine details are no longer important. He wrote the words above to me from Nice where he is at the moment “doing research on an interesting Italian aceto di miele (honey vinegar) and (bien sur!) French wines”. But he’ll be back in time to share photos of this trip most assuredly, as he engages us in his work—a decidedly big-picture, participatory venture. What follows is his own invitation to his upcoming talk.

Maria Nunes


Organic Master Gardening Course - Winter 2016


AGM and speaker Jode Roberts - Homegrown National Park Project


Meetings are held at the Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church, 250 Dunn Avenue, just south of Queen Street West. Doors open at 6:30pm. 


We’ll make it short and sweet, but come and see our Board voted in, hear some brief reports and enjoy some special treats on us.

Our Speaker Jode Roberts - Homegrown National Park Project

Planting canoes along the former route of Garrison Creek is just one way the David Suzuki Foundation’s Homegrown National Park Project playfully reimagines the City of Toronto as a National Park. Jode will share lessons learned from his work implementing these fun interventions.  

By Jode! Let’s Paint the Town Green!

Painting the town can be a little unholy, but painting it green with the David Suzuki Foundation’s (DSF) Jode Roberts is next to godliness for those of us who love nature. Among the environmental organization’s many initiatives is a project called The Homegrown National Park System and Roberts is going to be talking to us about this and other initiatives that promote a continuous “green corridor” through the country.

You might call it painting the town green, but that art is itself one of the outlets for Roberts’ many creative talents. His website is home to an extensive gallery of his colourful, abstract meditations (my term), as well as copious expertly executed photographs of everything from a scenic mountainside where a cow sporting it’s very lovely round brass bell is perfectly posed, to an evocative shot of bees buzzing around a hive, to his darling son taking glorious childhood flight from a patio chair. And of course, there is a photo of some of Toronto’s Park Rangers seated in a blue canoe before filling it with soil and planting native pollinators.

Yes, in all National Parks there have to be Rangers! And Toronto’s are mentoring the Homegrown Park System. It aims to connect existing green spaces, both public and private, in the most imaginative places, as well as creating new and inventive ones in a bid to expand consciousness about the earth’s living systems of which we are a part. And that’s where the canoe comes in.

But that’s what you’ll have to come to our next Hort meeting to find out about. As an artist, long time writer, communications strategist, and musical bike parade leader, among many other interesting projects, Roberts is sure to make a fun and compelling presentation that will have us all looking upon our own gardens as they slowly go to sleep and begin to dream up ways to join the Park System.

—Maria Nunes


October Meeting Competition!

We had a competition for our October 2015 meeting - whoever could identify the largest number of these flowers by the time of the October 26, 2015 meeting would receive a prize (awarded at the meeting) and mention in the November newsletter. Now the answers are revealed! 

To see the names of the plants with thier images, click here to veiw them in the Gallery.


Miriam Goldberger - Taming Wildflowers

October 26, 2015 MEETING

Meetings are held at the Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church, 250 Dunn Avenue, just south of Queen Street West. Doors open at 6:30pm. Meetings start informally around 7:00pm and the meeting starts at 7:30pm. Arrive after 6:30pm and enjoy coffee and cookies while you check out the Hort library, chat, and ask questions!

Volunteers Needed to help set up the meeting room for 7pm. Arrive by 6:15pm, set up chairs and tables, wheel out the library, open the projection screen, and other small things that need doing before everyone arrives.  

An organic and sustainable flower farmer, Miriam has seeded, planted, nurtured, harvested and created floral designs with thousands upon thousands of wildflowers. As in her book, Taming Wildflowers, her knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for wildflowers will take us from seed to vase. Check out the Wildflower Farms website here.


There are many ways the moniker Earth Mother is used and in most ways, this month’s speaker is a manifest example. Miriam Goldberger recently described her Thanksgiving Day family gathering as “incredible” for the distance from which family members travelled (all over North America) to be together for this harvest season celebration. Such familial warmth and exuberance apparently transcends the very personal into the professional. Miriam was once a midwife, a role that suits someone who exudes such a nurturing personality; and her preoccupation with birth and people has transcended yet another order of life—from ‘fauna’ to flora. Miriam loves bringing seeds to life, from dormancy into germination and growth, through maturation and into what she refers to as the radiance of fall colours.Courtesy of Miriam’s Twitter page.

Miriam, who hails from New Jersey, has been in Canada for 35 years. After a career in Toronto working for a Los Angeles-based sound effects post-production company, she became a late 20th century back-to-the-lander, settling in Schomberg. She was able to expand and grow the interest she’d been developing in growing plants from seed, an interest that became an enduring love affair. And then, together with her husband and business partner, Paul Jenkins, she founded Wildflower Farm in 1988.

The company has an impeccable reputation for a variety of products. Beginning with wholesale dried flowers to becoming Ontario’s first pick-your-own flower farm in 1991, Wildflower Farm soon became a destination. After much demand from customers, the farm developed Eco-Lawn, a turf-grass mix of drought tolerant, low maintenance species. In 2000, the farm expanded further, selling wildflower seeds, meadow mixes, and Eco-Lawn throughout North America via their website Wildflower moved to its present location in Coldwater, Ontario, outside Orillia, in 2004. Their products have evolved to focus on native plants and grasses, now only available as seeds, since Miriam has come to see that plugs are not the best means to ensure plant survival. This is one of the issues she will discuss in her talk this month.

Miriam is renowned as a knowledgeable and engaging speaker. She will share photos of Wildflower Farm’s spectacular 100 acres, including what she describes as “beautiful, beautiful acres” of little and big blue stem grasses turning their rusty fall colour which, at the time of writing is “perfectly at peak” and “completely spectacular”. This will be a pleasant way to visit the farm which has ceased its casual destination status but still schedules tours and workshops, now offered only to horticultural, building and landscape architects, planners, farmers, florists, conservation and environmental groups. Wildflower Farm’s business has been completely online for the last two years.

This change in operations made it possible for Miriam to write her book Taming Wildflowers which she will have available for sale at our meeting. Don’t miss her expert lessons in step-by-step seeding and nurturing of hardy native perennial seeds, to site specific seed mixes for everything from institutional plantings to an instant meadow for summer and fall weddings.

If that’s not what you’d call an Earth Mother, I don’t know what is!

Maria Nunes


Windsor Orchid Show and Sale


Tony Spencer - Designing with Grasses


What a great presentation by Tony, with amazing photos, interesting quotes and fantastic ideas. To download the plant list and speach notes, please click here

Grasses and sedges can bring a true feeling of wild nature into the garden with subtlety or an architectural statement. Join award-winning blogger (The New Perennialist), Tony Spencer, for an in-depth look at incorporating them into your garden or designing a modern grass-driven landscape.


Our new Hort meeting season features the return of Tony Spencer just in time to learn how to appreciate the end-of-year displays of grasses that have been growing and building the softscape of gardens all summer long. Now, in their maturity, Tony will show us how they can become a focal point at this time of the year, even as they may have long overgrown their low, soft mounds.

As we learned a few years ago, Tony has been greatly inspired by the gardens of Piet Oudolf in Holland. The prairie-like vistas he described of meadows with grasses and late season bloomers come from September viewings called Grass Days at Oudolf’s gardens.

This September, we’ll learn from Tony how to create late season garden interest with grasses in our own gardens.

Ed. note: For even more beautiful pictures, see facebook site Dutch Dreams.

Maria Nunes