I’ve added another garden to my “must-visit” list for this summer. Deanna from Quinte Botanical Gardens, east of Toronto, has been telling me about the gardens that she and her husband, John, created.
Here is my Q+A with Deanna.
The photo on your website shows an attractive edible garden with arcs of colourful lettuce. Can you describe your edible garden?
We built an edible garden for several reasons: to show by example how many wonderful veggies (and fruits) there are that people can grow in our climate zone; to encourage more people to eat healthier; for the fun of “designing with lettuces”; we would like to build small-scale and/or vertical veggie gardens to help people who don’t have lots of room on their property but would like a veggie garden; we’re working on inviting health professionals to come speak about healthy eating habits and the benefits of veggies and herbs; methods of composting; a biggie is to teach children where food REALLY comes from (you should see their faces when they pluck a carrot from the ground – it’s hilarious and wonderful!); we hope to have fun events like asking local chefs to have a friendly competition in creating dishes with veggies plucked only from the veggie garden; we are also showing small quantities of actual farm crops to teach people about where our food comes from, a farm appreciation area; and due to the size of the veggie garden John and I grow lots of squash because it keeps on a shelf for a long period, so at harvest time we support the local food banks with a truckload of food.
What are some of the crops you grow in your edible garden?
Gosh, here’s a list: Arugula, Asparagus, Basil, Beets, Bush Beans, Carrots, Celeriac, Chard, Chives, Cilantro (purposely left to go to seed as it is a proven help to pollinators), Cucumber, Eggplant, Garlic, Ground Cherry, Kale, a large variety of Lettuce, Melons, Mint (kept separately), flowery “edibles” such as Nasturtiums, Onions, Oregano, Parsley, Peas, Peppers, Pole Beans, Potatoes, Radish, Raspberries, Rutabaga, Sage, Spinach, 5 types of Squash, Sweet Potatoes (although the bunnies clobber them), Tarragon, about 9 types of Tomatoes, Turnips, 2 types of Watermelons, and Zucchini.
What is your favourite edible crop?
That’s a hard one because all veggies in moderation are really good for you and eating a variety keeps people interested. But personally I would have to say Chard and Watermelons.
How did you and John get into edible gardening?
From our landscaping experience at helping people who didn’t think they could grow edibles, and when we first thought of building a botanical garden, the veggie garden was a priority in the plans. Also, John just loves growing anything from seed, and gets huge enjoyment and satisfaction from witnessing a tiny seed grow into something that feeds us. It’s incredible to watch! When we moved from Mississauga to the country we went from a tiny suburban 5’ x 5’ edible garden to an 80’ x 150’ edible garden – you’re looking at two kids in a candy store! ☺
What edible plants can visitors expect to see in the edible garden at different times of year?
Well, the earlier ones like Lettuce, Radish, etc. all the way through to the later ones like Squashes cover a timeline from mid June to late September, so there’s always something to see, touch and taste for people. We encourage all visitors to do this and they have a blast trying them all.
Tell me about the other gardens that you have at Quinte Botanical Gardens.
The QBG was designed by myself to create an area where there is wonderment, joy, peacefulness, fun, interesting tidbits of information about plants to learn about, the appreciation of beauty, the benefits of plants and how important they are to our world. With that in mind I wanted to ensure that each visitor would enjoy different themed gardens. Some of the gardens include: a Formal Knot Garden, with info on the historical uses of Boxwood; an authentic Oriental Garden where people learn about the purposes and differences of Japanese and Chinese garden designs; a White Garden which offers tranquility and elegance; a Bird, Bee, Butterfly Garden that encourages people to learn about pollinators, best plants, planting for different stages of butterfly needs, tons of bird activities, nature at it’s best, how to help critters, migration maps, etc.; a romantic Rose Garden with climbing roses, Clematis vines, lots of Lavender and colourful Wave Petunias (weddings are being booked here now); a special Dedication Garden to say “thank you” to soldiers, police and firefighters, who put their lives on the line keeping us safe (also we are 10 mins away from the CFB Trenton base so there are a lot of soldiers in the area, plus it is sentimental to me as I will never forget the experiences my parents had during the war and am grateful every day); a Natural Garden which displays Evergreens and Ornamental Grasses; a large Colour Wheel Garden, divided into 8 “pie” shapes, each designed to display monochromatic colours; a Fun and Fragrance Garden, where people enjoy tons of different plants with lots of colour and humour throughout; and others.
How long have you been building the gardens? What got you started creating the gardens?
While operating our landscaping business, we planned the QBG over 9 winters. Creating gardens for people at their homes is very satisfactory work. Each time we built a garden it made people immensely happy. They love their surroundings, they get outside more and enjoy the property, they appreciate plants more, garden expand the use of their land. We learned what a positive effect gardens have on people for a multitude of reasons and thought how wonderful it would be if we built botanical gardens for people to enjoy, so it became a long-term dream. The “why” we built them explanation can take about 3 pages long, so I’ll try to fit it into one short statement: GARDENS HELP PEOPLE.
When did you open to the public?
Digging started in 2016 and 95% of the gardens were completed by fall of 2017. We opened August 1, 2017 for a couple of months as a trial to see how we progressed and “get the bugs out.” And 2018 was our first full year open. Several people have asked how did we do this in such a short period of time as a project of this magnitude would usually take 5 to 10 years. But please remember that we have been landscaping for 9 years so it was just a question of building several gardens in one location, as opposed to several in different locations (for customers). Project management was huge but we’re used to it. Also, realistically, the QBG is not funded like the Montreal Botanical Gardens or the RBG, so investing in a large project over several years was not an option for us. This year we’re working on special presentations (for visitors), school trips as an educational venue for different class years, spreading the word about the QBG as much as possible, and possible tour packages. One of the events we hope to create is to hold a garden festival in support of local organizations and businesses related to the gardening and nature world. Other ideas popping up.
Edible flower expert Denise Schreiber, author of the book Eat Your Roses, tells us how to make an edible-flower pizza during the March edition of The Garage Gardeners Show.
IT’S A BEAUTIFUL STORY of how the act of growing replaced a mistrust of the world with a desire to share the joy of growing.
I recently had the pleasure of connecting with Leila Mireskandari, an educator who is on a mission to fostering the habit of gardening in younger generations.
Leila, who talks about growing up in an environment of war in Iran, says that she lost the ability to see good in the world around her. She had moved to Toronto, Canada, and was focused on her own life and her job as a software developer. Her focus was inwards.
She explains that while she was on maternity leave, she spent a lot of time watching online videos. One of those videos inspired her to redirect that inward focus. Leila was moved to see the world in a different light after seeing a simple video about growing potatoes. The video wasn’t just about potatoes, though—it had powerful symbolism.
In the video, a newspaper with bad news on the front cover was placed on the ground, covered with potatoes and then straw. The bad news was used to grow potatoes. This simple act of growing moved Leila. Having seen this permaculture video, she started to seek out information on permaculture. “There was no way I could say no to my passion,” she says.
While she did return to her programming work for a while, Leila eventually left her programming job to found Urban Guilds Permaculture.
With her life now refocused on growing, and with a young child, Leila became aware that growing was not part of her daughter’s education. “Why is my daughter not being taught to grow food?” she asked. And so began Leila’s journey into inspiring kids to garden and to grow food. And with that, Leila founded Kids Growing City.
Hear Leila’s inspiring story below.
I LOVE IT when kids see things that adults don’t! I would never have thought of a dragon’s garden: It was Finn’s idea.
This week Emma spoke at Toronto Botanical Garden about making gardening fun for kids. Emma shared her favourite fun plants for kids—and one of those fun plants is a gorgeous bean called Dragon Tongue.
Then she talked about fun theme gardens including a tickling garden, a purple garden, and giant’s garden.
The next morning we had a note from Finn’s mom. Finn came to the talk—and Finn is stoked about gardening. Not only that: He plans to grow Dragon Tongue beans in a dragon-themed garden.
Emma and I were floored. What a fantastic idea!
So we scoured seed websites for dragon-themed plants. Here are ideas for kids who want a dragon-themed garden:
Dragon’s Egg cucumber
Purple Dragon carrot
Red Dragon arugula
Tongue of Fire bean
Snapdragon…and there are so many sizes and colours
Dragon’s Toe pepper
Green Dragon cucumber
Thai Dragon hot pepper
Blue Dragon dracocephalum
Flower Dragon watermelon
Black Dragon coleus
There are lots more plants with a dragon connection. Just ask kids—they can help us imagine what best fits here:
Toothy. (An agave looks pretty toothy to my imagination. Or, if you want to stretch things, dandelion comes from French—dent-de-lion—which means "lion's tooth.” I even found a daylily called ‘Snaggle Tooth.’)
Long and pointy for the tail. (Corn? …I’ll let the kids brainstorm this one.)
Leathery or spiny for dragon-like skin. (I’m picturing citrus rind here; and Litchi Tomato would be perfect!)
Serpent-like shape. (I think snake gourds might work!)
Wings (How about a winged bean, angel wing begonia…or maybe something with winged seeds such as maple?)
When Emma and I created the talk, we sat down together to iron out key messages. Emma starts and finishes her talk by reminding adults that kids might not look at gardening the same way adults do….so let kids be creative. The dragon-themed garden is a beautiful affirmation of that message and a very moving reward for the time we put into building the talk!
Thank you Finn!
Since my daughter, Emma, and I started filming videos for the From Dirt to Dishes YouTube Channel she shares with her friend Ty, I have a new appreciation for well-produced video. Luckily, Ty’s mom, Jessica, gave me lots of video-related tips in the beginning!
I have to admit that I’m a bit technically challenged, so piecing together video clips with sound, transitions, intros, and outros has been quite a learning curve. It’s fun, though—and it’s great to learn another way to share stories.
So I chatted with Niki to find out more. (Niki is also the author of Veggie Garden Remix, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, and Groundbreaking Food Gardens.) Through her books, her talks, and her radio show, Niki has a real gift for sharing the delight of gardening. Here’s our chat:
Tell me about the show
As a fellow food gardener, my whole goal is to get people growing food no matter where they live or how much space they have. In my garden, I love to grow a wide range of unique vegetables, which is the subject of the first episode. I share unusual but delicious crops like cucamelons and ground cherries. Future episodes will come out every two weeks for the next few months and then we’ll film more in the spring. In our next episode, I’ll tackle a question I’m asked all the time - what’s the secret to growing great basil?
What inspired you to create your Get Growing series?
I love talking to fellow vegetable gardeners about what they love to grow and how they garden. This series came out of these conversations and hearing what gardeners what to learn more about. Many have small spaces, many face pest pressure, many want to try something new. We’ll tackle these challenges and help them get growing.
What is one of your favourite moments in the first episode?
The team behind this series is a super talented group and we had a blast recording the episodes in my garden. In the first episode, we focus on unique vegetables and it’s always fun to introduce people to unfamiliar crops like snake gourds, cucamelons, and burr gherkins. Everyone wanted to try the vegetables and it was a perfect topic to start with because I think you can tell that we were having a good time.
How much work goes into filming show? Any funny bloopers?
Oh the bloopers! Jonathan Torrens produced and directed the episodes and he is ridiculously talented. He had us all in stitches during filming so the blooper reel would be hilarious. Each episode is between two and five minutes long, and went spent a day in the garden filming the first few episodes with much more work in post-production.
Where can gardeners find the show and get updates about new episodes
Each episode will be posted on my Youtube Channel, as well as on Facebook and SavvyGardening.com. We’re also super grateful to Pro-Mix Gardening who has been very supportive of this project.
Get Growing, hosted by Niki Jabbour
We turn onto Balmoral Road and drive about half a block before we see a small Mazda pickup truck filled with garden waste and black nursery pots. Then we see a sales table on the corner of the driveway, next to the sidewalk. The sign says, “Mason St. Farm. Open Wed., Thur., Fri. 9-4. Please come in and find a farmer to pay.”
It’s the honour system!
Mason Street farm is nestled between Mason Street and Balmoral Road in an old downtown neighbourhood, just three blocks from city hall. It’s a quarter-acre patchwork of garden beds, trellised plants, greenhouses, the odd fruit tree—and a chicken coop too.
We pass the sign that instructs visitors to come in and find a farmer, and spot someone working on the other side of the lot. It’s Julia—who has stayed late on a rainy evening to give us a tour. She runs the nursery here at Mason St. Farm. When I told a friend I’d be travelling to Victoria, B.C. he said, “You have to meet Julia and see the farm!”
Julia explains that the farm was started over 25 years ago on a vacant lot. More recently, another lot and house were added, so that the farm wraps around one of the houses on Mason Street.
Before municipal green waste recycling, this site was used for community composting—so the soil, she says, is fantastic. I scoop up a handful and it’s dark and crumbly.
There is a long tradition of growing in this neighbourhood that predates the farm. Pointing to the dark-green house next door, Julia tells me about their late neighbour, Mr. Lee, a skilled gardener who grew bok choy that he sold locally. Judging by the plants we see rising above the fence line, the backyard is still verdant.
The neighbourhood is changing though. We look across Mason Street at the crane towering over a new condo building where there used to be a school. This is becoming a hot neighbourhood.
Julia says that there have been good developments in the food system here. They can keep chickens. And they can now sell produce curbside, at the sales table we passed on the way in.
Along with the sales table, the farm sells to local restaurants, and uses a subscription system. There is a CSA program—community shared agriculture—where people subscribe to a weekly box of vegetables and eggs. During the spring, they also have a CSS program (community supported salad) where subscribers get a weekly bag of greens.
Julia says the farm has good community support, adding that the roadside stand has been a great way to connect with the community. So is the nursery that she operates. In the spring, she grows vegetable transplants for home gardeners. The community support means that they have a network they can reach out to for neighbourhood issues.
As the rain gets heavier, we finish our tour under cover in the prep area, looking at the sink, coolers, sorting tables, and a washing machine used to spin-dry produce.
Before we leave, Julia tells us about their collaboration with a local high school. Mason St. Farm set up a garden on school grounds, so that students can learn how to garden. The school cafeteria buys some of the produce, and the farm sells what remains.
What a great way to grow community.
POINTING TO TWO TREES, Tom Atkinson explains that we have the makings of a golf club. “There you have the shaft of the club; here you have the head,” he says, pointing from one tree to the other. The shagbark hickory, with a bit of give in the wood, is ideal for the shaft. The American persimmon, as part of the ebony family, has extremely hard wood that is suitable for whacking the ball. Both are native North American species; and both have edible parts.
Our tree trek today is the result of my interest in another North American native, the pawpaw tree. Because of that interest, I tracked down Atkinson, a Toronto resident and native-tree lover, whose backyard is packed with pawpaw trees. After my initial visit and pawpaw primer, he mentioned a fine specimen of American persimmon growing here, in Toronto.
I took the bait.