Spring is in the air, bringing excitement to aspiring gardeners as they sift through seed catalogues and plan their outdoor oases. Real estate developers in the Greater Toronto Area have been busy as well, working closely with their landscape designers and gardeners to create spaces for eco-conscious buyers who want the experience of growing their own food and herbs.
Jordan Morassutti, co-founder and partner of North Drive, takes his buyers’ green passions seriously. Their desire for larger outdoor spaces to live and garden predates COVID-19. Morassutti engaged award-winning landscape architect Janet Rosenberg for his latest project, 10 Prince Arthur, in Toronto’s Yorkville-Annex neighbourhood. Slated to open in 2023, 10 Prince Arthur is a luxury boutique condominium and townhome development reminiscent of Paris or Rome with its stone façade and 10-foot-deep terraces on all seven floors.
“We are seeing buyers really interested in horticulture and gardening, especially native planting, wildflowers and pollinators,” Rosenberg says. “We know there is a direct link between food, health, body and mind. Gardening allows people to benefit from the cultural, economic, physical and dietary incentives of growing locally.”
At 10 Prince Arthur, Rosenberg says the large terraces give purchasers flexible and ample space to customize, adding container gardening and outdoor living spaces according to their lifestyle needs. Plantings include native and drought-tolerant plants.
“We like to ensure the garden has structure, texture and seasonality, and ultimately can survive in terrace conditions, which can include full sun, full shade, wind and winter,” Rosenberg says.
She recommends incorporating wildflowers that play a key role in pollination and provide carbohydrates for insects and pests, reducing their need to feed on adjacent crops.
Mark Cullen, expert gardener and author of 24 books, says this is the most exciting time in the history of Canada to be a gardener. Cullen says gardening is no longer confined to fields and backyards.
“Balconies and terraces are being reimagined with window boxes, clay pots, barrels and old boots containing tomatoes, peppers and a variety of herbs that are productive in small spaces,” he says.
From his farm about an hour north of Toronto, Cullen says there has been an explosion of interest in gardening. “Gardening has advanced 10 years in the last year alone,” Cullen says.
“Millennials are telling us that we need to respect nature. We need to get closer to nature to really understand her and be of most benefit to her,” he says. “The easiest and most logical way to do that is to garden.”
Cullen’s latest book, a collaboration with his son Ben, is called Escape to Reality. The book’s introduction reads: “How the world is changing gardening, and gardening is changing the world.” Even before COVID-19, people were moving toward growing plants for food that would allow them to be more self-sufficient and have greater control over the quality of food they eat, Cullen says.
Cullen says Canadians have become keenly interested in growing plants for their pollination value. More than a third of the food we eat is fed by nature’s insects – mason bees, lady beetles, moths and butterflies. Sadly, some, such as the Monarch butterfly and native bees, are at risk. By making our gardens good sources of food and shelter for these pollinators we are helping our local ecosystems for years to come, he says.
Alexis J. Yanaky says balcony and container gardening with a focus on pollinators has been a hot topic for Master Gardeners of Toronto. Yanaky is one of 130 trained horticulturists who volunteer for the non-profit group that offers gardening advice to people living in Toronto.
“We have been overwhelmed with questions to our Ask a Master Gardener feature on our website about everything from trees and shrubs to balcony and container gardening, houseplants and pollinator gardens,” Yanaky says. Here are just a few helpful tips for creating your own balcony pollinator garden:
- Balcony pollinator gardens are successful if they’re sunny and sheltered from wind. Create a windbreak using a trellis or screen or native shrubs such as juniper or viburnum.
- If your balcony is heavily shaded, choose shade-loving pollinator plants such as hostas, ferns, columbines, lady’s mantle and bowman’s root.
- Aim for diversity. Use plants of varying heights, and include a mix of annuals, wildflowers, flowering vines and potted shrubs and trees.
- To save space, plant herbs such as thyme and oregano around your potted shrubs and trees to act as mulches and food for pollinators.
- Focus on native plants, which are the first choice for native pollinators and need less water. Herbs such as rosemary, lavender and sage are also relatively drought-tolerant.
Whether you are new to gardening or consider yourself a pro, there’s an app for that. The GardenTags app is great for inspiration and lets you keep a photographic journal of your garden. Getting to know your plants is easy thanks to the Identify and Add a Plant option. The GrowIt! app can tell you what plants grow well in your local area. It also lets you take a 360-degree view of a mystery plant in your garden and GrowIt app subscribers will help you identify it. You can create a care calendar with SmartPlant and set reminders for plant maintenance to ensure your garden thrives.
Cullen says new technology that helps to identify plants is a game changer. While he prefers to learn about gardening by doing, he says technology has a place.
“If technology encourages you to get outdoors and get your knees dirty then that’s a good thing.”
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