Some Observations On Front Gardens This Year
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

September 5, 1999

I’ve just completed an annual task that at first seems formidable, but once I get into it is pleasant, educational, interesting and worthwhile.

In what used to be the Borough of East York, now all part of the mega-city Toronto, I started a contest a way back in 1984, wherein, with the help of the local garden clubs, we judge all of the front gardens each year. When we first started, with Mayor (later to become senior provincial cabinet minister) Dave Johnson there was only the East York Garden Club to help. Later, the Leaside Garden Society was founded, and both clubs are key players. In June each year, co-ordinated by one garden clubber, members of the two clubs fan out into designated areas and make brief lists of the best front gardens. Originally we ended up with a list of 600+ gardens as finalists; eventually we wound that down to 400+, and now we’re down to around just 200. In years past, we employed professional horticulturists and/or landscape architects to do the final judging but I’ve always had a hand in the final selection.

Three years ago when it was questionable whether or not our major sponsor (a local shopping centre) would participate, I took on the judging, and ended up doing it gratis. However, Mayor Michael Prue (who took over from Dave Johnson in 1992), was kind enough to have East York present me with its rare and coveted "Bulldog Award" for my efforts on behalf of the municipality.

Last year Michael Prue found us a new sponsor, and I carried out all of the final judging. As I said at the beginning, it is a major time-consuming job, but worth every bit of effort for the things I learn. There follows some general observations from this year’s four days of driving the streets of East York in search of unique, good and interesting front gardens.

More and more people are obviously considering colour schemes when planting their annuals, and other plants in their gardens. I saw one garden with a mauve theme accented with white. There was mauve sweet alyssum, purple salvia and even the beach stones were a mix of grey and mauve. In all, the colours were great.

Trumpet vines (Campsis radicans) are now very evident. Many people are growing them as multi-stemmed trees by supporting them on large stakes. The huge red flowers from late in June right through into the end of this month are spectacular, and help attract hummingbirds to the garden. It’s a dozen years ago that I planted several of these vines and only this year have we had a good display of flowers. I have always advised that it will take three or four years before you see flowers, but I never expected it to take over a decade. However, my conditions are partly to blame. Though the plants face west, and receive abundant sun at a height above the first storey, they are shaded a good part of the day lower than that. It has taken all these years for the vines to become established with fairly mature branching at the proper height for them to get the required sun. Lots of gardeners in Toronto are enjoying this plant now.

Another plant that is in great abundance here is rose of sharon (Hibiscus syriacus). When we started this contest 15 years ago, throughout the municipality you would see three or four of these plants in beautiful bloom at this time of year. Now it’s in the hundreds of bushes, and many, many of them are the popular double-flowered cultivars, most in the blue and mauve tones. Now, I have one of these myself, and I was jealous to see some of the specimens in others’ gardens to have even more flowers than mine! The other rose of sharon I have is a new one, just a tiny (40 cm) shrub yet, but very attractive the entire season. This one has variegated foliage all season, and single mauve-pink flowers with a lighter centre and dark eye at the end of the season. At the moment, there seems to be a debate going on as to this variety’s true name, and I’ll await some final word before telling you more. But, be sure to watch for this in garden centres next spring if you’re thinking of planting a rose of sharon. Unfortunately it’s only hardy to zone 6, but those of you in zone 5, who have a protected location might want to try one.

Unbelievably, I found no less than three front gardens, all very nice, that had huge ragweed (Ambrosia artimisiaefolia) plants in them. One was close to being a metre wide and almost as tall. I took a picture I so amazed! At this time, the buds are set to burst open. I hope these gardeners don’t have any neighbours who have allergies. Ragweed is the villain when it comes to hayfever sufferers—not the native, ever-so-much-more-beautiful goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) that often gets blamed.

Finally, the influence of tropical plants as standards set into our temperate gardens has become strong. Chilean potato trees (Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevin Variety’), Mandevilla and Dipladenia vines (NO they are not the same plant as has been stated recently), Lantana, several different Hibiscus, and port St. John’s creeper (Podreana ricasoliana) are all to be seen. I was most impressed with one potato tree that was so covered in flowers it was difficult to see the semi-evergreen foliage. I was also jealous knowing that I don’t have great success in getting them to flower. I’ll prune harder next late winter, and hope for the best!

I noted a number of lawn problems and conditions on the majority of front lots. I’ve devoted several of these columns to that subject, but I guess I’m due for still another!

By Art C. Drysdale, 6 Nesbitt Drive, Toronto, Ontario M4W 2G3Art Drysdale is seen hourly every day on Canadas Weather Network at 23 minutes after the hour, and heard Saturdays from 9 to 11 am, with a live two-hour radio broadcast on Toronto's TALK640 (640 on the AM dial)

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