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More on the Fragrant Garden for the Blind, Canada Blooms Profits, Storing Tuberous Begonias, and a Tour to South Africa
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 29, 2002

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While I could have illustrated this article with several more photos of tuberous begonias (this one was taken at our local fruit and veg market just on Friday), I decided instead to use Joseph’s coat or pigweed (Amaranthus tricolor) which is in full colour now in the gardens of those who know the plant well enough to put up with green foliage until late summer when they come into their gorgeous colours. They are easily started from seed in the spring. Author photos.

In last week’s item here I made brief mention of the Fragrant Garden for the Blind at Canadian National Institute for the Blind headquarters on Bayview Avenue in Toronto. Since that time I’ve talked to Catherine Herman property manager at CNIB and she has clarified the situation of the garden. First, though, let’s look at a little bit of history.

My late good friend Lois Wilson, ninth president of the Garden Club of Toronto (1965-67), great humanist and facilitator, and garden writer (Chatelaine’s Garden Book [1970], Flowers for Your Church [1968], Miniature Flower Arrangements and Plantings [1963]) was the chairman of the original planning committee for the garden back in 1954 (she joined the Garden Club in its inaugural year, 1947). The landscape architect for the gar-den was J. Austin Floyd and the project was completed at a cost of $21,000 and opened on September 6 in 1956. The Garden Club (spurred by Lois, to say the least!) raised the money, some coming from private foundations.

(By the way, we made Lois Wilson an honorary member of the Garden Writers Association back in 1977.)

The Fragrant Garden is one-acre in size and was conceived to provide scent, tactile and sound sensations to blind and visually impaired people, both those who then lived in the residences at CNIB headquarters, and those who came to the headquarters building for treatments, information and consultations. There are 17 flowerbeds in total, and six of these are raised so visitors may easily note the scented plants. The trees and shrubs were originally chosen for the rustling their leaves would make in even a light wind, their ability to attract birds, and of course, fragrant flowers. The garden, right from the beginning had a number of unique features. For example, one oak tree was grown from an acorn that came from Windsor Great Park in England, and was donated to the garden by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

The garden, of course, has rose beds, and was ahead of its time in that a pool and fountain were included. The late J. Austin Floyd was much ahead of his time in the use of pools and fountains even in smaller gardens. His garden in the interior courtyard at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre Hotel is another example of this.

There are over 5,000 plants in the Fragrant Garden and many bulbs and annuals are planted each year. The pre-dominant colour for flowers in the garden is yellow, since it is considered the most visible of colours. Yellow-coloured flowers are located along walkways and outlining small seating areas.

Right from it’s opening the garden has been operated by the CNIB, with its own budget. Peter Hoogeveen, who had great dedication to the garden, maintained it for years. I remember Lois Wilson citing his wonderful commitment to the garden. When Peter retired his son Peter Jr. took over the job.

The CNIB’s garden is quite well known internationally. When I was in Budapest, Hungary in 1974, following the international garden show (IGA) in Vienna, Austria that year, the Budapest parks director showed me various facilities including their garden for the blind. He said his designers had contacted “people in your city of Toronto because we were told the best such garden is there.” And a similar thing happened when I was in New Zealand in 1983.

In fact it was in 1983 that Lois told me that she thought the Fragrant Garden needed a rejuvenation, and that she would work at getting the Garden Club to make it happen. That she did.

In 1984 two Garden Club members did a garden survey: Dorothy Ross (a superb flower arranger I remember) and Margaret Dove (who wrote about gardening occasionally in the then Toronto Telegram) led to a decision to revitalize the garden in 1985. The restoration costs were $85,000, again raised through Garden Club projects (such as their annual flower show) and donations from private foundations.

In 1994 (I believe) a lovely Ivory Silk Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’) was planted, accompanied by an appropriate plaque, in Lois Wilson’s memory, within the Fragrant Garden. Absolutely a fitting place for such a tribute.

And so it was with considerable sadness many months ago that I learned the garden would likely be destroyed since the CNIB was eliminating the residences for the blind at the site, and that new construction would follow.

My talk with Catherine Herman, CNIB property manager, brought to light the following facts about the fate of the garden. Beginning in March or April next year, the old administration building, fronting on Bayview Avenue, will be demolished to make way for a new building. That will mean the rose garden will disappear. I understand that Garden Club members will attempt to remove and hold some of the bushes over for future use.

Then in late summer 2004, the rest of the garden will disappear as the balance of the land is developed into condos and upscale townhouses. There is apparently a deal between the CNIB and the developer. Obviously, upscale townhouses on the rear ravine property at this very central site will be quite saleable! The disappearance of such a far-ahead-of-its-time and loved project is indeed sad; but there is the possibility a new, albeit smaller garden will be designed and built.

Though some are saying the re-development of the garden area may begin as early as July 2004, I am told that the CNIB has a budget for the present garden (minus the rose section) in 2003, including the purchase of bulbs and annual flowers.

The latest word I have from Vertechs Design Inc. (Mary Jane Lovering, principal) the landscape architectural firm that has been retained by the CNIB to design a new garden, is that the new garden will be included in the plans for the new building, closer to Bayview Avenue. Currently Vertechs are about to receive the initial site plan drawings from Mary Jane Finlayson (Stirling Finlayson Architects) CNIB architects for the project. From the rumblings I hear, the garden will be much smaller. At least (hopefully) there will continue to be a garden. If I meet Lois Wilson in any after-life, I don’t want to have to report that her favourite project was just abandoned!

While writing about the Garden Club of Toronto I should mention that they held their annual meeting on Thursday this past week. At the meeting it was reported that this year’s Canada Blooms flower show had generated slightly in excess of $250,000 profit. The best yet!

Though some money needs to be held back as seed money for next year’s show, it has apparently been decided that about $136,000 ($70,000 from the Garden Club portion of the profit and $66,000 from the Landscape Ontario portion) will be directed to the development of new gardens surrounding the new Civic Garden Centre building in Edwards Gardens, currently in the planning stages.

An old friend Stan Bradley wrote this week: “What is the procedure for saving begonias for planting next year or is it worth the trouble? I have some pretty healthy looking specimens and if it's possible I would like to keep them.”

That’s a good question at this time of year. There is no need to do anything with tuberous begonias until their foliage has been nipped by an early frost. Once that happens there is plenty of time to dig the tubers, cut off the killed foliage just a cm above the tuber, and remove the soil. It’s a good idea then to dust the tubers with sulphur or a special bulb dust to prevent mildew. They are usually best stored in open brown Kraft paper bags in a dark room where the temperature can be kept low, say 4 – 9o C. If possible it’s likely even better if you can store them not touching each other, but this is not a necessity. If they are in open bags, you can check them every few weeks to make sure they are not either drying out (in which case they need some humidity) or begin-ning to mildew (then they need a dryer spot).

Just space this week to mention, in writing for the first time, that together with the folks at, I am planning an 18-day tour to South Africa next year. It will include visits to private and public gardens, game viewing and a complete trip across that beautiful country on the unforgettable Blue Train! My good friend Keith Kirsten, garden entrepreneur (including TV personality) and horticulturist is hoping to be able to host us and in any case, will make some special arrangements for us.

Tom Dawson at has obtained an excellent price for the itinerary including the flight from the eastern seaboard of the U.S. non-stop aboard South African Airlines--one of my most favoured air-lines. I think we’ll sell this out because of the timing--October 2003, which will be their spring, and the range of gardens and gardening that is included. There will be a brochure available soon. If you think you or someone you know might be interested by all means do send either Tom Dawson or me an e-mail, or call and leave me your name, address and phone number at 1-888-DRYSDALE.

By Art C. Drysdale, 893 Shorewood Drive, Parksville, B.C. V9P 1S6.
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 is renovating an old home and will build a new garden there. He is heard Saturdays from 8:05 to 10 AM, with a live radio broadcast on Toronto's powerful and clear, AM740 CHWO Primetime Radio.

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