Snow? Don’t bother me, I’m gardening

Ian Nelmes ready to garden
Ian Nelmes ready to garden

While some of us may still be thinking about raking out our front lawn, seven Leaside gardeners are already getting ready as participants in this year’s Magical Gardens of Leaside Tour this June 22.

The major fundraiser for the Garden Society, the annual tour saw over 500 visitors last year for an event that continues to grow in popularity. There are eight Leaside gardens featured, seven at homes in addition to the gardens at the public library.

One of this year’s garden hosts, Ian Nelmes, says, “I always have so many garden chores to do to prepare at this time of year that getting ready for the tour is just getting ready for the season.”

Nelmes has been developing both his front and back garden since he and his wife, Sandra Russell, first moved into their Bessborough house in 1992. The front garden began with a blue spruce they moved from their previous home (originally planted with his daughter on Earth Day 1989). He also buried a 150-gallon tank under the front lawn, fed by downspouts, in order to make the garden “self-watering”. Today, it’s all part of a low-maintenance eco system of numerous competing perennials, shrubs and self-seeding annuals that require almost no weeding or thinning.

“The front yard is for display, the backyard for living,” says Nelmes. To accommodate outdoor living, there’s a large patio, lawn, vegetable garden and a shaded area featuring cool colours of green and white. A movie “scenic artist” (he paint backdrops, murals and various elements on film sets), Nelmes also paints in his spare time, so visitors will want to check out a backyard shed that’s also his studio.

Another participant in this year’s Magical Garden Tour is the lovely English-looking cottage of Lee-Anne McAlear and Jim Harris at 1 Donlea Dr.

“It’s designed as a garden to be enjoyed,” Harris says. It has three patios, sculptures, a pond with a bridge, and especially important to Harris, a vegetable garden with edible delights such as golden raspberries, snow peas and garlic (planted between the roses). Harris and McAlear love to entertain outdoors, with space for 150 people seated at tables on a summer evening.

Featured in the Donlea garden are magnificent trees nurtured over the past few years—white pines, birches, Austrian pines, crab apples and red oak. The two apple trees produced so many apples one year that Harris enlisted the help of a not-forprofit organization, whose volunteers pick the fruit and divide it among the garden owner, volunteers, and local food banks, shelters, etc.

Although the heavy-lifting for the property is done by an outside gardener, Harris sees his job as “doing the appreciation” and being a “good steward.”

Asked if the garden tour presented any particular pressure, Harris said he’s pretty calm about the whole thing, adding “our garden is designed so something is always in bloom. We’re confident that the day of the tour, there will be lots to enjoy.”

A garden for everyone

Each year, the Magical Gardens of Leaside Tour brings new insight into what’s “hot” in today’s gardens. This year’s offering includes several vegetable gardens, a sign of the urban garden movement.

One garden was inspired by British Columbia, showcasing 100 trees and designed in the style of a Japanese stroll garden. Another includes a unique Irish garden shed. Appropriate for Leaside’s historic anniversary, a garden on Millwood dates back to 1927, although remodelled a few years ago.

The gardens showcased at the Leaside Library are a good example of how the society gives back to the community.

For many years, volunteers have planted and maintained a garden with the help of local school children at the front of the library as well as at Father Caulfield Park and Trace Manes. The society also maintains the gardens at Toronto Rehab (formerly Lyndhurst) and in commemoration of its 25th anniversary, last year donated a bench, planter and new garden at the library.

Whether or not you think you’ve got a green thumb, the tour is a great opportunity to see how others have met the various challenges of the small, shaded, too sunny, large or awkwardly spaced garden. Tickets go on sale at the May 11 plant sale at Trace Manes, then from Victoria weekend on at selected local merchants.