The real dirt in Leaside

Shawn Sheppard
[/media-credit] Shawn Sheppard
What grows well in Leaside is likely to keep growing in Leaside.

But like all neighbourhoods, Leaside has its own micro-climate — particular conditions that make growing some plants easier than others. Even the muck packed about the roots of a plant contains “Leaside” micro-organisms that help a plant become established more quickly.

That’s the wisdom behind what has become an annual tradition in the neighbourhood, the exchange of plants in the spring over the fence or at an annual plant sale, held every May for 20 years.

“If a Leaside neighbour donated it, you’re pretty certain that it’s going to grow in your garden as well,” says Shawn Sheppard, coordinator of this year’s annual Leaside Garden Society plant sale at Trace Manes.

Savvy gardeners know what’s in Leaside ground.

“Our soil in this area, like most of Toronto, is clay,” explains Joanna Blanchard, one of the Garden Society’s resident experts. “But there are underground rivers through Leaside, which create pockets of sandy soil sometimes 15 to 20 feet in area. This can mean that what I can grow in my garden may need a bit of help in yours.”

Blanchard says that in general, day lilies do well in Leaside because these summer beauties love clay soil. But if your soil has sandy pockets, be careful. Plants that can’t tolerate drought won’t survive come mid summer.

Leaside soil also tends to be neutral, not acidic, the same as in the Beaches. This means that if you like rhododendrons or heather, you’re in for a planting challenge.

[/media-credit] LEASIDE’S DEFINITIVE PLANT: The hosta, say many local gardeners.
Does Leaside have a definitive plant? When several local gardeners were asked the question, hosta won every time.

“We get in at least 20 varieties of hostas each year at the sale, “ says Sheppard, “because the community has mostly shade gardens, although since the ice storm, many are suddenly facing new conditions.

“In recent years grasses have gained in popularity as well as any kind of plant that is low maintenance. People want to be able to be away for a couple of weeks and not have their garden die.”

Leaside also sees a lot of what are considered Canadian favourites: asters, rudbeckia and columbines. But once again, look to a garden expert to pass on secrets to success. “Many don’t realize that columbines have a life cycle of three years,” advises Cathy Park, another resident garden expert.

“You have to divide columbines at the end of three years to keep them in your garden.”

Sheppard, a Southvale resident and self-described amateur gardener, says the annual Leaside Garden Society event features mostly perennials from neighbourhood gardens and a local grower.

“It’s now a multi-generational affair,” says Sheppard, “Children who’ve grown up in Leaside now come with their parents, their cousins and friends. It’s one of the Leaside Garden Society’s longest-running events.

“Members, who are local gardeners, dig perennials up from their gardens, which are then identified, labelled, and sorted according to where they’ll thrive (shade to sun.) With many expert gardeners in the society, including four Master Gardeners, no plant goes unnamed and customers know for sure what they are buying.

“We even have experts on hand the day of the sale to advise on what to plant, depending on your own garden conditions,” he adds.

There’s an honesty among gardeners who won’t let you believe that a plant will keep blooming if they know differently. “If we know it’s not the right choice for someone,“ says Sheppard, “we tell them. And we don’t sell plants that are problems or could become invasive,” a danger when accepting something green and thriving from a well-meaning neighbour.

The plant sale takes place at Trace Manes Saturday, May 10 (a line up starts before the door opens  at 9 a.m.). In addition to members’ perennials, a broad selection of perennials, native plants, and herbs are brought in from Chalk Lake Nurseries. Sheppard promises some “extras,” such as ready made Mother’s Day planters.

“And typical of a garden group, there is absolutely no waste,” he adds.

“Unsold plants are taken away by volunteer Betty Muir, who plants them in the gardens at Sunnyview School.