PHOTO COURTESY PAUL ZAMMIT
NATURE GETS NURTURED: Master gardeners Catherine Peer and Susan Lipchak dug down deep on a dreary April 29 to start planting at Toronto Botanical Garden’s new Woodland Walk and Bird Habitat.
When it comes to cities with green spaces, Toronto is luckier than most: we have plenty of parks and ravines. But just having them isn’t enough, says Sara Katz, a professional garden designer.
“They have to be nurtured, they have to be looked after,” she says.
That’s why she and a team of about 20 volunteers braved a cold and rainy morning on April 29 to plant the Toronto Botanical Garden’s new Woodland Walk and Bird Habitat.
“We got sprinkled on a little bit,” Katz says, but “they’re a pretty tough bunch and they were great.”
The 2,140 square metre garden, on the southwest corner of Lawrence Avenue and Leslie Street, will resemble a natural forest and become a home to migrating songbirds, hummingbirds and pollinators like bees and moths.
Right now, it’s home to a family of geese who have laid their eggs on the green roof of a nearby tool shed. The arrival of a neighbouring hawk provided a dramatic backdrop to the morning’s work.
“Today it was doing reconnaissance circles over the goose nest, and the mama goose was not very happy about that, she was honking away,” Katz says, noting the hawk flew away after making its presence known.
PHOTO COURTESY SARA KATZ
MOTHERING NATURE: Garden designer Sara Katz led the team that has been working on the Woodland Walk and Bird Habitat, southwest of Lawrence Avenue East and Leslie Street.
“A forest is not just big trees; there’s trees, there’s shrubs, there’s smaller plants on the forest floor, so we’re trying to reproduce that,” says Katz, who is managing the project’s launch. Spring bulbs like daffodils and snowdrops have already sprouted, and are now joined by freshly planted iconic trilliums, berry-producing dogwoods and serviceberries, native ginger, and many other plants.
The Woodland Walk exists to help educate people.
“What we want is for people to see how you can change a space from a fairly nonproductive, not very attractive space to one that will be attractive, that you can learn from,” Katz says.
As a result, volunteers will finish planting the garden gradually over the next two years, with Katz, Botanical Gardens’ head gardener Sandra Pella, and director of horticulture Paul Zammit at the helm. They’re operating on a grant from Live Green Toronto, a program that supports neighbourhood-based efforts to green the city, but are looking for additional sources of funding.
The gardeners are also monitoring the atmosphere to see how trees and other plants reduce air pollution. Other research has already proved that green spaces in cities decrease temperatures and carbon levels, so trees could do the same by storing the carbon produced by the bustling streets nearby.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to show that the air quality will improve,” Katz says.
While the newly planted perennials will mature in a few seasons, trees will take years. But Katz and the other gardeners are prepared.
“This is going to be a long-term study,” she says.
Katz hopes the garden will inspire visitors to put their home gardens to use, as migrating songbirds – from robins to warblers – are quickly losing their habitat in cities.
“You can do a little bit of this in your own backyard,” she says.
Any garden with shelter, food and water will suffice.
“If you can have an area where you can provide those things, you will end up with songbirds.”
And don’t be dismayed by a lack of sun, she advises: as the Woodland Walk shows, “there are lots of wonderful plants that will grow in shade.”
Sara Katz has designed gardens throughout Toronto in areas like North Toronto, Etobicoke, Bloor West, and Riverdale.
A graduate of Ryerson University and the University of Guelph, she is a Toronto Master Gardener.
“I get a lot of pleasure out of being able to put those fabulous plants in other people’s gardens.”