Aldona at Large: Celebrations, Ruminations, Exhortations

Ah, my cherubs. If you weren’t at last week’s Holiday Open House, you missed a darned good party. Luckily, your trusty scribe was there and can bring you up to date.  Above, our Director of Education, Liz Hood, photographs the results of our first-ever Winter Container-Off—more on that in a minute.

This year, we invited a number of horticultural societies, garden clubs and partners to participate in our annual silent auction of holiday wreaths. And boy, did they come up trumps with perhaps the best-looking wreaths ever. Our sincere thanks go to the following: African Violet Society, Sayeh Beheshti; East York Garden Club, Susan Bartlett; Garden Club of Toronto, Trudy Grantham; LEAF, Matthew Higginson; Milne House Garden Club, Sue Stephenson; North York Garden Club, Gloria Broks; North Toronto Horticultural Society, Mary Audia and Dorothy Cartmell; Ohara School of Ikebana, Toronto Chapter, Mitzi Yau; Riverdale Horticultural Society, Heather Sinopoli; The Greater Toronto Rose and Garden Society, Iris Hazen; Toronto Beekeepers Cooperative, Cathy Kozma; Toronto Sogestu Branch, Ikebana, Gregory Williams.

The bidding was lively and competitive. I put my name down for quite a few wreaths, but got pipped at the post (just as well, as I only have one front door). However, I was successful with this fun wreath, which also lights up and I’m sure will make my two-year-old granddaughter’s face light up as well.

As the evening progressed, visitors enjoyed the complimentary cider and shortbread…

Stalwart volunteers Ava Henye and Maneck Satha distribute some goodies

…visiting with friends…

…a good bit of shopping

…the chance to buy fresh greens, urn liners and seasonal plants

Head Gardener Sandra Pella shares a laugh with her friend (and fellow gardener) Vicki Cuthbertson

Then it was time for the Winter Container-Off, a lighthearted competition among our own Nancy Eaton Director of Horticulture Paul Zammit; well-known horticulturist, media personality and Landscape Ontario public relations honcho Denis Flanagan; and talented designer Nicole North who owns Petals, Stems, and Leaves.

The materials are gathered for the Container-Off

Alas, I don’t have a lot of photos of the event, because I was the emcee on stage. Even worse, at the last minute, I was coerced by that wily Denis Flanagan into singing the “Twelve Days of Christmas” with lots of hilarious participation from certain members of the audience, who were given the task to act out some of the actions of the carol (I especially loved the Three French Hens with their cheery “bonjour!” and a final “au revoir”).

Did you know that the Twelve Days of Christmas is all about different types of birds? Neither did I. “Five golden rings,” for example, refers to a golden ring-necked Chinese pheasant, and “four calling birds” is actually “four colly birds,” which refers to blackbirds (colly=colliery=coal).

Not to mention the old crow who was doing the singing. Anyway, all this served to illustrate Denis’ concept, which was all about providing food and water for our avian friends.

Nicole’s design drew its inspiration from the Grinch.

This lucky winner got to take home Nicole’s great container design

Paul’s creation was a subtle and beautiful interplay of natural colours and textures. Nicole, Paul and Denis had plenty of good tips for the audience as well, such as be sure to give your winter container a good drink of water before freeze-up, which helps keep greens fresh.

At the end, the audience’s applause chose the winner, but everyone’s response was so enthusiastic that I had to declare the contest to be a tie. (The true winners held the winning raffle tickets for these one-of-a-kind creations, which they took home to pop into their own urns.) Our sincere thanks to Nicole North and Denis Flanagan not only for their participation, but also for donating back their fees and supplying their own materials.

Volunteer Sandra Althoff and Director of Marketing and Communications Carrie Shibinsky smile at the end of a successful event.

Things That Make Me Happy

‘Winter Beauty’ dogwood

The mild weather means that you can still plant those fall bulbs, but don’t procrastinate for much longer. And although the colours have grown softer and more muted, there’s plenty to observe in the garden. At my house, for example, the self-seeded snapdragons continue to bloom their fool heads off.

While in my friend Marjorie Harris’ front garden, this absolute monster of a hellebore certainly grabbed my attention.

It truly is as big as a mid-sized shrub. Yowza.

And it’s setting buds a-plenty. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the neighbourhood dogs don’t run through it,” said Marjorie. I’d put a little fence around it if I were her.

Speaking of front gardens, mine is looking its usually messy self, with leaves piled on top of everything (I’m of the “leave most perennials standing” school of thought, too. Soon, it will be time to put down a bit of mulch, which will anchor the leaves better and hasten decomposition next spring. I like to use a bit of compost or sheep manure, but bark chips are fine, though not the ones dyed orange or black.)

My friend Sonia Day recently wrote in her Toronto Star column that she avoids oak leaves for making leaf mould as they don’t break down easily. Chacun à son gôut. If I can get them, oak leaves are my absolute favourites to pile on beds as they stay separate and don’t get all slimy and matted down like, for example, maple leaves. I have never had a problem with them disappearing into the earth, either. Then again, my last two gardens have had sandy soil and not clay. Maybe that makes a difference? Anyway, we can agree to disagree.

Stuff to Think About

Margaret and I spent a day listening to the City’s Budget Committee deliberations. Despite lots of work and our best efforts, the TBG wasn’t even on the radar. So it seems that our own deputations to be made on December 10 are key. If you believe that the TBG deserves the City’s support, would you please consider sending an email to the City’s Budget Committee right away to let them know? For more than 35 years, we have received a flat $25,000 toward maintenance. Our maintenance costs are nearly $400,000, so we are asking that this contribution be moved up to a modest and reasonable $160,000, which represents just 10 per cent of our overall annual budget.

And finally, you may have read about the 200-year-old oaks that are in danger of falling victims to the developer’s saw in High Park. These trees have been around nearly as long as this city, are part of the High Park old oak savannah, and should be preserved. If you’re interested, there is an online petition you can sign at .

That’s all for now. I’ll see you back here in a couple of weeks.

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