Aldona at Large: All’s Well That Ends Well?

Mountain Pine (Pinus mugo ‘Aurea Fastigiata’) seen in the President’s Choice Show Garden

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” so wrote Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, 1859. And that, my friends, pretty much sums up the kind of bumpy year it’s been at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

There have been plenty of high points, cruelly tempered by the very real spectre of our own scary financial cliff. Fun? Not so much. But as I write this, I am both astonished and deeply grateful to let you know that thanks to the extraordinary efforts and support of so many to our Hearts and Flowers emergency fundraising appeal, we have achieved our goal of $250,000! All of us are breathing a little easier and sleeping a little better, as this means we will have a respectable year-end and can look toward the future with a bit more optimism. Rest assured that every additional dollar raised from now on will be used toward building up our depleted resources for the coming year. Thanks so much from the bottom of my heart (and if you haven’t yet made your year-end charitable donations, please keep in mind that Toronto Botanical Garden is a registered educational charity, and all gifts over $10 are eligible for a tax receipt).

Although things are looking brighter, there’s more work to be done. The header of my blog comes from Shakespeare’s play written c 1604, and at the risk of muddling up the work of two greats; it’s appropriate as well. The question mark is mine because we won’t know until mid-January the outcome of our plea to the City for more support.

TBG staff and volunteers turned out to support the deputation

Last week’s deputation before the City Budget Committee went very well, and hats off to Margaret Chasins, Director of Business Initiatives and Finance; Liz Hood, Director of Education; and Allan Kling, TBG Board Co-chair for their excellent, well-thought-out, three-minute-long presentations. Thanks too to the volunteers and staff who trooped down to City Hall to support the TBG and spent the best part of the day there at this busy time of year.

Best of all, as of last night, we learned that we’re past the first hurdle—the Budget Committee has recommended granting us additional funds, which would be the first increase from the City in more than 35 years!

However, we’re not home and dry yet as right after the break, this recommendation will go before the Executive Committee and then the full Council. And at this point, the conditions of this increase are still unclear. Stay tuned for further developments.

On another note, TBG members might wonder what became of the survey that was sent out to them this fall. More than 20 per cent of our membership replied, which is a great response. We are busily analyzing the results and we’ll let you know more early in the New Year.

Things That Make Me Happy: Gifts Made by Friends

No, they’re not cookies, jams or hand-knit scarves. A number of my friends are incredibly talented and knowledgeable garden writers who have written full-length books. In some cases, I have contributed “bits” to their books (and I’ll mention where), but that’s not why I’m plugging them. Trust me, you’ll be buying them for their expertise and talent, not mine. Tomes by these pals have been released within the last year or so, and would make great gifts:

Sonia Day. As reported a few weeks ago, Sonia’s latest book, The Untamed Garden: A Revealing Look at our Love Affair with Plants, has won the gold medal from the Garden Writers Association, which is a very big deal. (The earlier book that has a bit in it by me is Incredible Edibles–look for the Swiss chard recipe).  And I love her memoir, Middle-Aged Spread. Find out more at

Marjorie Harris. Marjorie’s latest is called Thrifty Gardening From the Ground Up, which is chock-full of good advice and yes, it has a bit in it written by me. But any of her 15 or so books are great and well worth checking out. Botanica North America may be her magnum opus, and is absolutely terrific—a great big doorstop of a book. Incidentally, Marjorie just found out that she has been awarded a Queen’s Jubilee medal. Well done and richly deserved, my friend. Find out more at

Liz Primeau. When Liz told me she was writing an entire book about garlic (In Pursuit of Garlic: An Intimate Look at the Divinely Odorous Bulb), I must confess that my eyes glazed over. “Kill me now,” I thought to myself, “better her than me.” Yet the result is a tribute to her skill–instructive, highly amusing, lively and slightly salty, just like the lady herself. There’s nothing in it by me, but don’t let that stop you. An earlier bestseller by Liz is Front Yard Gardening: Growing More Than Just Grass. And My Natural History—her memoir about her life as a gardener—is a gem.

Dan Cooper and Ellen Novack. Dan is a fellow Master Gardener. Their book, Gardening from a Hammock, has sections in it by me, Paul Zammit, and numerous other gardeners with lots of tips, plant lists, and so forth. Bravely, Dan and Ellen have published it themselves, and it’s available through

Other Canadian authors whose earlier works (and knowledge) are well worth seeking out include Judith Adam, Lorraine Johnson, Larry Hodgson, and Mark Cullen. You can search for their titles through Google or

And there’s a fine crop of Canadian young ‘uns who are well worth watching for and supporting: Niki Jabbour (her book, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener is terrific), Gayla Trail (a new book is coming out in February) and Steven Biggs (his latest is Grow Figs Where you Think You Can’t). Check out their eponymous websites.

Margaret Bennet-Alder, the most spirited and lively 85-year-old of my acquaintance and a Facebook friend, continues to produce the incredibly handy annual, The Toronto Gardener’s Journal and Source Book. The 2013 version is available at Shop TBG for $24.95 plus tax, or may be ordered online at

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity on behalf of the staff, Board of Trustees and volunteers at Toronto Botanical Garden to thank you most sincerely for your support during this past year, and to wish you the very best of the holiday season. I hope you have the chance to spend it with those you love the most. Cheers!

My granddaughter, seen here with my daughter-in-law, Tammy, would add: “Here’s looking at you, and liking what I see.”

And Sadie and Willow would advise you to get plenty of rest and relaxation—you deserve it. And while you’re at it, they’d also counsel you to indulge in some extra-good treats because they’re sure you’ve been a Good Boy or a Good Girl. (And remember, the really yummy treats don’t have calories. They have “flavour points!”)


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