white and yellow crocuses

Aldona at Large: Life in the Fast Lane: Master Gardeners, Mammaries and Manipulations

Sometimes I wish I could complain about not having enough to do. Instead, I complain about not having enough hours in the day. How on earth does my calendar get so jammed up? Is this what they mean by “life in the fast lane?” I need a nana nap—right now.

Just kidding. Here are some highlights of the past few weeks.

As most of you know, I’m a proud member of the Toronto Master Gardeners (TMGs), who make their home right here at the TBG. So I was pleased to be invited to say a few words at the graduation ceremony of this year’s crop of newly fledged TMGs, seen here with their coordinator Jean Gardiner (holding the bouquet). In preparation, graduates had to put in some two years’ worth of course work, volunteer hours and attendance at meetings and technical updates, culminating in a final exam. During this period, the candidates were known as Master Gardeners in Training, or MGITS (pronounced “midgets”). Now they can stand tall and proud with the rest of us.

Have you noticed that for gardeners, tasty food and a glass of vino are common denominators? (Or wait, maybe that holds true for most of the human race.)

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Toronto Master Gardeners. Rosemary Dobson, who has been a TMG since its inception, is still an active member. I started in that first group as well, got halfway through my studies, and then was relocated with my family to London, England. It took me some 17 years to “return to the fold” and finish what I had started.


Various Master Gardener groups from across the country entered their fanciful scarecrows in a competition.

A few days later, I was off to the first-ever National Master Gardeners Conference, a weekend-long event held at Deerhurst Inn near Huntsville. The ever-resourceful, organized and good-natured Tena Van Andel, coordinator of the TMGs, and Master Gardeners of Ontario president Jane Beck, expertly planned this event, ably helped by many other MGs. Some 300 Master Gardeners from across Canada congregated for an excellent line-up of talks, seminars and presentations, and naturally, socializing over yummy food and drinks.

Liz Klose, now director of the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden in St. John’s, and Connie Hunter of the TMGs turned up for dinner one night wearing identical flowered jackets. I must have missed that memo.

Freelance writer/editor Lorraine Hunter, Garden Making editor Beckie Fox and I participated in a discussion on garden writing, including what editors look for, cardinal sins to avoid, how to best work with your editor and why some writers are busy while others are hard-pressed to get an assignment. We figure that among the three of us, we have more than 100 years of experience so you can bet that we had plenty to say.

Our Nancy Eaton Director of Horticulture, Paul Zammit, flanked here by Tena Van Andel (left) and Cathy Kozma, gave a lively and well-received evening chat about “Lessons From My Garden.” I’ve worked with Paul for three years now, and I still haven’t been able to figure out how one person can have so much energy.

I also trotted along to hear Belinda Gallagher talk about plant names. She and her husband now live up near Algonquin Park, so our paths seldom cross. Like Paul, Belinda is always lively and fun and doesn’t take herself too seriously—witness her description of the “Belinda plant.” Hahaha! Mammaries are made of this…

Back at the TBG, I’ve just started my Modern Design Techniques course (I’m working toward my Floral Design Certificate—just for the fun of it). Our superstar instructor is Margaret Taylor, who’s a goldmine of information. In our first class, we worked on manipulating (some would say torturing) leaves for special effects, then combined some of them with a few flowers in a simple arrangement. Here is my first effort, composed of striped New Zealand Flax (Phormium) leaves and gerbera daisies. To find out more about floral design courses and the certificate, click here.

A few days later, our Annual General Meeting started off with the usual mixture of financial information and audited statement, followed by presentations by senior managers about their respective areas. Then the staff surprised me with a wonderful farewell tribute. I was led out on the stage, while images of me over the years flashed onscreen, accompanied by the Beatles singing “Here Comes the Sun.” One by one, the staff came up to give me a hug and a flower. It was perfect. Here is the bouquet that was created from the flowers.

(I’d been forewarned that the staff was planning to do something, so I had rushed out and bought waterproof mascara. Alas, it didn’t work.)

Then it was time for the TBG Lecture Series (generously support by the W. Garfield Weston Foundation and the S. Schulich Foundation) and a terrific talk given by Paul Redman, director of Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia. Wow, what an operation he runs—a yearly budget of $50 million, more than 1,000 acres of beautiful grounds and over 1,000,000 visitors each year. And I won’t even mention their $650 million endowment (she said, gnashing her teeth with envy).

Afterwards, Director of Education Liz Hood (far right), TBG Board President Allan Kling (centre) and I went out for a late supper with Paul Redman (far left) and his colleagues, head of marketing Marnie Conley and head of Horticulture Sharon Loving, along with consultant Gail Lord (seated to Allan’s right). The conversation was so convivial that before we knew it, it was 11:30 p.m.

And good grief, that’s the time it is right now! This fast lane is shutting down. Nighty night.

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