Community and Respite at the Toronto Botanical Garden

Two TBG volunteers standing beside each other at a community event" Through The Garden Gates.

As Toronto Botanical Garden works to be a garden for all and a dynamic community hub, we must recognize the champions of this work. Progress is only made possible by the dedication and thoughtfulness of our incredible volunteers.

Met Judith, or Judy for short — she’s been visiting Edwards Gardens and Toronto Botanical Garden since she was a young girl. She recalls the Milne Tea House, beside a beautiful curly willow draping down alongside the building. Throughout the years, Judy has come to appreciate the smallest details, from the red dawns to the rocks, imagining how stones came to be and how they evolved over time. And, over time, her delight evolved: a bud of enjoyment through early visits with her husband and family bloomed into frequent visits and volunteer shifts after retirement and moving from her country home into a condo.

Fostering a Garden for All and Access to Green Space for Everyone

As a tour guide, Judy bridges the gap between people and plants. Spreading joy about nature, plants, and flowers with visitors is her passion.  Even outside of the tours, Judy can’t help but express her enthusiasm for nature with everyone. Often, while gardening, Judy would get lost in conversations about perennials with her friends and neighbours.  “It’s interesting to figure out what’s blooming,” she says.

As a retired physical therapist, Judy enjoys connecting with seniors and differently-abled people. She reveals that she loves to showcase the garden in a new light, beyond simply walking through the beauty of the plants and flowers. She likes to speak of the smallest creatures like bugs and bees, all the way to the largest structures like the Moriyama building.

Recently, Judy led a group of people from the Canadian Blind Visionaries, ensuring to make their experiences were meaningful. “I incorporated other senses and focused on the scents, sounds, and touch,” she explains. She encouraged touch: embracing the rough edges of the building’s stone, the rugged texture of bark, or the soft velvet of some petals.

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Sparking Curiosity in the Garden

Judy’s adaptability sparks curiosity and fosters a sense of community. She gauges the visitors’ interest and tailors her tour to what they want to see. “Like with the land acknowledgment, I don’t always start with it. Sometimes I introduce it at the carpet bed or near the cemetery where Alexander Milne, an early settler, is buried,” she says.

Judy has the remarkable ability to notice even the tiniest of details and connect to the changes among birds, flowers, and plants. “I love the perennials and always pay attention to the textures,” she shares. On tours, she emphasizes different shapes, sizes, and colours — knowing that each flower tells its own story. “I like liatris and I always point them out when I do a tour,” she says. “Their leaf texture is interesting and when they do start to flower, they open from top down.”

Unique Views of the Garden

Just as an artist is inspired to mould clay according to natural structures or to brush strokes in rhythms with the waves, Judy carefully designs and adapts tours for her audience. “One day, my group of seniors was moving at a slower pace, enjoying the history and taking a lot of pictures,” she says. “We didn’t get to everything but what the heck, they had an amazing time!”

Preserving Green Spaces

What stays consistent is her love for history. She’s conscious of emphasizing where the Garden started and its importance for the future. “Given Toronto’s density and housing concerns, many spaces are facing overdevelopment,” she remarks. Judy recognizes the significant role that Edwards Gardens and TBG play in providing space for nature and enjoyment.

Not content with her contributions solely at TBG, Judy extends her efforts to her condo community. “I wrote a letter and spoke with developers about park infrastructure and community centres,” she explains. Judy is an advocate, eager to stand for nature’s protection. She reminds us that we must protect our green spaces and fight for the ones we are losing — access to nature is integral to an improved quality of life.

Do you want to share your volunteer story? Reach out to Aleeshia at to have your voice heard.