Our inaugural Garden Contest was held during COVID-19 in the summer of 2020. Congratulations to our first-ever winners and honourable mentions.
- 1st Place, Tony Bessell, Daryl’s Place, 336 Fairlawn Avenue
- 2nd Place, Marlene Peltz, The Queen’s Garden, 184 Douglas Avenue
- 3rd Place, Sara & Payam Kazemi, Butterfly & Veggie Garden, 130 Bedford Park Avenue
Honourable Mention (in no particular order):
- The Reynolds Family, Family Garden, 76 Roe Avenue
- Gail & Martin, Bird Garden, 339 St Germain Avenue
- Katherine Quan, Northern Garden, 186 Brookdale Avenue
1st PLACE WINNER – Tony Bessell, 336 Fairlawn Avenue, Daryl’s Place
There is beauty, and then there is beauty that moves into one’s heart, drawing us in further, asking us to look and see, to smell and even to touch. Daryl’s garden drew the judges in, asked us to wander and to look into corners, to find the little surprises left to delight us in our explorations.
The first thing anyone sees is a front garden filled to the brim with flowers bursting to bloom, spring through fall. It’s a painting! A party! It’s a celebration of colour! An artist lives here, one of us said as we approached, and we were right.
But the best garden is out of view to anyone simply walking by. Up an average driveway, and through an archway of runaway (monster) vines, a slight turn to the right and we are moved into a new place, barely does it resemble a residential neighbourhood like Bedford Park. It’s magical and moving.
We are greeted by a daunting assembly of flowers in all stages of their short lives. A path guides us further to an open grassy area, guarded by a purple weeping birch. This sentinel, with its claw-like roots, draws the eye upward, while its draping branches oversee all that grows below.
A bee incubator is nailed to the pasture fence to the west, and that low fence opens the view making the yard seem much wider than it really is. A pair of birdbaths reflect the blooms nearby. Further back is a low stone border in the shade garden where an ornamental stork suggests, with a cock of its head, to have a look “over there” … something could be growing that you might like!
The tall stand of pines in the neighbour’s yard to the east, provide a lattice for white clematis to climb, and climb they do! All the way up the fence and onto these trees, about 20 feet up and 10 feet wide, when they are in their full glory.
Turning back toward the deck, which is dotted with potted flowers and more vine, there is a comfortable dining area, shaded from the mid-day sun by a green umbrella. This garden is a painter’s palette – every colour is dolloped in wet hues just waiting to bloom.
This is a sustainable pollinator garden and it met every criterion we set for this contest. There is height, depth and breadth to everything growing to create a memorable space.
Daryl’s Place was built on the love she shared with Tony in the life they grew together. It was the last thing Daryl saw before she passed away in 2018. Tony spends his days with his wife’s legacy. He gives full credit for the garden to his wife, but it is clear he learned from her everything he needs to know to continue to cultivate this beautiful space. Because of Daryl’s care, Tony is a true gardener.
Congratulations Tony! Daryl’s Place is the first ever winner of BPRO’s Garden Contest!
2nd PLACE WINNER – Marlene Peltz, 184 Douglas Avenue, The Queen’s Garden
Attached to the gate that admits us into this backyard entry, there’s a stone sign. Carved into it, along with a regally crowned head, are the words Garden Queen. A gift, the contestant told us, from her children who clearly know the gardener well.
One step past the gate and we are in another world, resplendent in its attention to the details of design. It is a pared down version of a walled castle garden that is indeed fit for a queen. Surrounding the living area, speckled with potted plants with space for lounging and dining, the garden pushes against the borders of the property lines. Creatively on one side there are low pine topiaries and an open gap that connects this property to its neighbour to the west, thus adding width to what would otherwise be a cozy space.
The garage, half covered in vine, is stained red-brown and blends into view of the main garden. In front is a beautiful pond full of water lilies that bloomed in late August. An ornamental red maple overhangs the pond, which is walled in stone and barely visible for the many plantings of shrubbery in different shapes and shades of green. Placed just so around the pond’s borders, are pots with flowers that bloom in their turn throughout the seasons as well.
The remains of a witch hazel tree, its branches twisted like crone’s fingers, makes the perfect trellis for a mandevilla vine and its heat-loving blooms of white with a bright yellow centre. Charming ornaments poke through all the growth – a dragonfly cast in metal tries to fly away and blown glass bulbs add spots of colour in the greenest patches.
Along the other fence line, there is a tall pine that has been managed extremely well so that plants are able to grow underneath it – hostas and ferns, and even some blooming flowers flourish there. There is likely a trick to planting more than hostas in the acidic soil of a pine tree, but every queen has their secrets!
What makes this garden truly regal, is a small area accessed through the back gate. In olden times, this would be where the hunting party entered after a day’s foray. Walking into the garden from the back feels like walking into a grove. Clematis climbs all over one side, a praying angel is tucked into a corner surrounded by more flowers, and shrubs and pines, big and small, leave a path just big enough to walk through.
Guarding it all is a single orchid, out for the summer season as tall as any greenhouse orchid, perhaps taller. Standing there on the narrow path, the sound of water from the pond just around the corner, calls the ear to listen and is instantly calming.
The judging between this and the first place garden was truly a challenge. Both are strong examples of the creativity and knowledge required to create a winning garden. Each are well established gardens with skilled attendants (and a Queen!), but we had to make a choice and this one earned second place by a vine’s breadth.
Our most sincere congratulations to Marlene, the Garden Queen on her 2nd place win!
3rd PLACE WINNER – Sara & Payam Kazemi, 130 Bedford Park Avenue, Butterfly & Veggie Garden
There was a time when front gardens were the way neighbours socialized with each other. Beds filled with flowers and vegetables were the homeowners point of pride, and sometimes used as an excuse for a little friendly competition with their neighbours. Front porches were for sitting, and lawns were for playing. Children could find friends up for a game, while the parents and neighbours visited and kept an eye on things. This garden hearkens back to that time.
The front porch here is not quite big enough for sitting (although a stoop is a stoop…). Instead, there is a lovely bench placed by a garden growing against the front of the house. The bench faces out across the front lawn to the street and gives anyone sitting there the opportunity to smile and wave, and even to invite a neighbour to take a seat.
This garden is wide open, and it doesn’t matter if one is sitting on the bench or standing on the sidewalk. The longer one looks, the more there is to see.
Planted for butterflies, the main garden is bursting with blooms of various heights and colours that reach right up to the front window of the house. On the side, near a well established and beautiful maple tree, is an impish butterfly water dish hanging from a high plant stand.
Down between the long front walkway and the property line, on the narrow side, is a garden bed running the full length of the front yard that bloomed wildly with spring flowers. What made this garden a winner is that it evolved over the summer into a vegetable garden. Some flowers, like the stunning African daisy, continued to bloom as the vegetables grew. But as summer progressed, a small variety of tasty treats grew for the picking as they ripened.
This garden required very real planning. The maple tree’s shade mostly misses both garden beds, though it covers much of the lawn. Working with that took considerable forethought, as did the side garden that slowly transformed from spring flowers to a summer’s harvest.
Choosing our 3rd prize winner was as big a challenge as choosing our 1st. There were many contenders but ultimately the evolution in this garden and its classic design edged out the other contenders to make it a winner. Or, perhaps, it was the beating of a butterfly wing?
Congratulations Sara and Payam for your 3rd place win!
Postscript: The judges never met Sara until they presented her with her prize. She told them this was her first garden, and that she’d spent the winter ordering seeds and planning how it would grow. It was an experiment for her, in which she clearly succeeded. We can’t wait to see what you do next year Sara, as your garden can only grow from here and you set the bar really high for yourself.
HONOURABLE MENTION – The Reynolds Family, 76 Roe Avenue, Family Garden
The front garden is tucked up against the family home. A beautiful wrought iron, hayrack window box immediately catches the eye. From it spills ivy and ferns, with tall grasses and bright flowers pushing up above. Below is a well tended garden filled to the brim with shrubbery, more flowers, and rocks strewn like they have always been there. This front garden suggests a home that is warm and welcoming.
With this first impression, we walked into the backyard to discover a living space for the entire family to use. A children’s playhouse in the middle of a play area, shaded by maples, is off in one corner. Across from it is a garden shed with as much window as wall space. It’s painted blue with white trim to look like a cottage. Planter boxes below the window, overflow with a beautiful trailing ivy. And a bench against the fence line on the same side, in the maple’s shade, completes the impression of cottage country.
A beautiful fern hangs from the maple tree, as full as any in nature. There is a birdhouse above it, and below is a cast bird bath with a mother and her ducklings on the ground underneath, as if this little oasis is for her family too.
There are two living areas. The first, in the middle of the garden, is the dining area. A large table is surrounded by plants and flowers, with ornaments that made the judges think this gardener has excellent taste, and a lovely sense of humour.
The back deck is overseen by flowering trees, above which a distressed steel dragon is keeping guard. On one side a hot tub that despite its size, fits perfectly into the space. If this deck had walls and a roof, it would be a family room. There is a comfortable seating area with lovely outdoor furniture, and even a cushy outdoor rug that gives easy access from the deck to the hot tub.
This garden is an extension of the family home, another living space that is well loved and appointed. It is the total effect that makes it worthy of an Honourable Mention.
HONOURABLE MENTION – Gail and Martin, 339 St Germain Avenue, Bird Garden
If you approach the front of this property just as the sun starts to shine its most golden light, you would agree there is a special curbside appeal to this garden. Tall grasses, planted to be a waving border for this corner lot, glow in the late day sun. There are truly interesting particulars planted with care, both grown and ornamental – from a piece of wrought iron fencing with flowers planted beside it, to the low shrubs banked up by a boulder.
Large stones edge the walkway creating a simple and solid continuity. There is much texture in the plantings and a real appreciation of basic geometry. A small tree by the front walkway balances out the much older and taller maple on the corner. The judges couldn’t help but notice how much thought was taken to make the front garden shine in its design when the light hits it just so.
This keen attention to detail extends into the backyard. Here smaller stones, each with its own character, are positioned with the spacing given to new plantings and they edge the backyard flower beds. There is a garden shed with a window box that makes it look like someone could live there.
A mirror coyly covered with trellis reflects light back into the flower beds. A water fountain gives moisture to the Rose of Sharon that is tall enough to bloom above the fence. The seating area is attended by a dogwood tree that we had the pleasure of seeing in full bloom in June. Truly stunning. Amidst the beauty is just enough room for the grandchildren to play.
Every detail indicated that this garden was planted for the birds. With fresh water to drink from the water fountain, there is also a stone bird-bath on the ground surrounded with pieces of driftwood – perches for the birds to sun themselves after their ablutions. A rustic wood bird house takes a prominent position in view of a back room window where the owners/gardeners/bird lovers, can watch the birds come and go all year round.
This garden is one of the reasons the judges struggled to pick this year’s top three and is more than worthy of the Honourable Mention it receives.
HONOURABLE MENTION – Katherine Quan, 186 Brookdale Avenue, Northern Garden
As we walked up to this front yard garden in June, we were greeted by a grey and white kitty, who sat just long enough to give us that what took you so long look before leaving us to explore for ourselves. In this inspired garden, a part of the self-sustaining north country was brought into the city.
The small front yard is transformed to look like a patch of Georgian Bay that’s blended with regional flowers, low shrubs and ground ivy. The use of stones is even handed and provides both a border for the garden beds, and a floor where a lawn likely used to be. The stones are not so much a walking path as pieces of Precambrian Shield that lost some of its earthy covering. Between the stone is sedum moss – soft against hard. Low pine and other shrubbery border the garden edges, with blooming clover and bursts of purple and orange in the spring flowers.
There is proportion to this garden. Everything fits together in what could almost be considered a miniature replica of Ontario’s grand nature. It became clear to us that a tree sharing the border with their neighbour, whose garden beautifully melds into this one, had been removed relatively recently. That tree, we thought, would offer the shade that would allow this garden to thrive. We had concerns that the sedum could be hurt by the heat of summer.
But when we came back in August, the garden was blooming with late summer flowers, such as black-eyed Susan’s and flloxx, and a clematis growing on a short cage fitted into the garden. The sedum, while stressed, proved more resilient than we thought and remains a key feature to the design.
This gardener’s vision is extremely well considered and executed. In a normal summer this garden would be low maintenance and fairly self-sufficient. This is one of the most sustainable gardens we had the pleasure to view and it is certainly the most unique, and truly deserving of an Honourable Mention.
If you get a chance and feel a longing for our North Country, take a walk on by and be sure to tell kitty Hello, should he or she come out to greet you.
A big thanks to our judges for the diligence with which they approached their duties.
Ellen is a Master Gardener (see below). She was honoured to be a judge in our first ever Bedford Park Garden Contest and we were certainly very grateful to have her vast knowledge and experience. She was very enthusiastic about supporting our initiative to build community while encouraging sustainable, beautifully designed gardens.
Ellen’s lifelong passion for gardening began with her grandmother, who taught her that planting one seed respectfully changes everything.
That wise advice has guided Ellen throughout the years, including her membership with the Toronto Master Gardeners. Ellen has been involved in community projects such as Through the Garden Gate, Canada Blooms and Green Thumbs Growing Kids.
Michelle planted her first garden in 2004, her first full summer in Bedford Park . As a renter, she can only plant annually, but like everything in Michelle’s life, she doesn’t let this be an obstacle. Every year she tries news things and builds on what she’s learned in the past.
Michelle began the initial planning of our contest with BPRO Board member Marybeth Ashbourne. It turned out that Michelle got into every aspect of the contest, from planning, to judging, photographing, communicating with the gardeners and writing all about it.
She said the best part was seeing many beautiful gardens and meeting so many talented neighbours in the process. I am in awe of the creativity grown in each and every garden.
John is an avid gardener and has lived in Bedford Park for 30 years. As a BPRO Board member, John was ineligible to enter the contest, but he didn’t hesitate to help judge. It’s a good thing for the winners, as his own garden would have definitely been a top contender.
Please click below for more photos of the 2020 Garden Contest. All photos are courtesy of Michelle Moore.