The Jewel Box Gardens of Toronto’s Cabbagetown

Another memorable experience from the Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling back in June was our tour of Cabbagetown gardens. Cabbagetown is a neighborhood east of downtown Toronto. Originally home to Irish immigrants so poor they grew cabbages in their front yards, the area slid into a long decline before gentrification began in the 1970s.

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As is often the case, artists were in the vanguard of that gentrification and they still give the area an informal, offbeat vibe. However, housing prices have apparently gotten so high that struggling artists who are newly arrived should probably look elsewhere for a place to live.
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This is a neighborhood of red brick row houses with stoops and tiny front yards.

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I didn’t see any cabbages growing in those front yards (the streets were too shady, in any case), but I did see many flowering containers, some of them rather impressive.

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Actually, we Flingers were lucky enough to get a preview of the annual neighborhood garden walk, courtesy of the Cabbagetown Preservation Society. So you can see that both human and feline residents were quite welcoming, though the cats maintained a certain dignified reserve.

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While the streets of Cabbagetown make for a very worthwhile stroll, the most interesting stuff was behind the row houses. This path set the stage for what we were to see.

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The back gardens were not as tiny as those in front, but they still challenged their owners with getting the most out of very limited space.

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They were mostly covered with pavers or gravel. Small garden beds were lushly planted.

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Almost every vertical space was used to provide visual interest – artistic, botanical, or both.

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I like this simple planter filled with Sweet Alyssum, though I think those clay figures are a bit grim. Nice frog.

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Lots of containers growing flowers, herbs, and greens.

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Look out for the giant cat, dwarves! Nice job on those chives, though.

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I like that blue birdbath.

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Behind the little back gardens were narrow lanes, what we would consider alleys in Chicago. The difference being that these are meant to function more as a public space, a venue for neighborhood parties and so on.

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I would be curious to know the origins of this name. We followed Magic Lane from garden to garden for some distance.

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Talk about a still life. Many of us thought this was just brilliant.

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Another shady back garden.

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A beautiful Clematis, though I usually don’t like the frilly double blooms.

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A crane (I think) making itself at home in the Japanese Forest Grass.

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Very nice Japanese-style water feature.

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A quiet place for green thoughts in a green shade, as the poet said.

The gardens we saw in Cabbagetown were like little jewel boxes, but as they seemed to be joined together through an admirable sense of community, they combined to make for a substantial treasure. They certainly made an impression out of proportion to their size.

44 Comments on “The Jewel Box Gardens of Toronto’s Cabbagetown”

  1. Isn’t it funny how when we see a flower/plant that we don’t especially like in someones garden looking beautiful we have a bit of a change of heart. I like these little jewel boxes. I really like the easel idea. Also those brick row houses have some beautiful appointments on them. The area appears so charming.

  2. Hi, Jason, Here’s the story of Magic Lane, from the Cabbagetown Preservation Association website: “Magic Lane – after Doug Henning who was born in Fort Garry, Manitoba in 1947 and who became interested in magic by the age of 6. With a Canada Council grant to study magic, Henning pursued training as a teenager in Toronto. Broadway musicals such as The Magic Show, and Merlin featured Henning at the top of the billing. In his career, Henning had 8 Emmy award nominations and he won an Emmy award for NBC’s Doug Henning’s World of Magic program. By 1994, Doug Henning ran as a Canadian parliamentary candidate for the Natural Law Party. His residence was located at 94 Winchester Street. Henning died in 2000.” 94 Winchester is the first garden you saw — with all the artwork on the fence, and the picture framed windowbox by the (Magic) laneway entrance. So glad you enjoyed Cabbagetown.

  3. Cabbagetown town does has a wonderful history! Small spaces seem to bring out the creative in people, these gardens are certainly unique and interesting. It was good to see the cats and I was really impressed with the water feature and the still life….ingenious! Good to see the lanes used for parties too!xxx

  4. It is impressive what gardeners can do with just a little space! I love that easel showcasing the plants, too – great idea! There so many pretty vertical accents. I like the various balls and dragonflies that float along the top of the plant border.

  5. These gardens were truly charming, each unique and full of wonderful plants and piece of art. I could live there in a heart beat. And that lovely rust and rose glass sculpture that we detoured to see would look perfect in my front garden : ) Happy Autumn!

  6. Hello Jason, it seems that what these gardens lack in size, they make up for in detail. The level of detail on the walls, pots, art work and all the fun quirkiness means you can spend just as long a time in each one of these small gardens trying to find all the details, as you could walking around a much larger one. It must have been a lot of fun!

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