Are you are looking for something to bloom along wiith the bulbs in your garden?  Two delightful plants in my garden fit that bill nicely:  bloodroot, and virginia bluebells.

Both of these plants are native to our woodlands and bring fleeting colour in our gardens before the leaves come out on the trees. Thus, they are called “spring ephemerals”.

Bloodroot (Sanguineria canadensis) gets its name from the red liquid that oozes from its stems and rhizomes when broken.  This red liquid was used by the First Nations for dye. Be warned, however,  that the rhizomes (type of root) are very poisonous, even fatal, when eaten.

Like all woodland plants, bloodroot likes to have a layer of leaves as mulch. They come up through the leaves in spring.  Bloodroot does spread, but not extremely quickly in my garden. I planted one plant and by the third spring, there are nine flowers.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia Virginica) also grow on the forest floor;  but they don’t necessarily need to be planted under a tree.  I discovered them several years ago at a native plant sale in High Park. I planted them nowhere near a tree and they thrived.  They are a lovely delicate blue and have soft, green foliage that disappears after blooming.

Last year, the first year after planting them at my new garden, they did not bloom, and they got totally devoured by an unknown insect.  But, much to my surprise and pleasure, they reappeared this year with flowers.  They too will spread in your garden, but are not aggressive.

These are jut two suggestions for flowers to complement  the spring bulbs in your garden.

Passageway 1

Link to New Neighbourhood

Have you ever seen someone walk out of or into a place where you thought there was no way through?  These apparitions may be hints that there is secret neighbourhood passageway nearby.

A walk around a neighbourhood will often reveal a way to get to somewhere else that was hidden from your knowledge.

These secret passages are accessible only by foot or by bicycle.  They can take you up or down a set of stairs, underneath a railway, through a schoolyard or park, to different part of the neighbourhood.

These passages make a community more walkable as they create shortcuts where no motorized vehicles can go. Often there are no signs to indicate that there are links to other parts of the neighbourhood, so when you come upon them, it’s like a wonderful surprise discovery.

Passageway Beside Railway

Pedestrian Path Beside Railway

Grassy Driveway

They paved the front yard and put up a parking lot.  To my mind, they (meaning neighours) have done this all too often on my street, as parking pads are installed on the front of their properties.

I’m not a fan of parking pads for a number of reasons.

  • They diminish the area where rainfall can penetrate into the soil, thus increasing the runoff and pollution into our storm sewers, streams and lakes.
  • They create hazards for pedestrians when cars back up onto sidewalks.
  • They add to the urban heat island because they reduce the amount of trees and other cooling greenery in the city.
  • They take away from the amount of on-street parking.
  • Parking pads and cars on front lawns are unsightly and are a blight to the streetscape.
  • Finally, they may increase the value of your home, but could decrease the value of your neighbours’  homes.

To widen a driveway or build a parking pad,  a homeowner needs to obtain a permit from the City, and they need to pay the City every year to use it.  The City posts a list of all the legal parking pads on its web site.  I checked the list for my street, then went out to compare it to reality.  I counted 71 parking pads or widened driveways on my street and 41 of those are listed as legal.  Perhaps its time to crack down on illegal parking pads in my neighbourhood??

Many people may have legitimate reasons for needing a parking pad.  But others could get away without one.  The good news is that the City of Toronto offers incentives for re-greening a front yard parking pad.  The City, at its expense, will:

  • Plant a tree in the boulevard in the front of the house.
  • Re-sod the area.
  • Remove the curb out.
  • Provide free down spout disconnection service.
  • Offer a free water conservation audit to the property owner.
  • Provide one year’s free permit parking, for one vehicle in the household.

I noticed that a few of the parking pads in my neighbourhood are not being used for parking cars.   One household is using their parking pad as space for a small shed.  Another simply put planters at the front so no-one would park there. My favourite is the household that has turned their driveway into a grassy hill.

Hopefully more and more people will take advantage of the City’s incentive program and reclaim space for city greenery.

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Look no further than the sidewalks in your neighbourhood for some nutritious snacks!  The other day I went hunting for edible weeds, and I found ten nutritious ones in one block alone.  Going a bit further afield, I found a total of 13 edible weeds and I likely missed some.

Now I wouldn’t recommend eating these plants that are sprouting by the sidewalks: they may be growing in contaminated soil, or have been visited by the neighbourhood dogs.  But I decided to share the information about these plants with you to illustrate that the plants we usually just want to get rid of can be beneficial to us.



Purslane plants are succulent and can can make do with relatively less water. They do well growing in the cracks between sidewalks and in people’s yards. This plant’s stems contains alpha-linolenic acid, one of the desirable Omega-3 fatty acids.

The other day I even saw Dr. Oz recommend the plant on his show. He told the audience that these omega-3 fats coat our membranes and joints. Purslane’s stems are also high in vitamin C.   You can make them in salads.  “In my home, we mix them with yogurt and garlic and it’s just spectacular.” says Dr. Oz.



This plant is ubiquitous in my neighbourhood. Plantain’s young leaves are edible raw in salad or cooked as a pot herb.  You can also blanche and saute with garlic. They are rich in vitamin B1 and riboflavin. The herb has a been  used as  medicine since ancient times.



I remember my mother showing me how you can eat the green seeds of these plants.  She didn’t tell me that all parts of the plant are edible — leaves, stems, flowers, seeds and roots. Mallows have been used in various times in history  as a survival food during times of crop failure or war.



This is another food that my mother fed me in my youth.  She made a (rather bitter) dandelion salad.  Perhaps she picked them at the wrong time, because it’s best to eat the leaves when they are young. The dandelion’s uses are actually quite varied.  Its flowers, leaves, stems roots all can be used. Anglo-Saxons and Normans found that the plant prevents scurvy. Dandelion roots are used to treat numerous conditions.

Lamb’s Quarters

Lamb’s Quarters

Lamb’s Quarters  has been grown as a grain crop in the Himalayas and is often harvested from  the wild in Africa. Its young leaves can be eaten raw or lightly cooked.  The seeds, which are closely related to quinoa, are filled with protein, vitamin A and calcium, and can also be eaten.



As its name suggests, goutweed is used for rheumatic diseases. This disease category includes autoimmune diseases and diseases that affect the joints and soft tissues, such as gout. Goutweed is also used for hemorrhoids, as well as for kidney, bladder, and intestinal disorders.



Burdock’s root can be pickled or boiled in soups and stews.  Eating it is also purported to get rid of poisons in your system.  You may know burdock more for the “burs” that cling to your clothes as you pass by.  I heard that these clingy seed pods were the inspiration for the invention of Velcro.   


Chicory Flower

Chicory has a variety of uses. Its young leaves can be used to make salads. The root can be boiled. And, the dried, roasted and ground root of the chicory plant can be used as a substitute for coffee.



You can make a  lemony drink with sumac by steeping the red fruits in cold water overnight.  Be aware that poison sumac has smooth leaves and spaced out white berries. Edible sumac has tightly clumped red flowers with jagged, leaves. Many  Middle Eastern chefs dry the berries of sumac, and then grind them up into a spice powder.

Sumac is said to contain calcium, potassium, magnesium, citric acid and antioxidants. The bark is used  as an astringent tea. It’s also reported to be antibacterial.  Sumac was used extensively by Native North Americans for food and medicine.

Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed

Those who eat Japenese Knotweed often describe it as tasting similar to a lemony rhubarb. The young shoots can be sliced raw into thin rounds in salad.  Some people also cook  it into a dessert.

Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace)

Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace)

Deep fried carrot flower is supposed to be a delicacy. The root can be eaten while young, but quickly becomes too woody. Be warned however, that you should be absolutely sure it is Wild Carrot because it is very similar to poison hemlock!

Red Clover

Red Clover

Red clover’s flowers can be chopped in salads, steeped in tea, or cooked in soup.  I often pull out a number of the petals at a time, and suck  the ends that were attached to the base to get a nice little jolt of sweet. Now I know why honey bees like them.

So now that I’ve described some of the uses of the plants above, I hope that you can look at these “weeds” in a different light.

Note: Refer to an expert or published plant-identification guide before ingesting any plant. Photos in this blog are not meant  for identification.












My Volunteer Tomatoes

Who wouldn’t want volunteers?  When I was a kid on the farm, plants that grew up spontaneously from seeds that didn’t get harvested were called “volunteer” plants.  I always thought that this was a noble name for these plants.

Then I realized that these volunteers were usually unwanted and unusable. They were considered weeds.  I was disappointed that they weren’t given the respect their name implied.

But now I have my own garden, and when I put the fertilizer from my vermicomposter (composting using worms) on my garden, I sometimes find my own volunteers growing.

I welcome these plants and allow them to flourish.  Last year  I enjoyed a delicious squash this way.  This year I got one tomato plant and one pumpkin plant.

Both plants did well because they were planted in the midst of some rich vermicompost nutrients.  Also, the seeds were from the vegetables I got from FoodCycles, which ran a community supported agriculture (CSA) project last year.  Some of the vegetables they provided me were heirloom plants.

Heirloom plants are open-pollinated, genetically diverse, and not sterile.  Thus, the seeds that  managed to remain undigested by my worms, were productive and grew lush in my backyard.

In contrast, on the farm where I grew up, the seeds used were generally from first generation hybrids (F1). These seeds were from plants that were hand pollinated, and they were often sterile.  If a few seeds did manage to grow, they did not have the same characteristics as their offspring.

My volunteer  pumpkin plant this year grew so large, it spread out onto my back steps.  Since I don’t use the steps very often, I let it be.  When Halloween comes, I’ll have my very own free pumpkin to set out on my front porch. I give this volunteer the respect it’s due.

My Pumpkin Plant

Sources of Information on Heirloom Plants
Canadian Gardening:  Five Reasons to Grow Heirloom Plants
Seeds of Diversity http://www.seeds.ca/en.php
Information on Composting
Compost Council of  Canada  http://www.compost.org/

Large Size Bin on Small Size Sidewalk

Normally my neighbourhood is very walkable. It’s one of the reasons I live here.  But then there are Tuesdays.

Tuesdays are garbage or recycling days on my street, when all those “monster” bins come out onto the sidewalk.

Now, I understand why the City introduced these bins (grey for garbage and blue for recycling) for better handling by the sanitation crew. But the City  should have considered that, when it comes to waste and recycling containers, one size does not fit all neighbourhoods.

The “monster” bins are great for streets with boulevards between the sidewalk and streets. On those streets, bins can be  placed out of the way of pedestrians; but on my street, the smallish sidewalks get taken over by the largeish bins.

But there are ways to overcome the problems — ways to reduce the conflict between waste and recycling bins and walkability.

Options for Placing Bins

Some front yards are better laid out for accommodating the bins that others.

Space for Bins in My Front Yard

Many yards have retaining walls beside the sidewalk, so those residents must put their bins on the sidewalk.  Other neighbours have a flat lawn or paved area in front where they can put the bins.

For example, my front yard has a flat area between the sidewalk and the retaining wall where I can stow my bins. This was how my house was when I bought it, so I can’t take credit for that foresight.

Other people on my street  have driveways they can put their bins on.  But sometimes, they put their bins on the sidewalk instead.

Other neighbours are more considerate. For instance, I noticed that one neighbour had put their bins at the front of the walkway to their house rather than on the public sidewalk.

The City’s Responsibility

No matter how considerate people are in placing their bins out of the way of pedestrians, it’s up to the sanitation crew to put them out of the way after they’re emptied.  This week, they were placed quite well — close to the edge of the sidewalk.  Sometimes, however, they are put smack dab in the middle of the walkway.  Then the sidewalk becomes impassable for those with walkers, wheelchairs,  strollers trundle buggies etc

My Grey Bin on the Sidewalk After Being  Emptied

Smaller is a Bit Less Ugly

Another way neighbours can take up less sidewalk space, is to create less garbage so that they can order a smaller grey bin from the City.  They’ll also save money, because a smaller bin costs less than a larger bin.

You can also get smaller recycling bins, although you are not charged for your recycling bins, no matter how large they are.

If a neighbour finds they don’t use their bin to full capacity, they can make a phone call to

have them switched to a smaller one.  Here’s a link to the City’s information about the bins.  http://www.toronto.ca/garbage/garbage.htms

Those who have small storage space for bins, but produce more waste than a smaller bin can contain, may ask the City for two smaller bins in place of a larger one. The city’s  web site says a staff person will inspect the property, but when I called to have this done and told them where I lived, they gave me two smaller ones, sight unseen.  They know that the huge bins are problematic for downtown neighbourhoods.

So those are my suggestions for reducing the conflict between the “monster” bins and pedestrians in my neighbourhood.  Sometimes there’s no way of getting around the problems, but with a little consideration by neighbours and City staff, the conflict can be reduced.

Behold the glorious goldenrod!  It’s one of my favourite wildflowers. Yet to some it’s little more than a common allergy-causing weed.  I found out about this dislike of goldenrod the hard way.

My Goldenrod

I was living in a house with some friends. We decided to tear up the grass on our front lawn and make it into a diverse flower garden.  I was in charge of one side of the lawn, and I planted a variety of flowers.  Some I didn’t need to plant, including some small purple violets that bloomed spontaneously in the spring. Later on, I noticed a few stems of goldenrod sprouting up.

Where had they come from?  Perhaps they had been dormant in the soil underneath the grass for all these years.  Perhaps the seeds had blown in from a neighbouring garden, although I hadn’t noticed any goldenrod nearby.  My goldenrod grew tall and proud; it needed no watering, and no fertilizing.  I watched with anticipation for the golden flowers near the end of the summer.  They were just about to bloom when one day I came home and found they had been chopped down.  For some reason, a neighbour had cut off my flowers!

Obviously, my neighbour didn’t appreciate the virtues of these flowers.  But to me, three of their assets are that they are beautiful, easy to grow and, contrary to a commonly held belief, they are not guilty of causing allergies.

First of all, let’s explore the beauty of these plants.  The flowers bloom in the late summer early fall and are colourful, showy additions to gardens. You see them growing in meadows and roadsides throughout Ontario.  You may think they all look alike, but there are actually 125 species of goldenrod that are native to North America, and 30 of these are native to Ontario.

Goldenrod flowers are quite plentiful; however, a few species are rare in Ontario. The Houghton’s goldenrod, for example, grows at the tip of Bruce Peninsula and on Manitoulin Island. The few populations exist in very small areas of provincially rare habitats called alvars. These alvars are at risk from gravel pits, use of recreational vehicles and from invasive species – species of plants that crowd out others.

Another rare species of goldenrod is the Riddell’s Goldenrod. In Canada, populations are found in southern Manitoba and southwestern Ontario, where it is has been reported at 20 sites.

Ontario is at the northern limit of the species’ range, and so Riddell’s Goldenrod was probably never common here. The changing of prairie to farmland and urban areas may have caused the species to decrease.

For the most part, however, the sight of goldenrod brightening up a field, a meadow, a roadside, or a ditch is an expected part of Ontario’s fall delights.

Goldenrod are “short-day” plants, meaning that they begin to bloom after the long, hot days of summer are over, and the cooler temperatures and moisture has returned.  Because few species of plants are blooming in fall, many insects, such as beetles, butterflies, wasps, and bees, are attracted to the flowers.

Because goldenrod is native to Ontario —  that is the plants were not brought over from another country, but grew here before the early settlers arrived — it especially easy to grow.  They are accustomed to the amount of rainfall we get here, so they don’t need any watering.  Many types of goldenrod thrive in nutrient-poor soil, so don’t need to be fertilized.

You can grow them in areas of your garden that get full sun, or partial sun. If you’re lucky like me, you won’t even need to plant them.  As with a lot of plants, you may have to do a bit of control so they don’t spread to other parts of your garden.

Or to your neighbour’s garden, who, like my past neighbour, might not like the flower.  Perhaps my neighbour didn’t know that they are not guilty of causing allergies.  Too bad I didn’t have a sign like the one I saw one fall when I came across a lovely stand of goldenrod in someone’s front yard.  Accompanying the flowers was a colourful, weatherproof sign, just like you’d see on a nature interpretation trail.

The sign was there to educate neighbours and passersby  about the myth that goldenrod causes you to sneeze. I was thrilled to see that someone had made the effort to dispel the falsehood, and obviously the sign had worked. Unlike my goldenrod, which was unjustly beheaded, theirs was actually allowed to bloom.

Now I have my own garden, and welcome the goldenrod that has appeared in my front yard.  It’s now blooming beautifully, unhindered in its late summer glory. Perhaps the prejudice against goldenrod is being overcome.