paris and new york don't have front yards -- but, then, they don't need them. Montreal doesn't have them either. Yards are for people who live in houses, not apartments. Toronto has always been geared to owning property, not renting it.
Old Toronto is rich with private gardens worked by people with imagination and, in the case of many immigrants, knowledge and respect for the potential bounty of any patch of land.
How painful it is to see idiot young urban professionals modernizing their newly purchased homes/investment properties by ripping out meticulously woven Concord grapevines to make way for paved parking and patios under the blazing sun.
Front-yard browsing is free for landless peasants, but the best time to pass by is at night. I never pick flowers from within the sacred confines of a private front yard. Only plants that are a) growing over the sidewalk, b) already broken or c) being crushed by cars.
Competition is good for front yards. If one gardener executes a successful pebble-outlined May-to-October floral display, every house on the block is challenged to enter the contest. Just as, if one homeowner plants a minivan in the front yard, the whole street might as well not bother.
I particularly appreciate yards with homemade fountains, windmills, grottoes and experiments in topiary. These are signs of love and care and time spent on beautifying the everyday world. "Busy' people and indentured TV-watchers do not dig moats and line them with hand-mixed concrete to create a floating realm for King Frog.
Just south of Dufferin Grove Park, in front of a house of rental units at the corner of Lindsey and Gladstone, is a yard display I like because it looks so ridiculously serious. On one side is a huge quartzy boulder dumped there, no doubt, at great expense.
Dotted about the rest of the lawn are about a dozen big granitey rocks, including one with the address carved in it. These people obviously have access to nature-made stones. That's why the thing sitting between two miniature figgy trees looks so curious. It's an igneous imitation, most likely cast in fibreglass, painted with red and silver-grey blobs that loudly give it away as a counterfeit mineral specimen. I choose to think this reflects a sense of humour, but I am probably wrong.
Just stopping and looking at anything on the friendly streets of this neighbourhood draws so much attention that I'm reminded of the Neighbourhood Watch symbol: a house with a giant eyeball in it. One man has come down his walk to stare aggressively at me all the way down Lindsey, which looks a bit like England and feels just as inviting. If civility to strangers ever existed, it has long since given way to hostility. Even the ice cream truck man is unhappy to see me.
Two-thirds of the way up the long block of Beatrice north of College is a little dreamland for gnomes. There's water, but not a spraying fountain -- just soothing droplets trickling down tiers of home-mixed concrete, topped with a miniscule figure that looks like an alligator in a tuxedo holding a wedding cake. A happy ceramic squirrel and turtle frolic at the base. On the far side is a trellis inside which stands a 2-foot man with a flat, pink face and thin moustache. The ring he holds may indicate he was once a lawn jockey who has been given a new concrete mask and a suit of comfortable clothes.
An old step stool sits under a 3-to-4-metre -tall tree that's been trained into a hoop with an inner and outer globe. There's another basket-shaped example of topiary in the foreground. A leprechaun watches over a wooden bird fallen over to rot. The cedar is shaped like a cat. A reindeer with metal legs from a chair is wired to the fence. This is a sweet place.
I made unnatural daylight efforts to find remarkable gardens in Parkdale, Cabbagetown and Rosedale. I saw tasteful plantings, lots of red-leafed Japanese maples, ferns and wood chips. I'm not being facetious. It all became a floral blur.
In Rosedale, hired gardeners were mowing, trimming and chemically spraying the spreads of the stupefyingly rich. Rosedale is laid out so that a non-resident is bound to get lost. The size of the estates makes walking tiring and gives too much time to ponder economic realities. Better to do like the help and take the bus.
Saturday, and India Bazaar on Gerrard East is packed with glamorous sari-clad shoppers and their husbands and children, all chewing on the popular street food here -- burnt corn on the cob. Down a long, well-yarded block to east-end Dundas, at the corner of Hiawatha, I back up to gaze at a garden that makes me want to change into a bird to fly inside.
On her hands and knees, digging and pulling weeds, is the woman who has taken over 25 years to make this once-derelict corner sing with life. Asian lilies. I recognize peony buds, a yucca, black-fringed tulips, bird baths, raspberry canes, more than I could ever name.
This really is a prize-winning garden. Ex-mayor June Rowlands had a contest. This gardener, who was raised on a Manitoba farm, entered. People came to look at the garden. "I thought, "Now, who are you?' They said, "You've entered a contest?' I said, "Yes, but I won't win. It's not landscaped.' "Well, you have.''
There's a place on Dundas just where the street bends, east of Bathurst, that has always appealed to me. It's not a garden, but a concrete patio under a grape arbour growing on a framework of metal piping strung with Christmas lights.
There's a long table and chairs, a clothesline and a few hanging plants. The life of the setting comes from the people who eat and celebrate in their open-air summer dining room, oblivious to the busy streets around them.
North of Bloor, the corner of Yarmouth and Ossington sprouts hundreds of long, rib-like sticks planted to support the climbing vines of an intensely cultivated vegetable garden. I find just this thicket of bare bones more impressive than any Professional Art I have seen.
Tracing the appearance of Mary in her many grottoes is a whole other tour.