Garden Party

The latest and greatest experts, gizmos and shops devoted to backyard (or balcony) gardens this summer

Growing things is one of the few guaranteed pleasures during a pandemic summer. For long-time gardeners and new Covid-era hobbyists, here’s our list of insider tips, cool new gizmos and the must-have blooms of 2021.

An urban farming guru leading the next generation of agriculturists

1Cheyenne Sundance is a force. Yes, she has a very cool name. She’s also doing some very cool things. In September 2019, she founded a mentorship  program called Sundance Harvest on a plot of land in Downsview Park. There, she grows cucumbers, kale and tomatoes, and teaches marginalized kids about urban agriculture. In February, Sundance Harvest secured its second location, a flower farm on the roof of the Danforth’s Big Carrot co-op, opening in the fall, where Cheyenne plans to harvest blooms and run workshops (when it’s safe to do that again). In the spring, she started selling the fruit of her labour in a weekly $30 CSA box, alongside seedlings of herbs, veggies and flowers, including calendulas, marigolds and nasturtiums. Seedlings start at $5 per pot.


Unique tomato seeds from a 15-year-old gardener

2Emma Biggs has a soft spot for the unusual. After a backyard introduction from her horticulturist father, the teenage gardening phenom, radio host and author has grown arugula, peppers, sesame and hundreds of oddly shaped tomato varieties at their Willowdale home. Now, Emma has launched a line of organic heirloom tomato seeds, including Lebanese mountain and purple calabash, plus Murasaki purple peppers, which are all the rage among the city’s niche produce hunters. Available exclusively online at Fiesta Gardens, the annual pop-up from Fiesta Farms. $3.25 for 15 to 20 seeds.


A Zoom crash course to guide you through your first (or hundredth) harvest

3This series is perfect for city slickers ready to commit to an edible garden. It’s taught by Luay Ghafari, an urban farmer and founder of lifestyle website Urban Farm and Kitchen, and Melissa Cameron, master gardener and founder of garden design company the Good Seed. They offer guidance on growing a lush and vibrant herb and vegetable garden in your space, and the class includes instructional videos, live Zoom calls with the experts, plus a ton of delicious recipes for when your produce is ready for harvesting. $449 for an eight-month subscription.


A customizable perennial garden

4For those who lack the time or skill to design a successful, joy-inducing yard, Beech Nursery is a full-service garden centre in the east end that takes the guesswork out of landscaping. Simply tell the team your colour preferences and the amount of space you have to spare, plus sun and shade conditions, and they’ll whip up a beautifully curated garden featuring about 25 species. The flora, including Japanese irises, creeping phlox and daylilies, comes with planting and maintenance instructions. From $110.


The hot new flower drop

5The season’s most coveted new bloom is the aurora borealis, a hot-pink rose variety from Vineland’s 49th Parallel Collection (Vineland is the Niagara horticultural facility that gave us the orange-hued Chinook sunrise rose in 2019). Aurora is a rose-lover’s dream: winter hardy, black spot resistant and low maintenance. Just fertilize once a month for lush, verdant foliage and big, showy blooms. $30 each.


An evergreen microgreens kit

6Junction Microfarm is a subscription-based, family-run operation that has been supplying west-enders with microgreens for the past nine months. They offer a $20 kit that comes with everything you need: a mix of sweet and spicy varieties (think purple kohlrabi, red cabbage and triton radish), compostable grow trays, growing medium (sphagnum moss, decomposed leaves and perlite) and virtual tech support should you need guidance along the way.


A worm-fuelled soil enricher

7In a 2,000-square-foot straw-bale barn in the Hockley Valley are millions of red wiggler worms, waiting to be fed. Before the pandemic, Jocelyn Molyneux, owner of Wastenot Farms, would hit downtown offices once a month, picking up about 1,000 pounds of green waste from each one and taking it back to feed her babies. When offices closed, Molyneux had to find a new source of worm grub, so she struck up a partnership with Food For Life, a Burlington-based food rescue charity. The resulting manure is the star ingredient in her signature product, Jocelyn’s Soil Booster, a microbe-rich fertilizer that organic growers swear by. $25.


An inspirational community of green thumbs

8Four years ago, an Oakville-based Instagram account called Humans Who Grow Food was created as a conduit for uplifting stories from across the globe. There was one about a Ugandan farmer harvesting food for his entire village, and another about a woman who started a free front-yard herb garden for her neighbours. The account grew, and this past March launched a database to connect growers with their communities. It’s perfect for locked-down nascent gardeners trying to learn the ropes in the midst of a global pandemic.


A countertop garden for tight spaces

9Click and Grow is a compact gardening system that’s like a Nespresso machine for fresh produce. Instead of single-origin coffee, it uses biodegradable seed pods, and the unit’s planters act as mini greenhouses. The gadget holds up to three weeks worth of H2O, and the built-in LED light helps expedite the growing process. $130.


A foolproof composter

10The makers of the Vitamix created this mini-but-mighty indoor composter, which uses heat, aeration and a sharp-blade grinder to transform table scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer in less than eight hours, without the elbow grease and constant monitoring. $500.