Common Ground Landscape Design
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Garden Journal

What was that?

A few weeks ago I was at a customer's house showing my crew what to do, when I noticed a big bad clump of grass up against a rock. "Damn!" I thought to myself, "these mow blow and go companies never clean up after themselves" I reached down to pick it up and something pink and furless scurried about underneath. I jumped up and screamed so loudly that I scared the %*&# out my crew, and they ending up screaming too.

What's in there?, they asked. "I don't know, and I don't think I want to know". We left that part of the garden alone for the rest of the afternoon.

Last week we went back and couldn't believe what we saw, those furless little creatures were not mice at all but, the cutest little bunnies that you could imagine.


the cutest little bunny


So, just south of the intersection of Wilson and Ave Rd. are the newest addition of the animal family of Common Ground 2007. I have gone two more times to visit them and I just love them. They are just so damn cute.

more amazing bunnies
I had to shoot this next picture rather quickly as they were starting to get a little frightened by this impromptu home visit/invasion.

more bunnies

Who is living in your garden?

City Girl Gets an Education

This summer, I asked some of the people on my crew if they would be willing to write a blog. This is Emma's contribution of Summer 07.

The City Girl Gets an Education

So until last summer, it had never occurred to me to think about how plants grew, how seeds were created or even how vegetables formed themselves. I was a city kid with no gardening experience; my only exposure to plants were the already grown impatiens my dad would buy in cell packs and robotically transplant into our garden beds. I had never thought much about plants, in fact, I remember as a kid watching a gardening show and thinking (this was probably my exact thought) "Geez, why would anyone ever want to garden? It just dies in the winter, what a waste of time!" Yeah. Flash forward to this summer, which has been an all out gardening marathon. I am the overly excited gardening geek on the crew – I remember most plant names and four days out of five, I get a "gold star" from Beth for correct plant identification. Sigh. And when I'm not getting paid to garden, I can often be found in my own backyard, watching the progression of my squash plants, or helping my snow peas find their way up the trellis. It's addictive, gardening. Watching things grow is AMAZING.

Emma's tomatoesSee, before I started gardening, I had no ideas that vegetables, like snow peas for example, grew out of the flowers that appeared on the vine. There was no connection between flower and fruit to me. The first time that I saw the way that a pepper plant flower starts to morph into an actual pepper, I was completely dumbfounded. I went home to explain the way the flower was changing into a pepper to my mom and she looked at me like "duh! How did you think they grew?" She grew up on a strawberry farm, so this was old news to her. But I think that pepper flower is what got me addicted to gardening.

So without any more ado, I would like to share someEmma's chard recent
pictures from my own garden. It's mostly vegetables, with some flowers.
We just started it this year, so it's not really filled in yet. Though
our tomatoes are going somewhat crazy. Enjoy!


Emma's photos can be seen on her flicker account at

Staying clean

I have a hard time staying clean. With my hectic scedule, there has been more than one occasion where I got ready for that family function or hot date under the cold stream of a customer's hose. I have a few layers of dirt under my finger nails at any given time, and by this time in the season my feet are my dirty handstained brown. Its pretty sexy, but wearing sandles is definitely out of the question unless I spend hours soaking my feet and giving my self a pedicure. Hiring a professional to clean them for me? This is a great option, and I tip her outrageously 4 for having to clean a gardener's soul.

My favorite "trying to be clean" story goes a little like this. I am at the restaurant, and I am in my girl clothes, my napkin is on my lap, and I am enjoying the ambience, I am feeling confident, tan and strong. What is that itch in my ear? That's not an itch, that is a chunk of dirt the size of my thumb! As the mortification set in, I was, with dignity, able to sneak off to the bathroom and get my self sorted out.

I have had a few great pedicures over the years, and by far the best was at A S electrolysis @ 416 466 9518 320 Danforth Ave . I don't participate in too many beauty regimes, but because I live on a well that threatens to turn my hair into straw daily, I probably spend a little more on hair products than the average girl. In the make up department I mainly use Burts Bees. I like that minty taste. Did you know that you get twice as much lip dip if you buy it in the pot, as opposed to the lip cream that comes in an applicator? a small trade in quantity for convenience. I once get sucked in by the streamlined marketing of MAC, and bought
a lip gloss that was so sticky even in the slightest breeze my hair
would literally stick to my lips.

The best creams are what I am most interested in. Creams and sunscreens. If it says "try me" I squirt! I think I may have tried every hand cream that is available in Canada and the UK. The hand cream I love the best is fairly common from L'Occitane. At this time of the season I go through 1 tube about every 12 weeks. The sun screen that I use? you'd think that I would remember the name considering I put it on everyday, but I don't. I'll go to the truck tomorrow and let you know. A few days later...On my face I use L'Oreal Ombrelle #45 for kids, and on the rest of me I use L'Oreal Ombrelle Sport #30, both of which I bought at Shoppers Drug Mart.

The crowning glory of creams I would recommend, especialy when working with Junipers and Evergreens is Gardeners Dream Cream. It stings a bit, but it soothes too. It is a Canadian company from out west, and it has amazing ingredients like Eucalyptus and cinamon for their scent and antiseptic properties.

What are favorite body care products?beth and alex with a broken shovel

On a final note, a few weeks back we had the first shovel break of the season. Mazel Tov Baird! The record to beat was last year at 8 shovels! The best part? they were all broken by the same guy! Shawn you animal.


This is Alex and I showing off Baird's handywork.




The Beauty of Gas Stations

One really good way to know if a plant is hardy, is to see if it's growing in one of the many landscapes in and around gas stations. Why? beause you can be certain that no one is watering them. Here is an example. Flower garden at the gas atationIn this garden by the Petro Canada at Meadowvale and Sheppard, there is an ideal selection of plants that you can neglect. Purple Sandcherry is definitely a good pick, but they do get quite spindly as they get older. I always plant a small to medium sized shrub in front of them to hide the their "trunks".When kept small, I really like the contrast in colours between Golden Mock Orange and Purple Sandcherry. Cut Leaf Stephanendra, Annabelle Hydrangeas, Viburnums and some Spireas are often used by the neglectful gardener. Of course there is the ever unfailing until it does, humble Juniper (as seen in the foreground in this photograph) A few years ago there was a terrible problem with Scale in the city of Toronto, but barring that Euonymus, is a favorite among home owners who want a plant to last years in a long slow drawn out death.

A few perennials can survive being negelected, like Hollyhocks. On Laird Ave at their bloom time (which happens from around nowish and for the next few weeks) go check them out! There is nothing else in this garden but Holly Hocks and it is amazing. It is an automotive business, or maybe a restaurant supply on Laird, on the east side just south of Eglinton.(added just one day later-today I drove by on my way to the Home Depoo and guess what? someone ripped out all of the Hollyhocks and put in tons of Tomato plants!)

yellow tree peony blossoms
Peonies, and tree Peonies? I have seen more than one stand at the egde of somewhere, with no one looking after it, and year after year they came back faithfully. The best testiment to the hardyness of a tree Peony, is this gorgeous yellow specimen in my brother's garden. I can promise you without a shadow of doubt in my mind, that my brother in the 3 years that he has been living here, has NEVER watered this Tree Peony.

Daylillies are amazinglyorange daylily blossom hardy, especially the variety that is bright orange, and are blooming right now called Hemerocallis fulva "Europa".

On Bathurst St. just north of St. Clair at the Shell station is a great hedge of Dwarf Koren Lilac, that seems to be doing really well, and of course the scent is incredible.

Another good way to see if a plant is hardy is to see if it is growing wild at the side of the road. A few weeks ago the Service Berry trees were in bloom and they were magnificent. Along the road that boundaries the Toronto Zoo is a huge stand of Service Berries, service berry tree in full bloom pictured here. The fruits are ready now and they are so soft, nutty and refreshing.


What is in your garden that seems to be thriving on neglect?

Tree Peonies

I know that they have come and gone but I had to mention the amazing tree peonies that I have seen around the city. I took this photograph one day while working on Walmer road just south of Dupont. It pink tree peonie blossomswas an over cast day and it had just rained. I love how I caught the droplettes of water on the leaves.












peony blossom


















yellow tree peony blossoms


Woodland Phlox

I have only a few moments to write, before I fall asleep on the key board. I am so excited that the Woodland Phlox are blooming! It means that the fresh Ontario strawberries are going to be ready soon. The wild varieties are ready for tasting and they are devine, small and sweet tasting. I took these photographs in the forest behind my house in the Rouge River Valley.

The best place to buy strawberries in my humble opinion, is the fairview Farms Fairview Farm - 8439 Creditview Rd. Phone: 905-451-6295. Email: in the north west pocket of Brampton. They are so sweet and succulent. I have had mangos right out of the tree in South Africa, and pineapples picked right off of the plant in Australia, but there is nothing like fresh warm strawberry juice dripping down my chin. I buy them in bulk and freeze them. So, enjoy the fruits of the season and these amazing indicators of the luscious strawberry.

woodland phlox














woodland phlox

close up woodland Phlox









Before I begin, I have some sad news. The next door neighbour's Jack Russell Terriorist lunged at the ladder that the Robins were nesting on, and he killed them all, just for sport. I was there, I watched it happen right in front of me in a matter of seconds and there was nothing that I could do. It was pretty traumatic.

On a happier note, a few days later Emma spotted a nest inside of a hydro pole at the intersection of Yonge and York Mills, and so we adopted it. It won't replace my lost neighbours, but it did make me happy that this little family of birds could survive in some pretty adverse conditions, like a busy intersection. Emma is going to send me the photos she took and I'll post them later.

Deep in the heart of Riverdale, sits the newest edition of design work my company Common Ground Landscape Design completed last week. The best way to show the evolution of this job is to connect you to my flickr account and let you view it for your self. We love it, and the customer does too. It was a sweet and simple job that we finished just a day or two before the big rain storms.a fallen tree

Speaking of big rain storms, a few weeks back we had a massive torrential down pour, and a tree came down, not 10 feet from my house. (Thats about 2.5 meters for those of you who care about the metric system) You can see the snapped stump on the right hand side of the photo, and straight ahead, up against the wall, you can see where the Robin's nest was on the ladder.

a snapped tree





Stay cool today. It looks like it is going to be a hot one. Drink plenty of water and wear your sunscreen!






The Mystery of Prunus Glandulosa.

Why do you suppose this shrub is called a flowering almond?flowering almond I don't think it is a proper almond, is it? Isn't Prunus the genus of Cherry? So, how did almond become a member of the genus cherry? Interestingly, the family that cherry belongs to is Rosaceae. According to Linneaus plants are classified by the relatedness in the flower in terms of pistons and stamens (It always boils down to sex doesn't it?) If this is true then we can see how the cherry and the almond family were designated this classification, as their "internal" flowers as well as the external flowersclose up of flowering almond blossoms resemble roses.

I once saw a hedge of flowering almond that was so spectacular, and surprising that more people haven't thought of this as a possibility before. If you have used flowering almonds in a creative way, I would love to see it. Send me a link and I'll post it.

There are very few pests that bother the flowering almond, and they come as an attractive standard as well as a bush form, for a more formal garden planting. I think the only dissappointing characteristics of this shrub is that you get neither cherries or almonds, and it has a very dissatisfying name. Prunus glandulosa. It sounds like a very serious genetic glandular disorder.

A few months ago I attended a Tu'Bishevat Sedar. This a Spring celebration in the Jewish calendar year that celebrates the new year of the trees. I met a lovely woman there, who told us stories of being in Israel when the almond groves were in bloom. It sounded wonderful, but nothing prepared me for the 2 photographs that she later sent me via email. I was so grateful when she gave me permission to use these images and show all of you this incredible display of blossoms. Enjoy!

awesome almond blossoms

photo:Sharon Ross

single almond blossom

photo:Sharon Ross


I love this time of year, but please be careful when driving out there. The danger of trying to catch a glimpse of something beautiful as you are driving by is too tempting. please keep your eyes on the road. (Yes! I am writing this from direct experience.)

Robin red breast

I live just outside of the city of Toronto, and I am surrounded by nature . This is a blessed thing as I am often, so totally over stimulated by the time I come home at night. I just look out of my window at the forest and know there is nothing to prune, or weed, or plant. I sit back and enjoy the humming birds that visit, the deer that graze and the Robins that nest. I have no yard chores other than gathering up all of the brown bags that are in a huge heap and take them to the dump .

Last Fall, maybe in a moment of laziness, I am not sure, robin's nest on a ladder but a 5' ladder was left leaning against the back wall. It is in a very sheltered position, and when my crew was up last week transplanting seedlings, eating Natalie's delicious food and harvesting the wild leeks, Emma nest on ladderspotted a Robin's nest with 4 blue eggs . We all gathered around and  ohhhed and ahhhed  and said "isn't that amazing?!" It reminded me of the first time I saw a Robin's egg when I was about 5, and I was transported to another time. About 3-4 days later I went back and, there were  these fragile little creatures. They can't even open their eyes yet. It looks like I have some new neighbours. I'll try and get photos every couple of days and let you see the progress.

Speaking of neighbours, Bear and Sarah are on the road back from Florida and should be here by Wednesday or Thursday. They are also my neighbours and my friends and my employees. You'll get to meet them pretty soon too.  They are a couple a characters. Bear has a real gift for teaching and will be showing us how to build sheds and decks and create beautiful solid stone work.

Enjoy this beautiful weather, just remember to water everything! It is very dry out there.


                     baby robins in their nest


I have a crush

 I have a crush on small Magnolias . They are as compelling as their more mature counter parts, and are just so damn cute. I have a Tiny magnolia treefew pictures of some of the best I have seen in  TO. Today I am going to take drive and visit my favorite Magnolia in the city and say hello. We have been apart too long. Do you have a favorite Magnolia? I would love to see them, send me a link.

Next year I am planning a trip to Nepal where, the Magnolias are as big there, as Maple trees are here. I am not going to be there at the time of the Magnolia bloom, which is a bit of a downer, but hey it's Nepal , so I ain't complaining. Some of the most amazing Magnolias I have seen are in the southern United States and are a  very different animal  to the Magnolia that we have growing here. For one, you could damage your lawn mower blades if you accidentally suck up the dried Magnolia leaves. I can't believe how thick and tough they are, and they take for ever to break down in the compost bin. But the flowers are extraordinary.

This little guy is on Albany just north of Bloor Star Magnolia blossomand east of Bathurst, and here is a close up of the flowers. Pretty gorgeous. This variety is called a Star Magnolia pink magnolia blossom and it also comes in shades of pink. This pink specimen is almost directly across the street from the white one, and this is what it looks like. Today is another glorious day to be above ground! get out there are say hello to the natural world! Beth

Star Magnolia bush