Category Archives: Birds

Is it time to rethink our lawns?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Full disclosure – I have never been a fan of lawns. I’ve had a 20 year plan to convert my large property to perennial gardens and paths, and I’m getting there, slowly but surely. 

However, I am fascinated with how (and why) people are so attached to their square green spaces of grass. 

A little history first..

Lawns became popular with the aristocracy in northern Europe from the Middle Ages onward, evolving as a sign of wealth.  Originally they were mostly used as pasture – lawns like we have today first appeared in France and England in the 1700s when André Le Nôtre designed the gardens of Versailles that included a small area of grass called the tapis vert, or “green carpet”.

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Immigrants to North America brought these traditions with them as they settled the land. Particularly after the Second World War, the creation of the middle class and suburbia and the advent of chemical fertilizers led to a North American culture of ‘the lawn is king’, with the requirement that it was every homeowner’s responsibility to keep it watered, mowed, repaired, and cultivated, just like their neighbours. One article I read even went so far as to blame the rise of lawns on the Scots, who brought their love of lawn bowling and golf to this continent (and therefore the need for flat green areas).

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Lawn is a cognate of llan which is derived from the Common Brittonic word landa (Old French: launde) that originally means heath, barren land, or clearing.

Lawns are expensive to create and maintain, so why do we still have them? Simply put, the belief is that lawns are indicative of success – if you have a well maintained lawn you have the time and money to create and maintain it, and you care about belonging to your neighbourhood.

Fast forward to current times, where we now see articles in the Globe and Mail asking whether “it’s time to decolonize your lawn” and efforts are underway in many areas to convert lawn areas into more ecologically responsible landscapes to support our pollinators, birds, and wildlife. Whether you simply overseed with some white clover, and reduce or eliminate fertilizers, or convert your entire lawn into a wildflower meadow, there is a full range of options to consider.

Such changes have not been without their challenges. A recent newspaper article shows the conflict between those who want a new attitude towards our properties. Nina-Marie Lister, a Ryerson University urban planner and ecologist removed all her lawn, replacing it with “a lush and layered landscape” filled with “milkweed, boneset and black-eyed Susans, among other plants largely native to the region.” Her neighbours complained and she was visited by a Toronto city bylaw officer – under Toronto’s municipal code, residents need to “cut the grass and weeds on their land” whenever they grow past 20 centimetres.

The comments community lit up, and well known gardener Lorraine Johnson even penned an editorial in the Toronto Star about it.

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Naturalized gardens are becoming a widespread phenomenon, and municipal bylaws will continue to be challenged by those that advocate for increasing biodiversity by creating landscapes that support an abundance of species of flora and fauna. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see someone complain to bylaw about a green lawn destroying biodiversity, filling the landscape with chemicals, wasting water by watering, and creating air and noise pollution through mowing? You see, it’s all a matter of perspective.

The debate is far from over, but gardeners should enter the discussion and think about whether there is a way for their green spaces to be just a bit more ecologically friendly.

Whatever your opinion, I encourage you to read these articles and think about the issues surrounding our garden spaces. I know I will never convert the staunch, lawnmower riding king to create a wildflower meadow, but if I just get a few people to think about how they can make a small difference in their own backyards I will be happy. I don’t have all the answers – I just want to stimulate the discussion.

FUN FACT – clover was an accepted part of lawns until the early 1950s, only becoming a ‘weed’ because the earliest 2,4-D herbicides killed it off along with the dandelions.

For those interested the Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care is hosting an online discussion and learning series on the role of land care, horticulture and landscaping in cultivating social and land equity. One of the topics is “Cultural values and how they frame horticultural norms” where the colonization and control of our natural landscapes will be the topic.

For more information:

The American Obsession with Lawns

The History of Lawns

Decolonizing Horticulture by Sundaura Alford-Purvis

Scarlet Runner Beans

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Have you ever wondered what that vine was growing up the side your grandmother’s porch? The one with the big leaves and the little red flowers? It gave lovely cool shade on the porch in the heat of the summer.

Scarlet runner beans, Phaseolus coccineus, are a native of the mountains of Central America. In their native habitat they are a perennial, but are planted annually when grown in our gardens. The vines are vigorous growers and can reach up to 6 meters in length. This makes them ideal for growing along chain link fences or up trellises or on strings beside your grandmother’s porch. They like full sun and a rich well draining soil.

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The beans produced are edible when the pods are small and the beans inside have just begun to develop. The skin of the pod is a bit furry but with cooking they are a tasty vegetable. When more mature, the seeds inside can be shelled and eaten like Lima beans. The seeds can be saved from the pods that have been left on the vines to ripen and dry. When ripe, the seeds will rattle inside the pods. This vine keeps producing right up until frost.

You can plant directly into the soil, 4-5cm deep and 6-8cm apart earlier than regular beans, but they won’t tolerate a frost if they have sprouted above ground. You can also start them indoors in pots and transplant outside when there is no more danger of frost. Make sure there is a trellis or fence or something for them to climb on. (Strings or mesh hung from the eaves of grandmother’s porch.)

The flowers are attractive to humming birds and bees. So, plant them where you will be able to enjoy the hummingbirds. They are also attractive to rabbits and slugs. I start my seeds in juice cartons with the tops cut off. Just before planting I cut the bottom off the carton and leave the sides up as a collar to protect the tender plants from slugs. Slugs don’t seem to bother the plants as they get large.

We’re still waiting and dreaming of our garden, but we will  be getting topsoil for our new property in time to start our gardens. Scarlet runners on teepees and mesh hung from the eaves will give some vertical interest to our bland landscape.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phaseolus_coccineus

Gardening is Not Cancelled – Continued…

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Just 3 short weeks ago I shared my thoughts on the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on our gardening activities, shortly after the World Health Organization declared it to be a pandemic.

So many events have been cancelled – garden shows, seminars, Seedy Saturdays (and Sundays) – that even the cutest cat photos are not making us feel any better. (yes these are my two cuties – Lulu and Roxy).

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Although garden centres and nurseries that grow their own stock are permitted under the conditions of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (as an agricultural activity), many of our favourite nurseries have closed their doors to in-person shopping and resorted to online sales with no-contact pickups at their entrances in order to protect staff and the public.

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Source: http://www.vandermeernursery.com/

Fellow gardeners are panicking. After all, this is the time of year when we finally get outside again, clean up our gardens, start seeds, decide on our plans, and look forward to purchasing our favourite plants at the stores.

However, gardening is not cancelled. This year will definitely be different, and we will have to adjust.

In these chaotic times, let gardening be therapy, providing a place for you to find calm and peace.

Working in the soil, with the sun on your face, can take away your worries, at least temporarily. You are using your hands, digging in the dirt, taking in the fresh air, watching the birds flutter around the yard and – best of all – all the news and social media is in the house! Your garden is an escape!

For families with kids at home, gardening offers the opportunity to get the kids outside and busy, while building their self-esteem and bringing variety to what has suddenly become a lot of time spent together. For those on their own you are never truly alone in a garden – there are always birds, bugs, plants or other living things to observe all around you.

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COVID-19 is forcing us to re-examine how we live, and how we consume goods and services. This has translated into an increased interest in people wanting to grow their own food, taking us back to World War II, when millions of people cultivated Victory Gardens to protect against potential food shortages while boosting patriotism and morale. victory garden

We still don’t know whether we will be able to get starter plants, so many people are ordering seeds. As a result, seed companies are experiencing a deluge of orders, with many stopping new orders until they can catch up. Your local Master Gardener groups and horticultural societies can help you out if you need some advice on how to grow plants from seeds.

  1. Start some seeds. Just seeing something grow out of the soil is a very positive experience. Hopefully you have some seed starter mix around (or can get some) and you can use anything to grow seeds in – from old roasted chicken containers to yogurt cups to folded up newspapers.
  2. Check out social media gardening groups – there are groups out there for every topic under the sun, from seed starting to plant identification to perennials. Since the pandemic began, I have noticed far more people joining these groups, which is wonderful because gardeners just love to share their experiences.
  3. Plan your vegetable garden – figure out which ones you can grow easily from seeds. Learn from others and search Google for ideas.
  4. Stuck inside on a rainy day? Find some online gardening classes or check out YouTube for some good instruction videos on any number of gardening topics.
  5. Get outside for a walk in nature – while maintaining physical distancing, enjoy getting some exercise and seeing all the plants emerging from their winter slumber.
  6. Repot your houseplants. You might just find they reward you with some lovely blooms once we start getting more sunshine.

Hopefully soon we’ll be able to look forward to getting plants at our favourite nurseries (you can be sure they are working very hard to find safe ways to do this). When we do, make sure you support your local nurseries and #buylocal as much as possible.

Until then, find your inner gardening zen, whatever that may be, and enjoy all that spring has to offer. I know I will be sitting by my garden pond, thinking about brighter days ahead.IMG_6524*For best information on the COVID-19 situation contact your local health unit or the Government of Ontario website. Peterborough Public Health, led by Medical Officer of Health Rosana Salvaterra, also has great resources.

 

 

 

Gardening Is Not Cancelled

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Just when Ontario gardeners thought spring was peeking through the piles of snow – with warmer weather and the change to daylight savings time – we’ve been derailed, and not by Mother Nature.

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It’s been a tough few weeks with the increasing spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to North America. People are becoming increasingly alarmed, and in the past few days we have seen measures by our local health authorities and governments to ‘flatten the curve’ of the pandemic by imposing restrictions on travel, movement, and large events. For best information on the COVID-19 situation contact your local health unit or the Government of Ontario website. Peterborough Public Health, led by Medical Officer of Health Rosana Salvaterra, also has great resources.

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Flattening the curve – Proactively instituting protective measures to protect our healthcare system’s capacity to respond.

For Ontario gardeners, the past week has seen the cancellation of two major garden shows, numerous Seedy Sundays (and Saturdays), various Ontario Horticultural Association District meetings, and local meetings (in venues that have closed their doors to external groups). 90116313_3010310689020706_8668654371803758592_oThe biggest shock was the last minute cancellation of Canada Blooms just before its opening (March 13-22) as so much hard work and preparation goes into this event (6 days of building, but also plant-forcing, planning, designing etc.). But all is not lost! Thanks to Paul Gellatly (new Director of Horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Gardens), Sean James (Master Gardener and gardening consultant), and Helen Battersby (Toronto-based writer and garden speaker), we have photos and video of Canada Blooms before it was dismantled so that everyone can appreciate the results, even if we don’t have “smell-o-rama” and can’t see it in person.

Photos of Canada Blooms (thanks Paul Gellatly) Here and here

(note that all the TBG’s plants from Canada Blooms will be on sale at the TBG at 777 Lawrence Ave East on March 14th and 15th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Video Tour of Canada Blooms (thanks Sean James) Here

More Photos of Canada Blooms (thanks Helen Battersby) Here

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The Peterborough Garden Show is also a huge draw for Ontario Gardeners. This year was to be the 20th Anniversary show – completely community run by volunteers from the Peterborough Horticultural Society, with all profits being reinvested in the community in Peterborough.

In addition, our beloved Peterborough Seedy Sunday this March 15th has been cancelled (along with many others across the province). Organizer Jillian Bishop (of Nourish and Urban Tomato) is encouraging people to visit the website and click on links for the various vendors to support them by buying seeds online.

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What are Gardeners to Do?

Don’t give up hope.

  1. Bring spring inside! Check out my recent blog on bringing dormant spring flowering branches inside and forcing them for early colour and bloom.forsythia-4083551_1920
  2. Plant some seeds! You may not be able to go to Seedy Saturdays/Sundays but you can order seeds from local companies or find them at your local nurseries. A great activity for March Break with kids.
  3. Do some virtual garden tours! Google Arts and Culture has some, or there’s a virtual tour of Prince Charles’ Highgrove Gardens that I just found. I’m sure a quick Google search for “virtual tour” and “gardens” would bring up many more.Highgrove
  4. Plan your 2020 garden. Whether it’s reworking your perennial beds, planning a new garden, or deciding on your vegetables and herbs for this year, best to get your design ideas laid out now before spring arrives. Maybe think about a rain garden or pollinator garden for this year?
  5. Clean your tools. Get in your garage or garden shed and take inventory of what tools need repair or replacing, and what new tools may be helpful this season. Clean your tools now so you are ready for the season.20190713_140635
  6. Get outside. Yes we might still have snow (well some of us do) but that doesn’t stop you wandering around your garden and dreaming does it?
  7. Go wander in nature. Many of the COVID-19 restrictions are stopping our regular activities in our communities. But that is no reason not to enjoy our wonderful environment. Take this opportunity to get out for a hike, see the plants emerging from their winter hibernation, listen to the spring birds singing, and relax in nature. (more on this in our MG Sharleen’s blog on Monday)09_RiverView

These are challenging times, but our gardens and love of gardening will help get us through. If you have other ideas please tweet them out to us or share them on our Facebook page.

 

 

Planning and Dreaming

by Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Winter is a time for planning and dreaming about our gardens.

Since we decided to move and downsize, I’ve been planning on how I want to create my new garden. Right now, under the snow, is mostly compacted construction zone. Debris from bricks, rocks, and stones ( I’ve collected some of the larger stones for garden beds) and weeds have been partly covered by sand fill. I’m hoping that we will have topsoil and sod fairly early in the spring. In the meantime, I’ve been dreaming and planning.

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Our house is oriented east-west. There are two story houses to the north and south of us. Before planning on what shrubs and plants to put in those areas, I want to see how much shade they provide and for how long during the daytime. I’m keeping a record of where the sun is in the sky relative to those areas. The front and back are wide open, like a blank canvas.

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At the same time, I’m making plans for what trees and shrubs I want to put in those areas. My choices are for mostly native shrubs, trees and and fruit producing plants. Other than the usual garden centres, I’ve been looking for places to purchase native plants and have found some close by Peterborough that grow shrubs and trees. Richardson’s Pineneedle Farms in Pontypool is one. They are a major commercial grower and have a lot of native shrubs and trees for sale. You can buy in bulk there. Another one Eastern Evergreen Inc. grows white cedar for hedges and is located in Warkworth.

With an office in downtown Peterborough, Cedar Ontario has a long track record of providing healthy natural eastern white cedar trees and installing hedges throughout Peterborough and the Kawarthas.

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Photo courtesy of Cedar Ontario

When it opens, Ecology Park in Peterborough is another good place to purchase native plants. Their big annual plant sale is Saturday May 16th at 10 am. Remember to bring your own containers for leaf compost and cedar mulch. The bulk sales are self loading , with a 20 bucket limit per person, per visit. Knowledgeable staff and are there to help you (and often Master Gardeners are there too).

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In the meantime, I’m researching trees and shrubs, drawing plans, and dreaming.

 

 

Attracting Birds Part 3

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

I hope you’ve enjoyed my first two blogs about attracting birds. In this one I’ll talk about your garden.

To keep the birds coming year round, they need to be provided with an environment that accommodates their changing requirements. Native trees, shrubs and flowers that grow naturally in the forests around you will attract the birds to your garden; hedges with dense cover provide nesting places, bushes and trees  that produce berries provide additional food for them.animal-3434123_640

Keep cats away. Make sure your feeders are not close to where cats can lay in prey. Old rose canes cut into 5cm pieces can be scattered around where cats like to hide to discourage them.

Keep dead trees. The insects in them are food for many birds and the hollow trunks are nesting places.

These are just a few suggestions for attracting Birds. The first three of following websites will give you information about how to attract birds, including native trees, shrubs and perennials that attract birds. The last three are for garden centres in our area that feature native plants. In addition to the ones listed, I am sure you can find many others.

Attracting Birds
Plants that Attract Birds in All Seasons
Audubon: 10 Plants for a Bird-Friendly Yard

Local Native Plant Garden Centres near Peterborough
Native Plants in Claremont, ON
Natural Themes Farm
Ecology Park, Peterborough

 

My Five Favourite Perennial Plants

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

During the winter months, Ontario gardeners have a number of survival techniques to make it through the “non-green” time of the year (this includes most of Canada, except for those lucky folks on Vancouver Island). We read gardening books, travel elsewhere to see lush green vegetation and flowers, pore over seed catalogues, or surf the web in search of colourful blooms in the Google Image Gallery.

Once spring arrives (still waiting in Central Ontario…) our thoughts turn to getting into our gardens and all the newest plants profiled online, in magazines, and by our favourite garden bloggers. While I love to look at new perennial plants, I thought I would share my five favourite, easy care perennials with all of you, along with the reasons why I love them. I am not a fussy gardener, and I don’t like fussy plants that require a lot of hand holding. To survive in my garden you have to be tough, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be beautiful. I also like my garden to add to the ecological diversity, so I like to plant things that attract pollinators and birds.

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1. Daylilies (Hemerocallis)

Daylilies may be one of the most carefree of all flowering perennials. They grow quickly and live for a long time (looking nice even when not in bloom). They thrive in almost any soil, will grow in sun or shade, and don’t seem to be troubled by insect pests or disease. Known for being tough, they dazzle us with their big, colourful flowers in all shapes and sizes. Blooms begin in midsummer and continue into early fall. The best part? New blooms every day. Daylilies combine well with other perennials like coneflowers (Echinacea), bee balm (Monarda), and summer phlox (Phlox paniculata). For me they are a mainstay in the garden, and I can share with friends, dividing as my clumps get big.

 

2.  Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)

One of those flowers where I actually think the Latin name is prettier than the common name. It’s another summer and fall perennial that blooms right until the first frosts, providing a late season burst of colour in your garden. Part of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and native to North and South America, blanket flowers come in a range of colours (yellows/reds/oranges), although I find that the tried and true Gaillardia x grandiflora is my favourite. These are not the longest lived perennials, but reproduce well so I have never had an issue with them dying out. They are easily divided, can handle poor soil, and will bloom continuously, although I find deadheading does extend their blooming (something to do while you drink your coffee or tea and wander around your garden in the morning).

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3. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)

I agree with many other that no garden should be without this tough native flowering plant with large, purplish pink flowers. The common name derives from the prominent cones in the center of a single layer of slightly reflexed petals. These plants are wonderful summer bloomers, providing food for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. I love them in the fall and winter too, as I leave them up in the garden and wonder at the finches that land on them and hungrily eat the seedheads. All parts of the plant have medicinal properties and you often see it in natural cold and flu remedies.

Native Echinacea only comes in purple, pale purple, or yellow, but hybridized echinacea (derived from E. purpurea)  can be red, orange, pink, and green. While there are lots of new hybrids out there now with different colours and shapes I am still partial to the tried and true varieties, although I confess to liking Echinacea ‘Merlot’ with its reddish stems. Read more here about which one to choose (true natives vs hybrids) and why. Coneflowers can propagated by root or clump divisions. This year I am on a search for our native Echinacea pallida, which has thinner reflexed petals and a pale purple hue.

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4. Asters (Astereae)

Aster comes from the old Greek word ‘astér’ which means ‘star’ and refers to the shape of the flower. These lovely delicate daisy-like flowers come in all shades of pink, purple, lavender, and white. Flowering from early summer to fall (depending on variety), they can be started from seeds, but purchasing young plants is the best option. Plant them out in spring for summer blooming that usually extends to fall. Asters do well in full and partial sun conditions but like good soil and drainage for best show. I love the combination of fall asters and goldenrod in the late summer and fall in my garden – so much colour and texture! There are so many asters – you can learn more about this fascinating group of plants here (for Ontario) and also here.

5. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia)

What can I say? I LOVE the Rudbeckia family of flowers. With lovely bright yellow petals and contrasting centres, these plants demand attention. Rudbeckias in general are perennial, but the smaller Rudbeckia hirta can be grown as an annual if started early enough. In most zones they start flowering from early summer and continue on until fall. The ‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’) is considered to be among the best perennials of all time (Perennial Plant of the Year in 1999), bringing a bursts of colour from late summer into October. These drought-tolerant plants can grow about two-feet tall and offer the best visual effect when planted en masse. A shorter variety Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Little Goldstar‘ – grows to just knee height if that is more to your liking. Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ and ‘Indian Summer’ are also popular.

My two favourites are the butterfly magnet Rudbeckia triloba and Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’, commonly called the Outhouse Plant. The first (triloba) is an excellent native addition to naturalized areas, wildflower meadows, prairies, cottage gardens, native plant gardens and borders. Plants form a rosette of green leaves the first year, then the second year they produce bushy, upright stems loaded with thousands of tiny brown-eyed golden daisies from midsummer on. As a self-seeding biennial, it is ideal for naturalizing. The Outhouse Plant is an old heirloom selection – very tall, with many fluffy double chrome-yellow daisies on the top. It’s not a bad idea to pinch these down in June to get them to be bushier, as they tend to flop in the windy summer thunderstorms. Be warned – this one can be a vigorous spreader, so keep on top of it!

 

 

 

Attracting Birds, Part 2

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

In March, I wrote about attracting birds to the garden.

Different types of birds need different types of food and different types of feeders. In my garden I have 5 different types of feeders, from tube feeders for large sunflower seeds and others for small nyjer/niger  seeds. I have a tray feeder for birds that don’t like the perches, and suet feeders that are so important for adding fat to their diets. Whenever birds are at the feeders, and I check the ground under the feeders and I find ground-feeding birds, like mourning doves or junkos. The birds at the feeders have dropped seeds for others.bird-feeder-4032907_960_720

It’s important to purchase good quality food that is fresh and environmentally safe for the birds to eat. Check the bags before buying to see that you don’t have a lot of chaff and other filler in the bag. Sunflower seeds are a good starter and are popular with many different bird species.

Place the feeders close to trees and other areas that birds can perch to check for predators before approaching the feeder. Cats like to lie in wait under nearby shrubs hoping a non-suspecting bird will come close. You will see them come to the feeder briefly and then fly up to the tree before coming back for more.

Other welcoming features you can add to your garden to attract birds are nesting boxes and bird baths. You will find more suggestions in the following articles:

https://m.wikihow.com/Attract-Birds-to-Your-Garden
https://community.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/b/notesonnature/posts/how-to-attract-birds-to-your-garden-ten-top-tips

My next installment will be about what plants to have in your garden to attract these flying visitors.

The Peterborough Garden Show

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

It’s coming in 25 days.  It can’t come soon enough.  In our city, “The Garden Show” is a true sign of spring.  It’s an occasion that brings together speakers, workshop leaders, vendors, horticultural society members, master gardeners, exhibitors and many others for one reason:  “For the Love of Gardening”.PGS-logo-small

This year marks the 19th fantastic show: 
April 26 – 28, 2019 (Friday 5-9pm, Saturday 10am-5pm & Sunday 10am-4pm).

And there’s great news ! The show has MOVED – to Fleming College’s brand new Trades and Technology Centre on Brealey Drive with lots of FREE parking and a $10, one-price ticket so you can enjoy the show all weekend.

The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners will have a booth at the show, and will be happy to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Watch for our red aprons!

The theme “Coming Up Roses” is reflected in several of the amazing speakers along with educational and fun workshops and demos.

This award-winning show was honoured in 2017 with both a “Canada 150 Garden Experience”, and “Garden Event of the Year” by the Canadian Garden Council, so come and see what all the fuss is about.

You will find many of your old favourite vendors along with some new ones.

…and don’t forget the popular “Little Green Thumbs” Children’s Garden that is always teaming with liveliness and action! There are learning activities, face painting, crafts and even a take-home project. Their theme this year is “Miniature Gardens for Elves and Fairies”.

All the show profits go back into our community to fund scholarships for post-secondary students studying in horticulture-related fields,various local projects & Community Gardens.  Since 2002, the show has put over $200,000 back into our community.

Please save the date, visit and and learn why “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in 2019.

Learn more about the incredible speakers, workshops, bus trips, places to stay and tickets here: peterboroughgardenshow.com.