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Shaw Guild Garden Tour coming up this Saturday

The tour features eight gardens, most in the Old Town within walking distance of each other, one on the Niagara Parkway heading to Queenston, and one in the village of Queenston.

Those who take in this year’s Shaw Guild garden tour coming up Saturday are sure to be delighted by the eight beautiful gardens, and so much more the outing has to offer.

It is also a great opportunity to ask questions and pick up gardening tips from the experts. “There will be master gardeners on site at every garden,” says tour marketing convenor Jo Ann Ely.

And to add to the charm and ambience of the event, there will be plain air artists painting in the gardens, and musicians playing, she adds.

Several gardens featured on this year’s tour are historic Old Town properties close enough together to park in one spot and walk, says tour convenor Patricia Scrivener.

The garden at 210 Centre Street at the corner of Simcoe Street is unusual in that although it is relatively new, both the home and lush plantings surrounding it look like they’ve been there forever, blending in perfectly with the streetscape.

That was the intention of owners Steve Cohen and Joe Carlino when they purchased the property about seven years ago.

“When we bought this piece of land we were going to build a small house,” says Carlino, “and we thought we could design it in the historic vernacular.  But when we framed it, we were surprised by how large it looked.”

To ensure the new build fit in with its surroundings, they chose a dark colour to paint their home, and set about filling the garden with large, full plants that looked perfect on the small lot.

Their house was designed for outdoor living, with a covered porch on two sides, and from the inside, the many large windows provide their own garden as their view, with little clue of the busy corner just outside the blue gate. “The garden has privatized our home for us,” says Carlino.

Neither he nor Cohen are gardeners, he says, and while he does most of the maintenance on the property, he credits Cohen for being the purveyor, hunting down perennials and shrubs that have quickly created a full, well-established garden that wraps around the porch.

Cohen and Carlino love taking Torch, their Bernedoodle, out for walks, and they enjoy having their friends and neighbours visit with them on the porch. Four-legged friends are welcome as well — Torch makes friends easily — and the garden is maintained with many bushes pruned as standards, providing space for the dogs to run around underneath them.

It helps that Cohen has salvaged many of the plants from gardens where older homes have been taken down and gardens were being pulled out — about 50 per cent of their yard represents rescue plants from established Ontario gardens, says Carlino. It includes lots of hostas, larger bushes such as hydrangeas and lilacs, even a 15-foot Japanese maple.

“We had to learn from scratch, but with this good growing soil, it’s hard to mess up.”

He grew up in Chicago and lived in glass high-rises, but “when I moved to Toronto, I saw people living in beautiful homes with gardens.”

He liked the idea of that lifestyle, and began learning the art of gardening “by trial and error.” Some of what can be seen in their garden happened by accident, he says. "It’s all perennials, and really the only thing I have to do is prune, and that was really by trial and error.”

What they have done “isn’t actually gardening,” Carlino adds. “It just looks like it naturally grew this way,” accomplishing their goal of making home and garden look like they’ve been there for decades.

Garden tour convenor Patricia Scrivener considers this year’s tour the best yet, and hopes to sell 1,000 tickets. Last year a total of 800 tickets were sold, most in advance — the day of the event, people who were coming to town for the tour cancelled when the weather forecast threatened rain and thunderstorms. “This year we hope to sell more on the day of the tour, If the weather cooperates,” she says.

It’s the 18th annual tour, and the largest fundraiser for the guild, which supports the Shaw Festival in many ways.

Tickets are available online via Eventbrite, and will also be available the day of the tour at any of the tour’s participating locations for $35, cash only.

The Old Town gardens are at 380 Johnson Street, 158 Prideaux Street, 135 Centre Street, 210 Centre Street, 343 Regent Street, and 112 Delater Street, 14956 Niagara Parkway on the way to Queenston and 56 Princess Street in Queenston.

For more information click here to download the garden tour brochure.

About the Author: Penny Coles

Penny Coles is editor of Niagara-on-the-Lake Local
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