Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lennox Toppin Says

Lennox Toppin would like to discuss love, sex, death and decay with you. These are the overriding principles that help guide the yearly themes which he applies to his intriguing downtown garden, located in Hamilton's historic Strathcona neighbourhood. This year he once again delved into those principles, while celebrating themes of personal freedom and liberation – new themes which surfaced for him due to many changing circumstances. In addition to exploring these evolving themes, he also introduced more native plants to his garden.

Here's what he writes:
It wasn't by choice; I have a deep spiritual and physical connection with my garden, and it told me that it was time to explore this area. To many it may have appeared like the garden did not contain a lot of native plants, it actually had quite a lot. Tucked in various corners, you will see much more than what is apparent on a quick look. And if you view the garden from different vantage points, you will often notice things that you did not before. This has always one of my goals with my garden: to convey that there is a lot more happening than what is on the surface – which is a reflection of how I feel about myself. So, I really wanted to enhance what was already there.

Environment Hamilton hosted a native plant sale in April, and I ended up buying 20 clumps of native carex albersina (White Bear sedge) from Matt Mills of Talondale Farm. I wasn't exactly sure at the time how these would fit in the garden, but once again, my garden told me. I ended up removing a bed of vinca minor (Periwinkle), and replacing that with the clumps of carex, in an artistic display. I'm amazed at just how strong and perfectly those sedges grew! A welcome addition to my garden.

The Royal Botanical Garden's spring auxiliary plant sale was also a source of inspiration. Before the sale, they provided a comprehensive listing of plants which they were going to be selling. This allowed me to do additional research as to what might work for my garden. I am a big supporter of various local horticultural groups' plant sales, which I have noticed are featuring more 'eco-friendly' choices. I added plants like allium cernuum (Nodding Onion), arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit), chelone obliqua (Turtle Head) and mertensia virginica (Virgina Blue Bells). I also planted ulvularia sessilifolia (Bell Worts), in memory of a close friend's mother, who recently passed away after a short battle with cancer.

The idea of attracting pollinators is somewhat complex. I always thought that concept revolved around 'the pornography of the flower', and having a partially shaded back garden makes this a little less 'easy' than if there were more sun. But I have never been a great fan of 'easy' – life is full of challenges, and I am here to challenge myself, along with my own and other peoples' preconceived ideas. And I have learned there are many native 'pollinator friendly' plants which do well – in fact thrive – in filtered shade, which actually reflects the woodland environment.



I did plant three asclepia incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) in the sunnier areas around the garden in order to help out the monarchs, as Milkweed is the only plant they feed on. While they grew well, they seemed to attract everything but the monarchs...though I remember, to my surprise, I was outside towards the end of summer and saw a huge monarch butterfly descending on my sunflowers, right beside the milkweed – probably only the third monarch I have seen this year. However, other pollinators are alive and thriving! The bees literally went crazy for the liatris spicata (Gay Feather) which I planted in planters along the sunny side of my driveway.

On the other side of the coin – and falling into my principles of death and decay – by letting the garden stay its course through the seasons, I provide a natural habitat for species which use fallen plants for shelter. I've also had several botanists, arborists and fellow gardeners come into the garden and they've all said, "You have unbelievably great soil, what do you do?" And I always respond, "Nothing."

 I believe that a key to great soil is all those leaves, dead stalks, decay – all that gets left and becomes the food for the garden. Not rocket science, but I am constantly amazed at how much people clean up (strip) their gardens, usually starting this time of year. Add to this a growing obsession with compost. All compostables get thrown into my black bin, and I have been known to go around to food stores requesting their rotting organics to add to the mix. And I would have never imagined that someone coming into my garden and describing my compost as "hot" would be the thrill that it was!

I research a lot of this on my own, as much as one can say that. I once read an interview where a highly regarded chef was asked what the key to being a good chef was. I expected his answer to be training, practice, or something like that. His answer totally resounded with me. He said, simply: "Curiosity". I love that...I also love to ask questions of and get input from other people...and while that is good, because I know my own mind (and because in my own, contradictory world, it all makes perfect sense), I usually end up doing whatever I want!