Garden Photo of the Day

READER PHOTOS! Marilyn and Ian’s garden in Toronto

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman

Happy Memorial Day, Everyone! Today I give you a special post for a special day.

These photos are from Marilyn Sherman in Toronto. Marilyn says, “Several years ago my husband Ian and I moved into a small house on a corner lot with a tiny front yard and a lawn surrounded by a chain link fence. We removed the grass and the fence and replaced them with a mixed perennial and shrub garden. Then, in 2005 at age 52, I suffered a severe right-sided stroke and lost the use of the right side of my body.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman

“I was determined to return to gardening after my stroke, and bit by bit regained my strength and balance by doing more and more gardening jobs. At first I could only sit on a small tractor and pull a few weeds, I tired very easily. I began to think of creative ways to help me function in the garden.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman

“Today I can do most any chore including transplanting, staking, and dressing the beds with compost. I use the old chain link posts, painted black so as to be less visible, to hold on to when I garden deeper into the beds. When I have to go farther then the posts allow I use an old ski pole with the basket removed as a gardening cane. I’ve written about my gardening journey in my blog, Stroke Thrivers Blog.”

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman

Wow. Marilyn, I don’t know if I could have been as strong and determined as you’ve been, and so incredibly successful at what you love to do. Amazing, and so inspirational. Thank so much for sharing your story and your garden with us!!

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Marilyn Sherman

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  1. user-258617 05/28/2012

    Thanks so much Michelle. I wanted to mention that the beautiful photos were taken by my ever-patient husband Ian, who so many times picked up the slack when I withered (and still does), allowing me to pursue my passion when gardening seemed over-whelming at times. Happy Memorial Day.

    Marilyn Sherman

  2. User avater
    meander_michaele 05/28/2012

    What a wonderfully inspiring garden to feature on Memorial Day as we here in the States reflect on the specialness of the human spirit. Although, obviously, Marilyn is not a soldier who has died in service of her country, she has, nevertheless, fought a battle and been triumphant. Every flower planted and weed pulled is a testimonial to a strong will.
    Marilyn, you and your husband Ian have created an oasis of beauty and visual delight. Your neighbors must never cease to be amazed. Have you started a front yard gardening trend up and down your street?

  3. jagardener 05/28/2012

    Your story is an inspiration to us all as we age or need serious medical care.Thanks for sharing your story of determination and your beautiful garden.

  4. dukeofargy 05/28/2012

    Fabulous garden. I know how much work it takes to put together a garden like yours. There is much more effort required on one hand, but less grass cutting.

    Well done. Definitely worth the effort. I'd love to see it when I come to Toronto to see my son.

  5. pattyspencer 05/28/2012

    What an imspiring story! Your garden is just beautiful and must be the envy of all your neighbors!

    The elephant ears that you show in your 2nd picture - I have those - want to kill them - they have wandered over 20 feet into my hosta garden - into the grass - into everything and unless I dig 6-8" deep to get to the roots I can't get rid of them - I've tried Roundup and cutting off the sprouts in the spring - nothing nothing nothing short of digging up my whole garden will get rid of them and from what I've read unless I get absolutely everything they will regrow. Anyone have any suggestions??????

  6. tractor1 05/28/2012

    My goodness, that's more than enough gardening crammed into a small lot for any two Olympic atheletes... I'm amazed that someone with a serious disablity can care for all that's growing there, grand kudos to Marilyn. To be honest I'd rather mow grass and use bedding plants at highlights... I like space between specimen plantings. I mow ten acres worth once every week for six months of the year. I have perennial flower/shrub beds but I don't spend a lot of time with those, they seem to tend themselves other than occasional pruning/dead heading... with a good thick mulch of pine bark nuggets over commercial weed block cloth and large patches of rug juniper I rarely find a weed or anything spreading from its home. However I spend a lot of time and labor clearing the brush that constantly works at taking over from all sides. And I have a rather large vegetable garden (50' X 50') that I work at diligently, only this year with all the wet weather I haven't been able to work at it untl just yesterday when I began weeding and tilling... every gardener needs to own a Mantis. I have a 7 horsepower Simplicity tiller for breaking sod but once the earth is made friable and stones raked out the Mantis is much easier than having that beast pull me about. Another job I don't particularly like is string trimming, and I have literally miles of edging, that thing grows heavier with every hour... all I have remaining now is to knock down the jungle from around my barn, maybe late this afternoon when it's not so hot out, unfortunately it all grows back and too quickly. I love Marilyn's hospitality pineapple birdbath, and incorporating fence posts to give herself a lift demonstrates great ingenuity. Unfortunately several pictures don't enlarge.


  7. snollygaster 05/28/2012

    Wow, irrespective of Marilyn's incredible spirit, determination and love of gardening, this is my favourite garden as seen on GPOD.

  8. kcmom 05/28/2012

    I love your garden! - And I appreciate the idea of using posts from fencing as "grabbers". I have a cranky knee and tried using the balusters from a stairwell, bought for very little money from our local re-use/re-cycle store. The theory was sound, but the balusters (I think I'm using the right word!) were too short to help much when set in the ground deeply enough to be secure. The posts seem a much better; maybe I can get lucky and find some of them to "re-cycle" too.

    Your clematis puts my scrawny specimen to shame. I'll bet it's beautiful at night, too!

  9. phase2682 05/28/2012

    Incredible garden by an incredible spirit!

  10. paiya 05/28/2012

    Marilyn, not only is your and Ian's garden breathtakingly beautiful but your courage and determination, as well as your eye for beauty, is truly inspiring.
    I know that each step takes at least twice as much energy to accomplish - our 40 year son had a severe stroke 3 years ago and he, like you, is a psychologically strong person. Thank you so much, especially on the day when Americans celebrate Memorial Day.

  11. soilgoil 05/28/2012

    Marilyn, the next time I complain that my arthritic joints are interfering with my love of gardening, I will think of you! Your inner strength, determination and willpower are inspiring, as is your very beautiful garden. Congratulations; long may you and Ian bloom!

  12. BerkeleyBubbe 05/28/2012

    This delightful garden does not look tiny to me! Now that I'm nearly 70 and find getting up off my knees the hardest part of gardening, I'm going to steal your marvelous idea of using fence posts planted in deep beds. And I'm going to add a white clematis near my patio to enjoy at night. Thanks for the inspiration.

  13. user-258617 05/28/2012

    Sorry I've taken so long to respond but I've been out buying more plants!! Our unusually mild winter left us without any protective snow cover and I didn't adequately mulch, so a few plants were heaved out of the ground only to be frozen to death in the night. Thank you all for your kind words, my garden really is a labour of love but we have not always been the best of friends. I've done a few face plants since my stroke but it has been well worth it.

    Meander1: thank you so much for your lovely words.A Starbucks recently opened at the end of our street which brings a lot of foot traffic. Although a few boneheads throw empty coffee cups and wrappers in our yard, most people take the time to stop and appreciate the garden and ask questions. But I especially love it when children come skipping through and when they don't see me, tell their friends very seriously not to touch! In spring I'll pick a blossom from a bleeding heart and tell them a story about fairy princesses.
    In fact I'd love to hear more flower stories if anyone has any.
    And yes more and more people are starting to get rid of their grass but i think it's for ecological reasons as much as anything. But it helps to give them ideas about what they can do.After all stealing ideas is one of the best things about gardening. ; >

    Jagander: Thank goodness there are more ways now to garden safely when you're disabled. Gardening is so good for you mentally and physically and I've recently heard a cardiologist say that gardening should be prescribed as therapy to keep the heart in it's best health. Too many seniors give up and hide themselves away when often all they need is a little guidance on how to garden safely and without pain.

    Patty Spencer: Those Elephant Ears or Butterbur(Petasites)as they are known up here, can indeed be very invasive-maybe they should be known as 'Pestasites.We have ours in my husband's side patio garden which is isolated from the rest of the garden but yank them out every so often when they get overwhelming. We are battling a bind weed infestation and I found a good article on eradicating that vicious beast-perhaps it would work well on Butterbur? Pulling it out by the roots probably makes it multiply.

    Tractor: sorry not all the pictures were high enough definition.

    Snollygaster and Phase 2682: I am really complemented andtouched, thank you.

    Kemon: My posts are cemented and thus very sturdy.And don't admire my clematis too much, many of mine are scrawny too.

    Dukeofargy: My address is 1 Kenrae Road. Google it-it's on the corner of Randolph Rd and Kenrae. Knock on my door and I'll give you a tour.But I can't talk too long as I tire easily. If I'm not home, grab a coffee from Starbucks and please feel free to wander around! Careful you don't trip on a hose or some other implement of destruction-there is not a lot of space!
    Paiya please give my best wishes to your son. Maybe he could check out my blog and tell his story? I'd love to hear it. The right attitude can go a long way in stroke recovery, kudos to him.

  14. user-258617 05/28/2012

    Berkeley Bubbe and Soilgoil: thank you-if you check out my stroke blog I've written a whole section on gardening-there may be a few tips you can use and please feel free to add your own.

  15. Wife_Mother_Gardener 05/28/2012

    This is absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing your garden, Marilyn. I love your use of statuary and your romantic style planting. I love that your garden shows just what wonderful things can be done with a small town garden. It is truly beautiful, as is your story of perseverance. ~Julie

  16. tractor1 05/28/2012

    Marilyn: I only just noticed that you have two gates at your front entrance, one at the bottom and one at the top of those stairs, I'm sure there must be a good reason... I can understand the top gate if there's a child, otherwise I don't see a reason for either, and there appears to be another front gate to the right but with no path. Also litterers tend to mostly commit their dastardly deeds under cover of darkness, perhaps a lampost at the foot of those stairs would be a deterent, those stairs should be lit at night anyway... I might place a planter as a trash basket marked Litter.

  17. user-258617 05/28/2012

    Hi Tractor:

    The gate at the top of the stairs were for my springer spaniels now deceased (sniff), to prevent them from running down the stairs and barking at everybody. It is now gone, but we may have to replace it because our grandchild is now a toddler. The other gate leads to our secret garden.

    We do have the garden lit at night and plan more.

    I've thought of a trash can but I don't want to encourage people to leave their junk-if it's there we will use it so to speak, instead of carrying it home.

    Some people think it's a public park because it's on a corner,therefore I guess they think it doesn't matter if they toss their trash, and some people just don't care. Not many though. We have found a pair of skis and a large soup pan full of stew and maggots.One can only wonder. But by far the great majority of passers-by are very respectful of the garden and now I habitually tie a plastic bag for garbage to my garden cart and use a long-handled "grabber" to pick it up.

    Julie: Thanks so much. I noticed a tall lily in one of the photos taken a couple of years ago. I loved them but our area is devastated by lily beetles now and I don't grow them any more. I love the romantic look too and am always looking long softly draping plants. The mauve-flowered tree is Buddlea Alternifolia which is gorgeous in and out of flower.

  18. pattyspencer 05/28/2012

    Marilyn - thanks for the info!! I truly don't want to dig up my garden but am so disheartened that full strength Roundup hasn't killed it. I do also have that vine you were talking about but just pull it up whenever I see it.

    Does anyone know of a stronger plant killer than Professional Strenght Roundup?

  19. user-258617 05/28/2012

    Patty: Just to clarify. The article says that to kill plants that multiply underground, like bindweed and like petesites, pulling up the plants only causes them to multiply underground. The author suggests rather, that to control plants like these you are better to keep cutting them to the ground during the summer months to weaken the root (or in your case cut,not pull, the leaf off when it grows), then let them grow a bit in late summer, early fall, THEN Roundup the weakened plant.This process may take a couple of summers to tame the wild beast.


  20. pattyspencer 05/28/2012

    Marilyn - THANK YOU - THANK YOU - THANK YOU!! My 3 bulbs over the last 5 years have wandered over 20 feet and are now coming up within my hostas etc. I am planning to teach a cement leaf class in July (molding wet cement over a leaf to use as a bird bath or decoratve object, etc) - those will make perfect leaves for that project and as soon as that class is over I will cut all those leaves back and continue to do that this season and the next and the next and the next and use the Roundup as I do. Actually it is still light out - I'm thinking I can get started cutting.

  21. sheilaschultz 05/29/2012

    Marilyn... It was a pleasure to read the words of such a strong woman. No wonder your garden is so beautiful.

  22. Tsnonny 05/29/2012

    I am amazed at the elephant ears growing in your glorious garden. I live in Portland, Or. and we don't have a sign of ours yet. I wonder if you start them in your home or if you know a trick to keep them alive over the winter.
    Your garden is stunning and your determination is even more so. Good for you and I wish you gardening for many years to come. BTW elepants ears here tend to stay in one place and not readily multiply, but :) it could be because we grown them in pots. I do know one thing, they will turn to goo if you keep them really wet and it freezes. I don't know where the other readers live, but that is why we can't keep them in the ground or even pots, have to dig them. After reading your post I am wondering if we are growing a different variety our have a very pointed leaf and are tropical. I will make a point of staying away from the lovely ones you have if they are such a problem. You would think we would have similar weather but have had very few days over 65 and lots of rain. Our rodies did show very well this year and winter so mild we have bacopa winter over. Now sure if I like this but my garden loved it. We are concerned about pests this year. We don't do any kind of chemicals on our tiny yard or garden except slug bait. We have so many this year and I haven't come up with a practical use for them, they are just yucky.

  23. user-258617 05/29/2012

    Hi Tsonny:
    In reality the two plants are completely different. Elephants Ears really are a tropical bulb that should be taken up every fall and overwintered. If you look up Elephant Ears on the net you'll find out how. Like dahlias, they then can be transplanted each spring. Butterbur or petesites are perennials, and I imagine in Oregon they are invasive like crazy. If you love them, you could try growing them in a large pot lined with plastic or without a hole because they like to be wet (but can do ok without water)We put heavy plastic under our in the bed initially, but once established they spread everywhere.

    We don't have giant slugs like yours (yuck), you could check a local gardening forum for advice. "Gardeners Forum" is a good site for information.

    My personal philosophy about pests (other than I'm lazy) is you are never going to be rid of them, so concentrate instead on spacing your plants, feeding them well. and don't fuss too much about imperfections. Plant trees and shrubs so birds are around at all times.Healthy plants give off a repellant chemical or?hormone that repels pests. You could also put out toad shelters. If you don't have them in your area you can buy toads, they love slugs.
    Hope this helps.


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