Tucked away on the western edge of Westboro, only steps from a busy thoroughfare, surrounded by stone walls that have shielded against the passage of time for over 100 years, lies a hidden gem. It’s a living sanctuary of flora and fauna that reflects all the colours of the rainbow, called Maplelawn Garden.
The Maplelawn Estate was originally built for the Thomson family, back in the early 1830s. What remains today is the historic house which is currently occupied by the Keg Manor restaurant, and the walled flower garden. The entire property is now owned by the NCC and is designated a national historic site.
The garden at Maplelawn is unique for its design as a European-style walled garden that was built in the New World. Maplelawn is the only example of a pre-Confederation, Canadian walled garden to have survived to present times with so little changed. In 1995, Canadian landscape historian, Edwinna von Baeyer, wrote:
“The walls of Maplelawn are a living treasure. The property’s timeless beauty and repose have survived through years of financial difficulties, changes of owner, urban encroachment, and the pressures of changing horticultural styles. We have very few landscapes in Canada that can claim such a long existence without major changes.”
Even after another 25 years of roaring development nearby, that statement remains true today, though the garden gets by with a little help from friends. A group of volunteers formed The Friends of Maplelawn Garden in 1993. The movement was spearheaded by Ann Falkner and Nancy Smith, who led a group of passionate gardeners towards the goal of maintaining the garden the way it was originally designed so many years ago.
Now in her third season of volunteering at Maplelawn, Shelley Chambers first arrived to pursue her developing curiosity for gardening. “I would say that I was fairly amateur when I first started there. I didn’t know a lot about gardening, so I was placed with two people who were more experienced volunteers, and they’ve been great teachers,” says Shelley. “I love to walk around and see what other volunteers are working on. There’s lots of mingling and visiting—you learn a lot from everybody at the garden and make such nice friends.”
With around two dozen members, The Friends of Maplelawn Garden are as much a social club as a gardening team. Of the original members, seven of them still tend the garden in 2020. The volunteers congregate mostly on Tuesdays and Sundays, tending to their assigned sections, pulling weeds, pruning and being present as nature runs its course through the seasons.
“The nicest time is when you start out at the beginning of the season, fresh from the winter,” says Shelley. “Then every week that you return there is new growth—new flowers begin their lives as older ones come to their end—and the garden builds to its peak time.”
Of course the reason for the garden, with all the work that goes into it, is for it to be enjoyed by the people. Maplelawn is open for the public to come and go as they please from dawn till dusk, every day from the start of April until the end of October. Especially in these strange days that we find ourselves living through, the opportunity to simply “stop and smell the roses” can be good for the heart and the mind. And for many of us without a garden of our own, Maplelawn can provide that escape.
“We really love it when visitors come in and often they’ll ask questions—everyone here is very welcoming and happy to take their time and talk to people about the garden,” says Shelley. “We want people to visit and enjoy the garden.”