My Luscious Backyard
Sarah Nixon, founder of My Luscious Backyard, Toronto’s Urban Flower Farm, applies an organic approach (something all of us have already easily adopted for food) to the next frontier: flowers.
The concept behind My Luscious Backyard is so smart and seems simple, yet you were the first to think of it. How did you come up with this brilliant idea?
The idea came about because my obsession with growing flowers became larger than the space my backyard could offer. I started noticing all the unused yards in my neighbourhood with envy. It seemed that farming only on rural acreages was a rule that needed to be broken. And actually, before industrial farms and before flowers could travel to reach cities, florists would have cutting gardens to grow their own flowers, so it’s actually not an original idea at all!
How does it actually work? Do you knock on doors? Do people volunteer?
There are so many upsides! It works as a trade. Yard owners let me use their land and in exchange they get to enjoy a garden filled with flowers, without having to pay anything or do any work. At first, I did many things to find yards. I put up notices in coffee shops and on Craig’s List, I asked friends and neighbours... Now mostly people approach me with the hopes that they could have a free flower garden that they don’t have to lift a finger to care for. But when I find an ideal yard (large, flat, full sun) in my neighbourhood I do put a letter of introduction in the mailbox!
Most people don’t know how toxic and stressful to the environment the flower business can be. Is that why you grow your flowers organically?
There are so many good reasons to farm and garden organically. In the international floral industry, the use of synthetic chemicals is widespread. The chemicals are not regulated the same way they are with food so substances we would never allow to be used in edible production are used in industrial floral farming. This impacts pollinators, soil, water and the humans who work on the farms. The flowers are often grown in heated greenhouses and then flown thousands of kilometres to reach your local store, creating a huge carbon footprint. When I grow flowers, I’m aware of all the wildlife that will come in contact with them, the pets that wander through the rows, the amazing people who work for me and my kids who help in our own home garden. And I love that when a bride receives her bouquet, created from flowers that I’ve grown from seed and designed for her, she will bury her nose in it and inhale deeply, breathing in the gorgeous scent, not pesticides.
You also teach. Tell us about your workshops.
I hold workshops throughout the year to teach gardeners things like seed starting, growing dahlias, creating a cutting garden, floral design, wreath making and a fun one where participants visit the gardens, learn about growing flowers and pick their own flowers to create an arrangement.
Our Founder & CEO is a huge fan of yours and says you are the unofficial guru of dahlias. Can you share your expertise on this varietal with us?
Dahlias are a little fussy but once you’re dialed in to their needs they will repay you with so much beauty! Here are my favourite Dahlia tips: Start the tubers early indoors to get a head start on the growing season. Pinch the plants when they’re about 30cm tall to get a bushy flower-covered plant. Pick the flowers when they’re open but before the petals at the back of the bloom have turned papery. Dig and store the tubers over winter if your winters freeze.
Such a tough question! Lately I’m saying foxgloves.
Easiest flower for a novice to grow?
Whatever flower will thrive in the conditions of your garden. Take some time to understand your site. And then improve your soil.
Favourite public garden?
I’m really appreciating the wild, natural feel of the new Trillium Park on the water in Toronto.
How many gardens do you have under your belt now?
This year I have 10 yards in total including our home garden.
Any plans to roll out My Luscious Backyard across the country?
I’m not sure in what direction this project will grow. There are many options and I’m trying to figure out where I can be most useful.
There are so many pluses, like supporting bees and connecting with nature, in your plan – tell us about some of them.
Some of the benefits of urban-grown flowers are providing habitat for pollinators; beautifying the community (despite the name of the business, most of the gardens are in front yards); offering flower lovers blooms that haven’t been flown across the globe, encased in plastic and packaging; supplying beautiful, unusual flowers that make great cuts but wouldn’t survive the days of travel that imports require; and supporting other urbanites in getting their hands dirty and becoming stewards of the little piece of land (or balcony space) where they live.
You’ve got five minutes to shop The September – what’s in your cart?
I love the Stutterheim Rainwalker boots! I’ve worn many pairs of boots in my time and these are super comfy and the high quality of the rubber is obvious. My guess is that they will wear well for a long time while looking great. I also love all of Stutterheim’s raincoats, and for casual summer shoes, the Soludos’ Cadiz Sandal.