Monday, December 13, 2010

Backyard takeover

Tucked among lawns in Toronto's west end, the gardens grow.

Rows of flowers bring colour, scent and nature to Roncesvalles and High Park areas – And
Sarah Nixon is responsible.

Nixon is a 'do-it-yourselfer' in the truest sense of the word: she 'does it herself' so that
others don't have to. Nixon uses front and backyards in her neighbourhood to grow flowers, which she sells to customers.

“When I started doing this 9 years ago, I'd never heard of anyone doing the same thing. It
struck me as an obvious use of space... All these lawns, and empty gardens,” she said.

Obvious or not, she's spun her passion for plants and gardening into a full-time business,
called My Luscious Backyard. The deal works out well for both parties:The homeowners get a
beautiful yard, and Nixon gets to use their space.


Over the past decade, many others have had similar ideas as Nixon, sparking a growing
movement dubbed urban agriculture.

“Suddenly people are really getting on board with... trying to use all the available land in
the city,” Nixon said. “Especially with food; There's a couple of other people doing flowers now,
but mostly a lot of it's going on with food.”

Nixon's idea fits well with a growing public interest in making resourceful use of urban
land, according to Marjorie Harris, an author of numerous gardening books.

“There's so much space in this city where there are no gardens. They are lawns and a tree
stuck in the middle,” Harris said. “I think that really gets to people when they see this land as
essentially not being habitat.”

“It's one of those movements that is quietly trendy... There are all sorts of places throughout
Toronto where people are taking little empty spaces and doing things with them.”


While the success of Nixon's business mirrors the trend, she came about the idea on her
own. After moving to Toronto in the early part of the decade, Nixon found herself with her first

“I started growing lots and lots of flowers,” she said. Soon, she had more flowers than she
knew what to do with. She began giving them away to friends, and decided to try and recoup some of her investment at local farmer's markets.

“I started asking friends in the neighbourhood if I could use their backyards that they
weren't really using – if I could use their space and plant a flower garden there which they could

Nixon found that the farmer's markets weren't very lucrative, but still wanted to explore the
idea of selling her flowers as a means of income. She opened a website, and soon her passion
progressed into a full-time living.

Ruth Schneider used Nixon's services for the first time this year after hearing about her
from a neighbour, and a local newspaper article.

“I just thought the concept was really an interesting one, and very sort of ethical and useful
one,” she said. “And the fact that I didn't want to garden my front yard anymore – I wanted
somebody else to do it, and this was really a great solution.”

Nixon said she's mostly self-taught, though she's had help along the way.

“I grew up in a house of very enthusiastic gardeners,” she said. She gained further
experience on organic farms for a couple of summers during her university years, and worked
various jobs until her business started to take off.

And in do-it-yourself fashion, Nixon is the only full-time employee.

“My partner helps me sometimes, and his sister also lives with us, so I hire her to help with
weddings and larger events like that," she said.

It's all worked out pretty well for Nixon.

“It grew out of what I love to do. If I wasn't doing this business, I'd still be all over it,” she
said. “It's just kind of a bonus that it's what I get paid for now.”

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