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Urban Gardens: Florist Sarah Nixon Grows Her Flowers in the Neighbors’ Yards

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Urban Gardens: Florist Sarah Nixon Grows Her Flowers in the Neighbors’ Yards

June 30, 2017

In 2002, Sarah Nixon planted a cutting garden in the backyard of her rented house in Toronto’s West End. She began selling her flowers, naming her burgeoning bouquet business My Luscious Backyard. But while demand increased, Sarah’s plot didn’t: she needed more land. Her solution? Instead of driving out of the city to leased land or uprooting her family to the country, she started growing in the gardens of her neighbors, trading her labor for their garden space.

Photography by Sarah Nixon except where noted.

Sarah Nixon&#8\2\17;s business, My Luscious Backyard, relies on urban gardens in the neighborhood to supply local flowers to the community.
Above: Sarah Nixon’s business, My Luscious Backyard, relies on urban gardens in the neighborhood to supply local flowers to the community.
Above: Sarah Nixon at work in Toronto’s West End. Photograph by Christina Gapic.

With a home of her own and ten other plots planted for the 2017 season, Sarah has a burgeoning business that still maintains a tiny carbon footprint; she grows locally and sells locally. She grows flowers in gardens that range from the classic semi-detached city front plot of 15 by 15 feet to a few larger lots. “Most people choose to have the flowers in the front yard, so I try not to have anything too ‘pickable’ close to the street,” she says.

Above: Anchusa azurea in a Toronto front yard.

Sarah’s Parkdale neighbourhood, bordered by Lake Ontario and High Park, has changed over the past decade, but some things have remained the same: the mix of detached and semi-detached houses, the sense of community, and a “Main Street” feeling along Roncesvalles Avenue where residents shop, eat, and stroll. Young families mix with the older Polish immigrants who inhabit the area’s Victorian and Edwardian homes.

Above: ‘Hot Biscuit’ and ‘Opoeo’ amaranth, destined for a local floral designer in Toronto.

Nixon offers beauty and maintenance to her garden owners, but not the option of using their yard as a cutting garden. “When you have such a small amount, every stem is accounted for. People understand that.” (Many of Nixon’s “lessors” are bouquet subscribers.)

Above: The dinner plate dahlia ‘Cafe au Lait’, popular with brides, thrives in Toronto’s hot and humid summers.

Nixon’s business is built upon weekly and bi-weekly subscriptions, bespoke weddings, and wholesale sales to local florists. “Alison Westlake at Coriander Girl was one of my first buyers,” Nixon says. “Many florists say they support local flowers, but Alison really did.”

Scabiosa ‘Fata Morgana’ produces pincushion flowers on long thin stems.
Above: Scabiosa ‘Fata Morgana’ produces pincushion flowers on long thin stems.

Toronto’s frost-free days begin in mid-May and end in mid-October. Nixon starts almost everything she grows from seed, using a shed with grow lights and heat mats to get her plants started in the spring. The summers, hot and humid, mean zinnias, amaranth, echinaceas, and dahlias thrive. In the fall, Nixon’s tidies up her plots and settles into a Canadian winter of garden and wedding planning.

“I love my work,” she says. “And it’s a lot of work. But the joy my flowers bring people is a reward in itself.”

Nixon&#8\2\17;s daughter enjoying backyard raspberries. Raspberry is a useful foliage plant for florists, supplying bright green leaves on tall arching stems.
Above: Nixon’s daughter enjoying backyard raspberries. Raspberry is a useful foliage plant for florists, supplying bright green leaves on tall arching stems.

N.B.: How many flowers can you cram into one tiny city garden? For more inspiration, see:

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