grey to green

June 24, 2021

this is my story of turning grey into green & I’m not talking about my hair colour!



I grew up on a small family farm in southern Ontario. I’ve lived in this house in the west end of Toronto for over 25 years. I am not a professional gardener. I have moved plants around many times, made many mistakes, and continue to experiment as I am a life-long learner.

This land is precious and I acknowledge the land I live on is of the traditional territory of the Mississauga of New Credit, the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Huron Wendat. Tkaronto is home to many indigenous people from across Turtle Island, and I am grateful to be on this land and I intend to be a mindful steward.


Step one - RE THINK what’s around you.


Step two - BE BRAVE because unfortunately returning to natural is different. We have over manicured our green space to be monocultures with lawns and plants that aren’t native and don’t feed the insects. It’s a billion dollar industry and letting nature RE WILD is free!


I took inspiration from a song called BIG YELLOW TAXI, it was written, composed, and originally recorded by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell in 1970, and released on her album Ladies of the Canyon.

Joni Mitchell got her inspiration for “Big Yellow Taxi” on a trip to Hawaii. She was looking out of her hotel window at the magnificent Pacific scenery and then shifted her gaze downward to find a parking lot. The natural beauty of Hawaii had been rudely interrupted by a slab of pavement.

she wrote:

I said, don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘Til it’s gone They paved paradise Put up a parking lot

Big Yellow Taxi

before a lot of wasted space beforetwo two layers of asphalt to be excavated beforethree to exit my front door and see this transformation was AHmazing! beforefour my first three sisters garden.


I removed my parking lot to restore paradise!



I’ve always wanted a ‘ribbon driveway’.


Ribbon driveways, sometimes called Hollywood driveways, usually consist of two parallel tracks paved with a hard material and separated by an unpaved area. The tracks, or ribbons, are normally a couple of feet wide with a three-foot strip between them.


Obviously, a water-permeable parking area is an environmental choice as it assists with stormwater management and mitigates heat island effect.


I have been car free & CARE FREE using my bicycles for transportation, one a folding acoustic and the other a pedal assist cargobike, for over two years. Looking at a driveway of asphalt 15x32’ makes a girl dream.

mud and meadows

In 2019 I was lucky to meet a landscaper who came to my house and executed some stone work repair for me. We hit it off and upon asking a few questions I found out she had indeed installed ribbon driveways and would love to be a part of this project. Over the course of months she was a source of information, education, brute strengh, and encouragement. My grey became more than green because of Laura!


I split it into two phases and I’m so glad I did because once ¼ of the pavement was gone in 2020 and I’d planted my first three Sisters garden along with other vegetables, I wanted more garden and less space allocated for parking a car.


Along the way, while researching plants, and designs, and just having green dreams. I found Dave and Santiago who remove fences between neighbours as a community project. In between the driveways was a 50 year old chain link fence and now it’s gone. He used the metal and upCycled it into Bicycle Racks!!

rowanbicycle robincargobike

My design plan now included 3 bike racks and 3 trees along the property line as a very functional ‘fence line’ that provides secure parking for my friends who use Active Transportation and The Trees are a needed addition to Toronto’s tree Canopy.

tree canopy

The City of Toronto supports private tree planting and stewardship initiatives. Efforts to expand Toronto’s urban forest constitutes a valuable investment in the city’s future.

I paid for my own trees because I needed a columnar shaped tree. I choose Kindred Spirit OAK as I already had two in the backyard and they fit into a narrow property.


I come by a love of trees honestly as my father was always planting trees. He also gave me life lessons like “ once the land is gone, it’s gone.” As a family farm who supported ourselves with what we grew, good soil was important.

All the subdivisions built on good land, made him incredibly sad. Peeling off the rich soil and covering it with asphalt and concrete and highways, that’s gone. It’s like paving over a wetland and trying to recreate is not the same. This is one reason we have a decreasing insect population which is our lifeline as it’s part of the food chain.

So my life in the city has been about supporting parks, shoreline cleanups, and at home growing as much food as possible. My first raised bed was and is 4x10 feet. With another 5’ up with trellis for vertical growing. Rethinking your space means seeing your opportunities not only horizontally but vertically which is ideal for small yards, balconies, or a window ledge.



I’d like to tell you about LEAF. It stands for Local. Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests. I purchased my low bush blueberry and st john’s wort shrubs from them and think the organization is amazing! Their Backyard Tree Planting Program offers native trees and shrubs to property owners at a subsidized cost.


LEAF is a non-profit organization that teaches people about trees and gets them excited about the urban forest. They plant native species in backyards and public spaces, and educate people on how to care for trees in their communities. The focus of their work is on community engagement and tree stewardship. They envision healthy, vibrant communities where everyone values and cares for the urban forest. My little depaving project has generated benefits in more way than Climate change action.

This year I am a volunteer for the David Suzuki Foundation BUTTERFLYWAY PROJECT. I have learned so much this year!! My goal is to educate and encourage my neighbourhood to plant pollinator plots for a habitat highway.


From seed to food for bees!



Being in the front ‘yard’ in an expanded garden has me answering questions as people walk by with their dogs, giving impromptu garden tours, and educating curious children.

I hope to inspire others to Rethink their space. That one, two, three cars do not need an entire driveway of asphalt. A Ribbon Driveway will support the vehicle and provide space for plants.

Red Clover could be sown for the bees! I’ve planted strawberries in the middle so that kids can come and pick them! Remember I don’t have a car so this space is 99% of the time filled with with fruit, moss on the pavers, thyme and more! Guest Parking here during a pandemic is nil!

I now have dozens of native plants, pollinators, new trees, fruit and vegetables and growing a community who is more aware of environmental options.


They smile when they look at my colourful Butterflyway which they didn’t when it was a grey Driveway.

Thank you for bee-ing here and reading this long essay during national Pollinator Week

I hope I’ve planted a SEED in you to look at new (old) ways you can help expand the butterflyway as every native plant you put in the ground is important.



To discover native plants in Canada take a look at CANPLANT, Lacewing, Bees Love Trees. Additionally, I’m inspired by Brother Nature at Evergreen Brickworks.



💚 read any books or articles by Lorraine Johnson and attend any and all events she is speaking at!

💚 Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy UPDATED edition 9780881929928 Timber Press

💚 Easy Growing by Gayla Trail 9780307886873 Clarkson Potter and look up any of her articles but I really liked this one about strawberries.

Twitter and YouTube and Spotify

LINK to OISE Stay At Home Club LIVE TWITTER presentation June 24 2021

LINK to a garden tour with me

My Garden Playlist on Spotify


Plant List

🐝 Spotted Bee Balm 🦋 Dense Blazing Star 💚 Great Blue Lobelia 🌿 Harebell 🌙 Smooth Oxeye 🌺 New England Aster 💙 Wild Bergamot 🐛 Canada Milkvetch 🐝 Monarda bee balm ‘bubblegum blast’ 🦋 Greyheaded coneflower 🐝 Golden Alexander 🌻 Sunflowers ‘Teddy Bear’ 🦋 Jerusalem Artichoke 🐝 Globe Thistle 🌺 Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’ 💚 Gaura ‘Siskiyou Pink’ 🌙 Geum ‘Petticoats Peach’ 🐛 Ajuga Reptans ‘Black Scallop’ 🦋 Dyers Coreopsis 🌿 Acorus Americanus 💚 Helleborus ‘Blushing Bridesmaid’ 🌱 Hatris Spicata 🦋 Soulmate Swamp Milkweed 🌙 Coreopsis ‘verticillata’ 🌙 Coreopsis ‘tickseed’ ‘Li’l Bang Red Elf’ 🌙 Coreopsis ‘Plains Coreopsis 🌸 Heuchera ‘green spice’ ☀️ Nasturtiums 🌿 St. John’s wort 💙 Blue-eyed Grass 🌺 Veronica Spicata ‘Red Fox’ 🌱 Doone Valley Thyme 🌿 Nodding Onion 🦋 Bloody Dock 🌱 Anise Hyssop 🐝 Spotted Hawkweed 🦋 Borage 🌙 White Feather Hosta


Fruit and Vegetables

🫐 Lowbush Blueberry 🍓 Strawberry fields of ever bearing and alpine 💙 Blackberries 🌱 Rhubarb 🌿 Lettuce 🌺 Radish 💚 Peas 🌱 Beans 🌙 Corn 💚 Sugar Pie Pumpkin 🦋 Butternut Squash

robinandtomatoes a gift of heirloom tomatoes from Robin

robinunloading of course she delivered using her cargobike!

Heirloom Tomatoes

🐛 Sam Hiebert Mennonite 💚 Green Grape 🐛 Morden yellow pear 💚 Flin Flon 🐛 Carbon 💚 Early Annie 🐛 Purple Bumble Bee Cherry 💚 Aunt Ruby’s German Green


🌳 Quercus x warei ‘Nadler’
Kindred spirit OAK is a dense deciduous tree with a strong central leader and a narrowly upright and columnar growth habit purchased by Connon Nurseries in Waterdown

Long established in my front yard

🌱 Chives 💚 Lavender 🌱 Milkweed 💚 Dillweed 🌱 Cup Flower 💚 Thyme 🌱 Blue Flax 💚 Lilacs 🌱 Sage 💚 Hosta 🌱 Coneflowers 💚 Russian Sage


Coming this fall

💚 dozens of BULBS to plant for an embarrassment of colour in the spring!


I have invested in depaving, restoring the soil, providing habitat for birds, bees, butterflies & bunnies! I spent over $12,000 over the course of this two year project. The money came from my travel savings. Ontario bound due to COVID-19 so spending it on my front yard oasis and groceries seems on point.

Breakdown includes excavation, removal & recycling, stones, pavers, labour (woman owned business), plus soil, mulch, trees, too many wonderful plants to count. Additionally three black matte painted bike racks, four garden hoops all upcycled from old metal fences. Plus I splurged at Lee Valley for tomato spirals, plant markers, and obelisks.

budget friendly

SEED and PLANT sharing can be coordinated in your neighbourhood.

seedshakura photo credit: Shakura

seedsharing It’s a great way to engage with your community and share plants for free.

paperpotting Growing seeds & using homemade paper pots is also a money saver and satisfying to do!


URBAN HARVEST recently had an end of season sale! I purchased alpine strawberries, oregano, dyers coreopsis and more grey headed coneflowers because you can never have enough plants when they are $1.00!!

tomato Tomatoes are starting to grow!

sugarpiepumpkin Love seeing the Sugar Pie Pumpkins start to spread themselves across the garden. Grown from Urban Harvest seeds.

My front yard garden has been a work in progress for years as it will continue to be until I can no longer lift a shovel!

bunny I love that the bunnies enJOY my garden. They are welcome and there is more than enough food to share.


Growing my own fruit and vegetables is an activity that makes me very happy. Something I wish for all of you!
Strawberry Fields Forever

Rain Garden

When you remove asphalt and concrete the water can be absorbed into the earth and soaked up by the plants. Watch this.

Fall Colours and update

Pumpkins, beans, tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, rhubarb, potatoes, kale, lettuce, garlic, onions, peppers, herbs galore, and more as I had an abundance of produce from start to finish of the season finishing with Jerusalem Artichokes

Here’s what November looks like in my garden that used to be asphalt just a few months ago! NOV2021OakLeaves 🌳 Quercus x warei ‘Nadler’
Kindred spirit OAK NOV2021SoulmateSwampMilkweed 🦋 Soulmate Swamp Milkweed

The ribbon driveway filled in with transplanted strawberries and moss from the backyard patio stones. NOV2021strawberries AND yes, there has been vehicles parked on it over the last few months. Permeable pavers work!

Winter update

One of the next most valuable things you can do to support pollinators and other invertebrates is to provide them with the winter cover they need in the form of fall leaves and standing dead plant material.


Beyond butterflies, bumble bees also rely on leaf litter for protection. At the end of summer, mated queen bumble bees burrow only an inch or two into the earth to hibernate for winter. More information in this Leave the Leaves article.


I’ve watched young woodpeckers peck on the tall dry broom corn stalks, birds gather seeds from the dried sunflowers, and enJOY the natural art installation the snow and winter garden provides.


One of the common questions I heard was “how do you shovel snow?!” Same as I shovel snow off the stone steps and the concrete sidewalk. I have a short path to push it onto the strawberries in the middle or off to the side into the garden. My greenway means I can put all the snow into this space that in the summer mitigates heat and in the winter is a depository for excess snow. In the spring it will melt and feed the plants!


Winter photos were taken post Toronto’s major snowstorm in January 2022.

A garden is a year round gift.

created by robertson mcclure