Can You Dig It

Urban Secret Gardens explores spaces, ideas, tips and inspirations.

Our resident Allotment Garden Guru

Marija Main - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Leslie St. Community Gardens is comprised of 200 individual plots and the gardeners who tend them range from novice beginners to seasoned experts. As soon as I started working my plot, I became aware that we were blessed with our very own allotment "Guru Gardener" - Michael Bradt. He has gardened at the allotments for 20+ years and has learned every trick, tip and recommendation regarding organic allotment gardening.

Just the other day at the gardens, a group of about 10 gardeners standing around the watering tap discussing whether it's the right time to dig up our garlic. As everyone was not sure, we all unanimously agreed that no one should start pulling garlic out of the ground until we consult with Michael. Everyone agreed that "Michael knows" and with that acknowledgement, we all went back to our plots. 

Last week, I ran into Michael and asked him about whether it's okay to go ahead and dig up my garlic - he agreed that now is good but also proceeded to teach me about the meticulous craft of removing miniature garlic cloves from a garlic flower to encourage the seed production. I was enthralled with his technique, using dull tiny sewing scissors to extract the little cloves.

Michael is an expert tomato grower whose tomatoes are the envy of all of the Leslie St. gardeners. He harvest seeds and starts his plants indoors. Many of his favourite varieties have been passed on to him by fellow gardeners up to 20 years ago. It is wonderful to talk tomatoes with Michael - I never realized how interesting, nostalgic and inspiring a good tomato lineage story can be!

Equally impressive is Michael's love for flowers. He grows a combination of perennials, annuals and edibles. 
I have thoroughly enjoyed learning from Michael, and have enjoyed swapping seeds and sampling many amazing veggies from the garden. Last week my husband and I grilled one of his awesome zucchini's and made a salad from his first crop of beans. I have to admit that I'm secretly waiting to sample one of his heirloom tomatoes that should be ready in a couple of weeks!

If you are perplexed with a garden dilemma, feel free to send me your question via: or click on "comments" below this post and I will run your question by our Allotment Garden Guru :)

In the meantime, I invite you to tour Michael's amazing allotment garden featured on our website:


Law Office's Haven for Butterflies and Bees

Marija Main - Thursday, July 21, 2016

The property that Leanne Rapley's Law Office is now situated upon was previously ridden with unruly weeds and not tended to for many years. When Leanne set to move her office to this visible corner lot in The Beach, she set out to make significant changes to both the interior and exterior spaces. Her dedication has completely transformed this part of Queen Street. Clients, pedestrians, dog-walkers and tourists are treated to a show-stopping and breathtaking corner garden in full summer bloom.

The gardens are planted with milkweed, echinacea, sunflowers, bee balm, butterfly bush and other bee and butterfly-loving plants. I was lucky to catch a few dozen busy bees and a couple of varieties of butterflies luxuriating amidst the flowers.

In speaking to Leanne and her staff, I discovered that a deer had surprised her staff by strolling the rose-lined path directly outside their main office window! It is obvious that the garden is attracting wildlife beyond just the butterflies and the bees.

It is such a pleasure to stroll past this garden or admire it while I wait for the streetcar. More commercial properties need to follow suit and make our urban environments more green, more healthy and more inspiring!

Thank you to Rapley & Company for making The Beach a that much prettier and a better place to live:
Share other awesome commercial urban gardens with us. To enjoy the full garden tour please click the following link:  

Tour a Renovated Dream Urban Backyard

Marija Main - Sunday, July 17, 2016

Earlier this week, I was thrilled to get a personal tour of my neighbour's recently completed full backyard renovation. After weeks of watching truckloads of dirt, stone, wood, trees and plants shuffled in and out of their property, I see the final result which is nothing short of show-stopping! The transformation reveals an ideal urban yard which suits everyone including the parents, kids and the family dog. 

The new backyard design perfectly compliments the lush gardens surrounding the historic Toronto home. The new yard actually does not appear "new" which makes for even a better renovation outcome. The backyard combines structure, seating areas, quiet reflection nooks and play areas across multi-level platforms.

The significant design decision was to forgo a real lawn and install artificial grass in the backyard. This solution has proved to be a huge improvement allowing their family dog and children to play, run and stomp to their heart's content!

Every usable nook and cranny is optimized and serves a purpose for storage, entertainment or visual interest. An overlooked area against the wall of the house serves as a perfect potting area.

 This home shows us that it is possible to design an outdoor space keeping all family members in mind and finding the perfect balance between formal elegance and casual charm.

For a full garden tour of both the front yard and newly renovated backyard, please click on the link below:

Share your recent urban outdoor renovation and inspire us with urban outdoor lifestyles.


"Unspoken" Allotment Rules Everyone Needs to Know!

Marija Main - Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Allotment gardening is a social pastime where like-minded gardeners share common interests within a common area. Follow these 8 "unspoken" Allotment Etiquette Rules and ensure that you do your part to respect your fellow gardeners, their gardening space, share experiences and focus on building long-lasting friendships. Being aware of the unwritten etiquette rules is your first step towards fully enjoying the allotment experience.

8 "Unspoken" Allotment Etiquette Rules - Everyone Needs to Know!

  1. 1. No Invasive Plants - Easiest way to make enemies is to plant an invasive plant that everyone will spend years trying to control. 
  3. 2. Active Pets on a Leash - Allotment Gardeners tend to also be animal lovers, however no one appreciates how easily a pet can trample a special seedling or well-loved plant.
  5. 3. Share Your Knowledge - The core of community gardening is based around learning the ropes as a team. Share your successes and your failures as your fellow gardeners will appreciate the useful tips or forewarnings.
  7. 4. Mind Your Shadow - Be considerate of your direct neighbour's source of sunlight and keep your massive or intrusive plants compact and trimmed.
  9. 5. Water a Thirsty Plot - When watering your plot, have a peek over to your neighbouring plots and see if they are parched. You may also find you're too busy to water your own garden and someone may do the same for your plants.
  11. 6. Don't Lurk - Urban gardeners are busy people, many with full-time careers, families and other interests. Be friendly, but don't be the chatter box who keeps a gardener from their limited time at their plot.
  13. 7. Share Your Harvest - Every plot seems to have at least one thriving plant, spread the joy and share your abundant harvest with your fellow gardeners.
  15. 8. Allotment "Neighbourhood Watch" - Allotment gardening is akin to living in a neighbourhood where people look out for one another and keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. 

Let us know if your allotment community follows a different set of rules...


Green-on-Green your outdoor space

Marija Main - Thursday, July 07, 2016

Most people shy away from adding green-coloured garden accents to their outdoor space and opt for contrasting brights like hot pink, orange, yellow or blue. Most fear that sticking to a monotone palette of greens will blend too much into the lush green backdrop of a garden. In fact, decorating with green will actually accentuate the flowers or subtle colours in your garden – even if your garden is primarily all green.

Green, has made a huge comeback in both the fashion industry and throughout home decor. A green palette includes a wide spectrum of tones inducing fresh lime green, classic kelly green, muted mossy greens, rich forest green, grayish army tones and cool aqua-hinted greens. We want to explore some enticing green accents for your outdoor space that will make you green with envy! Share some of your outdoor green decor inspirations or faves.








Welcome to Urban Secret Garden's Blog "Can You Dig It"

Marija Main - Thursday, June 09, 2016

My name is Marija Bacic Main (pronounced Maria) welcoming you to Urban Secret Gardens' blog. The objective is simple: to share stories, information and tips about urban gardens. However, my personal goal is to get you hooked on gardening, experience its pleasure, gratification and help you overcome the frustrations that plague every urban gardener.        

The fact that I am the only "devoted" gardener in our family hasn't stopped me from engaging my two teenage daughters and husband in helping me with various gardening chores at home or at our allotment plot at the Leslie Street Community Garden in Toronto.

Over the years, a genuine interest in growing flowers and edibles has emerged amongst our family. Every winter, my daughters become more inquisitive about what I plan on planting in the upcoming season. Jackie attacks a weeding session with great determination, Fiona ensures the garden looks visually pleasing and my husband fenced my entire plot at the end of last season.

While at our garden last June, a photographer from The Star came by and asked to take photos of our family working our plot. Fiona's photo was chosen as one of the lead photos for an article by Mark Cullen about Urban Gardening:

I was pleased about being part of an article that promoted urban gardening and proud that Fiona and my salmon poppies were featured. The article captures why I love gardening in a community setting:

"The exchange of cultural information as it relates to the plants that you are growing is just as important as the exchange of greetings early in the morning. We connect with each other on a very special level when we share our interests with like minded individuals".

This time last year, as we were preparing our girls to head to camp for a month, Jackie surprised me with her request to go to the allotment garden the night before she was to leave for camp. Jackie wanted to see the "before and after" changes that were going to happen while she was away. Though it was already getting dark, we rushed to our plot to take note of how our tomatoes, beans and dahlias were coming along. I was thrilled that Jackie made a personal connection with gardening as she chose to spend time at the garden over hanging out with her friends or watching Netflix the night before leaving for camp.

This is the ultimate goal of Urban Secret Gardens and of this blog – to inspire urban dwellers to make a connection with gardening and feel compelled to dig in and plant a garden!