From a Blank Slate to a Thriving Garden – A Toronto Backyard Story

When Cynthia Brown moved into her Toronto home in 2012, she described the backyard as a neglected rectangle of dirt and weeds. This Urban Forest Champion saw this as an opportunity to create the backyard of her dreams, an outdoor extension of her home full of native species. Eight years later, her backyard is all that and more!


Cynthia is a long-time client of the LEAF Backyard Tree Planting Program, planting a tulip tree (a native tree with the most stunning flowers!) back in 2013. This year, she returned to LEAF to plant another native species, a serviceberry shrub. We always love to hear from our program participants and their own experience planting native and growing the urban forest. I had the chance to connect with her and this is what she had to say:


How did you first become interested in the urban forest?

I’ve always loved nature, ever since I was a little kid. My family would go camping every summer (thank you to our wonderful Provincial Park system!) and I have always felt very at home in nature, surrounded by trees and wildlife. In 2012, my husband and I moved to Toronto and knew we wanted to bring some nature to our tiny urban backyard. It was a blank slate when we bought the house, a neglected rectangle of dirt and weeds.


How did you find out about LEAF and how have you been involved?

I had recently been learning about the importance of native plants to the local ecosystem and wanted to use as many local species as I could when landscaping our new yard. I had heard about the LEAF Backyard Tree Planting Program and was thrilled to see they would be able to plant a tulip tree for us (one of my favourite native tree species). We had the tree planted in 2013 and we recently ordered a serviceberry shrub from LEAF for our front yard garden, as well (just planted in the fall of 2020).


Please share an interesting story or memorable moment from your experience with the urban forest

Our first child was born the year we planted our tulip tree, so our family has literally grown up along with the tree. When it was planted, it was a little bit taller than my husband and now, seven years (and two kids) later, it’s taller than the house! As the centerpiece to our backyard, this tree has been the foundation of a thriving garden full of a variety of native plants, insects and the occasional urban wildlife. Both our kids, and some of the neighbourhood kids, have learned to climb trees in our backyard and have spent many, many hours building forts, playing games and relaxing under its shade.


What does the urban forest mean to you and what message would you like to share with others to encourage them to become involved?

To me, the urban forest is about celebrating that nature is all around us. We don’t need to leave the city to find it – it’s in the parks, ravines and our own backyards! 



Want to turn your backyard into a thriving outdoor space with native species? The LEAF Backyard Tree Planting Program is a subsidized tree planting program that makes planting the right tree in the right place easy, fun and accessible! Learn more by visiting our Homeowners page.



Daniela Serodio is the Marketing and Communications Manager at LEAF.



The Backyard Tree Planting Program is supported by the City of Toronto, the Regional Municipality of York, Durham Region, the City of Markham, the Town of Newmarket, the Town of Ajax, the City of Oshawa, the City of Pickering, the Township of Scugog, the Town of Whitby and Ontario Power Generation.