Thinning the Untamed Garden

Elderberry, dogwood, serviceberry and rose, along with many other native shrubs and perennials, were planted only a few years ago at the St. Clair subway entrance. In that short time, the garden has flourished into an urban jungle of the greenest persuasion and the time has come for a little taming.


The intention to create lush urban oases can’t be seen any more clearly than at LEAF’s Urban Forest Demonstration Garden at the St. Clair subway station. Our expectations when we planted in 2010 have been clearly exceeded, to the delight of many birds and other critters. 


St. Clair Garden


Together with mulching, watering and weeding, an important part of keeping a garden happy is pruning. The garden was due for a trim and we thought this was the perfect opportunity for LEAF’s Garden Stewards to gather for one last workshop of 2014 – Pruning 101.


Robyn Stewart, LEAF’s Education and Outreach Coordinator, led the stewards through the basics – from why to when to where to how. Loaded with information, stewards broke into groups of two and stepped into the St. Clair jungle with intention. 


Fragrant Sumac


Each pair started with the three Ds – dead, diseased and damaged. Then, stepping back to evaluate their subject, Robyn encouraged the teams to look for: 

  • Crossing/rubbing branches
  • Branches that will begin to rub or cross as they grow
  • Weak attachments
  • Suckers
  • Crowded branches
  • The overall form of the shrub as well as individual branches


Branches were freed, space was created and the garden exhaled a new lightness. No more than 25% was removed from each shrub, as the pruning guideline goes. There will be more trimming and shaping in future years, but for now, the garden is ready to rest for winter. 


Erin MacDonald is LEAF’s Volunteer and Stewardship Coordinator.