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  • Heather Raithby Doyle

Murray and Mary Ellen Moore

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

Story and photos by Heather Raithby Doyle

After years of buying native plants and placing them wherever there was room in the garden, Murray and Mary Ellen Moore decided to go all in. They hired a landscape designer who specializes in native plants, and who helped them transform their Mississauga backyard into a native plant oasis.

The 1950’s shrubs, grass and non-natives are gone. Now, native plants and shrubs rule, along with two paw paw trees, and a newly created pond and bog. Mulch paths bend around the garden, dotted with sculptures and seating areas. It’s hard to believe this lush green space, both restful and intriguing, was created one year ago.

For those who want to see for themselves, the Moores are part of the upcoming free Applewood Acres neighbourhood Show and Tell Day, Saturday, July 23, from 3-8 pm at 1065 Henley Road, Mississauga. The rain date is Sunday, July 24th.

It’s hard to believe this lush green space, both restful and intriguing, was created one year ago.

Murray jokingly blames the impetus for the project on the pandemic, and getting “sucked into the orbit of [Blooming Boulevards founder] Jeannie McRight”. Murray is a board member of Blooming Boulevards, and he and Mary Ellen do site visits for Blooming Boulevard applicants.

“I said to Mary Ellen, let’s get serious about native plants,” says Murray. They found garden designer Claire Ellenwood, of Ontario Flora, who only creates garden plans for clients if native plants are a minimum of sixty percent of the garden: “We said we want one hundred percent.” Ellenwood provided detailed drawings and plant lists around Christmas 2020.

”It was an excellent experience working with Claire,” says Mary Ellen. “She wanted to know what we wanted, how we use the garden.”

“I said to Mary Ellen, let’s get serious about native plants,” says Murray.

Murray prepared the site by removing plants, shrubs and a small pine tree. Fifteen cubic yards of cedar mulch was delivered, then moved to cover paper laid over the old garden and yard. Ellenwood and her team came in June 2021 and planted for three days.

The pond/bog was another story. A different contractor started but did not finish the job. “I would only recommend him to people I don’t like,” says Murray, deadpan. Still, with the help of family, the pond liner got trimmed, the pump installed, stones laid around the edge, and a walkway built with advice from Mary Ellen’s brother, a civil engineer.

The idea for a native plant transformation was planted when Murray and Mary Ellen applied for a front yard Blooming Boulevard garden in 2019, the first year of the program but they didn’t get accepted at first. When someone dropped out, the husband and wife duo got their chance. “We were number thirteen of thirteen gardens. I think we got fewer plant varieties than garden number one,” says Murray jokingly.

Mary Ellen, using her training as a fine artist, and high school art teacher, drafted the plan for their front yard as part of the process. McRight noticed how well it was presented. Now Mary Ellen volunteers doing site drawings for the Blooming Boulevard permits. “That’s how I got the job,” says Mary Ellen. “ “Professional grade,” adds Murray.

Both bring their own skills to the native garden project. In addition to teaching art, Mary Ellen has a diploma in interior design. “She can tell colour”, says Murray, as Mary Ellen adds “He’s not sensitive to colour.”

Murray is an English major who found his way to editing community newspapers such as the Norwich Gazette. This was a multifaceted role which involved covering community events and council, writing, editing, and photography. In fact, the two met when he interviewed Mary Ellen about her summer job for the Local Architectural Advisory Committee. He later worked as a technical writer before retiring in 2010.

Murray’s grandfather owned Ralph Moore & Sons seed company during World War I when Canadians couldn’t get seeds from across the Atlantic. The main product was millet for bird seed. As a child, Murray worked on the family farm picking beets, asparagus, carrots and rhubarb. He does not claim to be a farmer, but can drive a tractor.

When asked about favourite things in the garden, Murray says “There’s always something to potter about, something to remove. You can go out everyday and see what’s going to flower, or if the evening primrose is somewhere it shouldn’t be” (by the number of seeds it produces this sounds like it is a common occurrence). When there’s time, he is partial to reading the newspaper on the chaise longue in the shade.

Mary Ellen adds “it’s always the next thing that’s going to open.” Due to a recent hip operation, she is no longer the chief weed puller or digger but an active consultant in the process. “I like looking out the back window, seeing the birds eat the seedheads. Everything seemed to be at the front before.” The addition of the pond has drawn more birds than ever before.

There are so many delights in a native garden this size: the rare wood poppy which recently bloomed, virgin’s bower clematis cascading over the arbour in the East Garden, Mary Ellen’s stunning handmade trellises, and the Joe Pye weed covered in bees when blooming. One year two hawks nested in the large pine trees at the back of the yard with an offspring, this year offered a glimpse of a coyote, and resident skunk under the shed. The squirrels contribute to the garden effort, replanting and digging up plants. The birds call out and the pond splashes, creating a feeling of serenity, and a sense of purpose, deep in the suburbs of Applewood Mississauga.


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