Lorraine Johnson QA: Canadian Gardener's Guide

Thirteen-year-old gardener and blogger Emma Biggs talks to Lorraine Johnson about the new edition of Canadian Gardener's Guide.


Did you garden when you were growing up?

My mother and father were gardeners—and committed composters—while I was growing up, but I have to admit that other than being slightly embarrassed by our food garden, which I viewed as a sign of need rather than bounty, I had little interest in gardening. Though I do recall gathering up some watermelon pips after dinner one summer night to plant in a shady corner out back—and being disappointed when nothing grew!


What got you interested in gardening?

I came to gardening via a circuitous route. I tasted pesto and I wanted more! This was at a time when basil wasn't commonly available in grocery stores, so I planted it in pots on the fire escapes and accessible rooftops of all the apartments I lived in and made lots of pesto for the freezer. When I started writing about environmental issues (my first book, Green Future, came out in 1990), I realized that gardening connected with so many environmental issues and that gardeners could be a positive force for change. I was hooked! And most of the books I've written since that first one have been about how gardens and gardening connect with broader social and environmental issues, along with creating beautiful, restorative spaces.


What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned about gardening recently?

The most interesting thing I've learned about gardening recently is that trees communicate with each other. The book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben is mind-blowing.


What’s the best gardening question you’ve ever been asked?

The best gardening question I've ever been asked is "How can I help pollinators?" It gives me hope that people care!


What was your favourite plant as a kid?

My favourite plant as a kid was the native shrub snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus). My best friend Julie and I loved squishing the berries—we called them potato berries—and hearing them pop. A close second was the maple tree—we'd stick the maple keys on our noses and parade around the neighbourhood.


What would you say to someone who wants to garden, but never has before?

Start small, follow your passion, and dig in.


If you could grow only one plant, what would it be?

The native bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii)—I have a weakness for blue.


What is your favourite type of garden?

A native plant garden that contributes to ecosystem health, provides beauty and habitat, and offers endlessly fascinating surprises.


What is the neatest thing you’ve seen in gardens recently that may excite young gardeners?



What’s your favourite chapter in the new edition of Canadian Gardener's Guide? Why?

I love the added section on rain gardens, which encourages us to manage our landscapes so that water filters down to replenish groundwater rather than running off to overburden the storm sewers.


Why do you think it is important to get the next generation gardening?

Gardening is a fantastic way to connect with and learn about nature. And what we need now more than ever is people who care about nature—actively and passionately.

About Emma Biggs

Thirteen-year-old Emma Biggs raised over 130 tomato varieties in her Toronto garden in 2018—gardening in containers, in straw bales on a driveway, in a neighbour’s yard, and on her garage roof. Her latest book, Gardening with Emma, helps kids find the fun in gardening (and helps adults remember how much fun gardening is!) Emma blogs about tomatoes for Harrowsmith Magazine, and is the co-host of The Garage Gardeners Radio Show and the From Dirt to Dishes gardening channel on YouTube.


About Lorraine Johnson

Lorraine Johnson is the author of numerous gardening books, including 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens, City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing, and Tending the Earth, as well as editor of DK's What Plant Where Encyclopedia. Past-president of the North American Native Plant Society and a regular speaker to horticultural groups, she is passionate about the importance of sustainable gardening and the use of Canadian native plants. Lorraine currently lives in Toronto.