Our journal’s creator, 96-year-old Margaret Bennet-Alder tells her story

The original Toronto Gardener’s Journal & Source Book was born out of tragedy, the schizophrenia that our son David came down with when he was at university studying computer science. He was 22.

Margaret Bennet-Alder (Photo by Victor Sereno)

It was 1986. I had a job but was so consumed with his devastating illness that I couldn’t focus on my work and so I resigned.

I spent the next five years trying to get David to take medication, trying to make sure he kept his appointments with his psychiatrist, trying to keep peace in the family, and trying to figure what was best for him, for my husband, for our other children, and for me. And at times trying to dodge the orange juice which he more than once gently threw at me in our dining room.

During these five years I needed something else to occupy my mind.

I turned to writing a family history of my pioneer great-grandfather.

I had an excellent editor from my 25 years in La Leche League. If I have any skills in writing, it’s because of Saralaine Millet’s daily tutelage honing my craft. Another La Leche League friend provided her publishing company’s ISBN number. In 1991, I self-published my book From Heather to Hill. David, despite his illness, designed it: 650 pages and over 500 family photographs.

Also in 1991, David, in his logical brilliant mind concluded that he couldn’t be Jesus and a demon at the same time. He decided to take medication. To track his meds and appointments, he made a booklet with a pair of pages for each week of the year.

I looked at David’s little book with its seven weekdays and the empty 8th space.

After all I had been through, I was ready for the healing therapy of gardening. I decided to put what to do in the garden each week in the 8th space.

At the back, I also began to add a section on gardens to visit and how to reach them. Then, because I didn’t know where the nearest garden centres were, I decided to write them in, too. Soon came other references.

My faithful editor Saralaine encouraged me, and our family made 50 copies. Most, we gave away. But people seemed to like our book, so we got serious. David refined the design and tutored me in software for the Source Book. I made a cover using clip art, and that first year we printed 500 copies.

Our gardening book caught on. By 2017, we had sold over 18,000 copies.

So what was born out of tragedy has contributed to a happy and meaningful life for my son David, and has connected me to you, my gardening tribe, for many years.

In 2017, at age 90, I was happy to pass the baton to others. Helen Battersby and Sarah Battersby, who have written the garden blog Toronto Gardens since 2006, seemed a natural fit. May you continue to enjoy our book, and spend many happy hours in your garden.

Margaret Bennet-Alder