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Curb Appeal for Dry Shade in Oakville 

Client Wanted:


The clients wanted to refurbish the existing foundation planting, to hide ugly utilities, to minimize the grass cutting, and to find an alternative groundcover that would withstand the salt and snow during winter. These were the clients' requirements as well as to create curb appeal of this cul-de-sac property. 


The current foundation planting, consisting of two large boxwoods clipped in a circular fashion, plus a rambling variegated euonymus hid the bottom half of the 1960s-style split level house. The purpose of garden design is to enhance the architecture of the house, not mask it nor block natural light to existing windows.


Further, the euonymus is suffering from both powdery mildew and an out-of-control infestation of mealy bugs. Euonymus needs very good air circulation because it is prone to insects and plant diseases. It also benefits from yearly pruning, to open up the branches and allow for good air flow. 

In the middle of the front lawn is a gorgeous Norway spruce about 70 to 80 feet high. All evergreens have roots very close to the soil surface (about 30 cm below the surface) that intake nutrients and water. This, coupled with the fact that every evergreen is acidic and sheds both needles and sap means that grass beneath the spruce is almost impossible to grow. A number of mature spruce roots can be seen protruding from the lawn. A tree this big sucks up all the water within a large radius, making the entire front yard a dry shade garden.


A large part of garden design is picking plants that will thrive in the existing conditions, so you are not constantly replacing them. 

Right beside the curb, the homeowners have the unlucky trifecta of utilities: a streetlight, a fire hydrant, and a phone utility box—the only downside of this large, pie-shaped lot in Old Oakville. These negatives could be turned into positives with the right garden design.

In the spring, the lawn by the curb takes forever to come back because of the road salt and the snow pile-up. The homeowners wanted a new type of groundcover that would tolerate the salt in the winter and the dry shade in the summer, to reduce both grass cutting and lawn watering. 

Design Challenges:

  • A foundation planting that would enhance the architecture of the house, not hide it or block natural light to the windows. 

  • For the foundation planting, the clients expressed interest in plants with impact, such as very large leaved hostas. 

  • Minimize the size of the front lawn, to reduce mowing and watering.

  • Find a creative treatment for the base of the Norway spruce, where the tree's roots protrude through the lawn.

  • Hide ugly utilities at the curb. 

  • Replace grass at the curb with alternate groundcover. 

  • Being handy around the house, the clients wanted a garden design that they could implement themselves, including any hardscaping. 

The Garden Design:

For the foundation planting, we suggested a selection of large-leaved but not variegated hostas, Japanese forest grass, and giant Solomon's seal. All three have bold, contrasting leaf shapes. This bed is all about impact and bringing in light to the front of the house. 

In the middle of the foundation planting is an upright Hinoki cypress, a slow grower that will echo the large trunk of the Norway spruce in the middle of the front lawn. It will also break up the space of the mansard roof of the house. 

In front of the foundation bed, we put in a lazy, S-curved dry river bed with medium-sized river stones. This will help tie the new foundation planting to the existing grey flagstone walkway to the front door, which has stood up well to the Canadian winter over the years. 

At the southern end of the foundation planting is a young Japanese maple; at the northern end is a Hinoki cypress. We elected to keep both, as they help to anchor the new design for the foundation planting. 

We created a low, raised bed to the left of the flagstone walkway and filled it with three Hinoki cypresses, for continuity and for winter interest. 

Under the mature Norway spruce, we created a very simple, low raised bed and filled it with coloured mulch. It will contain the mess of shedding bark typical of a large evergreen.

At the curb, we created a new garden bed and filled it with dogwood 'Ivory Halo' and more hostas. This garden bed has two purposes:  to act as a backdrop to a Japanese maple 'Bloodgood' beside the driveway and to hide the ugly utilities on the property. 


Rather than grass, the garden bed will be under-planted with Japanese spurge. It has a low growth habit and will survive the dry shade as well as some road salt in the winter. This garden bed also has a S-curved dry river bed with medium-sized stones, to match the one at the foundation planting. 

In the winter, the owners will see the morning sun rise over the bare branches of the 'Ivory Halo' dogwood—a blaze of red and orange! 

Garden design and landscaping consulting in Oakville, Milton, Burlington, Mississauga, Etobicoke, and Toronto.

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