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An Indoor Garden Design Transforms Exclusive Toronto Home 

Client Wanted:


A retired Toronto couple commissioned an architect to design a custom home in Toronto’s York Mills neighbourhood around 1998. The architect specified an indoor garden design that takes advantage of the property’s abundant natural light that faces west.

An indoor garden is a brilliant addition to a home because it improves indoor air quality in a measurable way; a 1989 study by NASA concluded that houseplants help to filter toxins from the air and reduce “sick building syndrome.”

The garden is situated between the family room and the games room, so the garden design in effect provides a natural, living screen between the two rooms. The indoor garden also opens up to the second floor. Looking down from the second floor balcony, which is actually the home's entrance, the garden makes an impressive and welcoming statement to visitors.

The indoor garden design is comprised of two garden beds, each straight on one side and organically-shaped on the other. The beds are separated by a narrow channel that terminates in a fountain head that burbles quietly, while also adding humidity for the plants. Each bed measures about 8 feet long, by about 3 feet wide.

When the indoor garden design was new, some 18 years ago, the garden was charming and robust. Over the years, the plants died:  the clients are plant lovers, but not gardeners. As well, the clients travel a great deal during retirement. Even though a housekeeper waters the garden, it had depleted to the point where only one sizable plant was left—a sparse and leggy Ming Aralia.

The clients wanted a new garden design that would be a composition in green (no flowering plants), yet still colourful. Importantly, the client wanted an easy-care garden.


Design Challenges:

  • The garden design would have to be comprised of plants with similar light needs, in this case, high natural light from the west-facing window and full skylight.

  • The garden design would have to be comprised of plants with similar water needs.

  • Soil remediation would be needed. Over time, any soil that is not outdoors and is not part of the natural 4-season cycle needs remediation. For the new garden design to thrive, we would need to add fresh soil and mix it with the old to ensure that the new plants would have a healthy supply of nutrients.

  • We would need to give the clients a schedule for the watering and fertilizing of each type of plant in the indoor garden design.




The Garden Design:

We created a garden design whose theme was: different leaf textures. The garden design was comprised of small, medium, and large leaved plants. Additionally, some leaves were long and thin, others were thick and fleshy.

There was also a variety of plant heights to give a rhythm to the garden design. The larger plants were positioned toward the back of the composition.

We also covered off the houseplant colour palette, ranging from dark green, middle green, to silver, to variegated cultivars.

We created “dry river beds” with round river stones, to add visual interest at ground level and also to add separation between plants.

The cultivars that we chose were:

Norfolk Pine - 6 ft specimen, to add height
Corn Plant Dracaena - 4-stump, to add height
Bird of Paradise - huge leaves that make a statement
Bamboo Palm - soft, bushy fronds that add soft texture
Sanseveria - long, pointy leaves with yellow edges
ZZ Plant - very naturally shiny and structural leaves
Echeveria - lovely blue-grey fleshy rosettes 
Kalanchoe - Thyrsiflora "Fantastica” and “Pussy Ears” 

Read "The 5 Fs of Great Garden Design."

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

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