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Toronto Garden Gets a Focal Point




Client Wanted:

A front garden with lots of curb appeal. When a young couple bought this 100-year-old house in Toronto's coveted High Park neighbourhood, it came with front garden that had been naturalized by the previous home owners.

Naturalized plantings, although very popular these days, are actually very hard to pull off well, especially in a tiny front yard. Naturalized plantings need lots of space, as well as lots of negative space, so you can really get a good look at the cultivars that have been planted. Otherwise, they tend to look fairly unspectacular or even downright messy. 

The biggest problem with this front garden:  it had no focal point. There was nothing for the eye to focus on, in any season. 

Some of the cultivars, such as the variegated Solomon's Seal, were very nice, but not part of a cohesive planting scheme. Other cultivars, such as the variegated Ribbon Grass, which likes a very moist soil or even a bog, was dried out due to insufficient water.


Because the front yard is on a slope, soil erodes continuously to both the driveway and the sidewalk, making early spring and late fall very messy, as dirt is brought into the house on shoes and boots.   


The client also wanted a low maintenance planting, so lots of perennials. And, the client needed a place to pile up snow, right next to the driveway that would not damage plants. 

The Garden Design:

We created a focal point for the small front yard:  it will be planted with a Japanese maple. The client has not yet decided if they will elect for a "Bloodgood," "Autumn Fire," or "Coral Bark." Bloodgood is very common, Autumn Fire turns a bright red in the Fall, and Coral Bark has yellow-green leaves on red stems in spring and summer, and bright yellow leaves in the Fall. 


Under the Japanese maple, we put three large, flat rocks at 45 degree angles to the house, that provide visual interest in all seasons. The rocks add structure to the garden design. The "Ostrich" ferns will be relocated to the fenceline, behind the largest of the three rocks, acting like a backdrop to the rock.  


At the sidewalk, we specified astilbe "Delft Lace," as well as a spreading Japanese yew, which grows well even in deep shade. 

Close to the driveway, we planted an upright Hinoki false cypress and oat grass, to add height to the garden design. "Northern Sea" oat grass is probably the only grass that tolerates dappled shade;  most grasses need full sun.


We also specified a couple of Japanese dwarf cedars "Globosa Nana" that are wonderful acid-green, slow-growing mopheads. "Danica" white cedars would also work well here.


The tree canopy of the Japanese maple will be backlit by lighting, giving the owners something nice to look at in the evenings. The Japanese maple will be under-planted with heuchera "Autumn Leaves" or "Lime Ruffles" as well as some Golden Variegated Japanese hakone grass. 


Under the livingroom bay window, we specified another spreading Japanese yew;  these can be clipped to keep them looking tidy. In front of the yew, we specified burgundy painted ferns, whose silver-and-pink colours will contrast nicely with the dark green of the yew.


We elected to relocate the "Annabelle" hydrangeas behind the birdbath, giving it a nice backdrop and hiding the ugly downspout at the same time, and bringing in lots of white to the darkest part of the front garden. 



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

Design Challenges:

  • A very large stump of a 100-year-old tree has to be removed.

  • The client was not interested in hardscaping but a planting scheme that would act as a focal point for the house both from the street as well as the large bay window in the living room. 

  • The High Park area is well known for mature shade trees. Once they leaf out in the spring, many properties in the area become shade gardens. 

  • The property faces east, so has morning light until 12 noon, and then full shade in the afternoon. 

  • The area closest to the house has both a gas meter and a large downspout (that belongs to the neighbours) that needs hiding. 

  • The planting plan had to incorporate plants that thrive in shade and deep shade. 

  • Client wanted a low retaining wall along the driveway and along the sidewalk, to keep soil in the garden bed.

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