Water­loo res­i­dent em­braces town­house chal­lenge af­ter 40 years of wide-open po­ten­tial


Pre­cise de­signs and clever ac­cents make the most of town­house prop­erty

Pre­cise de­signs and clever ac­cents make the most of town­house prop­erty

When Fran and Dan Brown “right-sized” to a town­house in 2014, there was no pos­si­bil­ity they could recre­ate the shady for­est-like trails that me­an­dered through the much larger Water­loo prop­erty they’d called home for 40 years.

Un­will­ing to give up the plea­sure of liv­ing with a pretty land­scape, Fran gave her­self most of the first year to think about their new sur­round­ings and what she could do with a much smaller lot. To her sur­prise, she found it a greater chal­lenge than a larger prop­erty where plants have room to spread.

Grad­u­ally, she saw po­ten­tial not only in the 30-by-30-foot back­yard, but also in their good for­tune to have a small strip of land be­yond the path that runs down the side of their end-unit town­house to the main en­trance. If the path was curvy and the ad­ja­cent flower bed hilly, she thought, it could serve as a pleas­ing wel­come mat.

Fran ap­pre­ci­ates an el­e­ment of mys­tery in gar­dens, so her guid­ing prin­ci­ple for spruc­ing up that path was to leave visi­tors won­der­ing what they’d find in the walled court­yard ahead.

There could be no tan­gled vines, un­ruly

FAC­ING PAGE: River rocks and pot­ted plants help de­fine the curved walk­way lead­ing to the court­yard.

shrubs or spread­ing peren­ni­als to feed the mys­tery. Each plant is neatly clipped and re­strained in its des­ig­nated spot in the flower bed. That pre­ci­sion is what makes the bor­ders and beds such a plea­sure to see. With­out it, the care that went into se­lect­ing each plant would be lost.

The curved stone lane now is bor­dered by un­du­lat­ing flower beds an­chored on one side by a garage wall, and on the other by a bed of river rocks, which in turn are out­lined by a nar­row band of peb­bles to keep the grass from en­croach­ing.

“I didn’t want it flat,” Fran ex­plains. “I wanted highs and lows. And I didn’t want to weed. I re­al­ized I needed mounds, I needed pots and I needed rocks. And of course foun­da­tion plants, which I call ac­ces­sories. There’s re­ally no dif­fer­ence for me to work on de­sign­ing a gar­den or an in­te­rior.”

The over­all ef­fect is serene. The front of the prop­erty gets “more sun than any­body needs,” so suc­cu­lents, both in pots and tucked among large rocks, are im­por­tant to the over­all ef­fect. Or­na­men­tal grasses of medium height bend in the breeze, soft­en­ing the land­scape, while here and there a sin­gle hosta with large var­ie­gated leaves pro­vides a back­drop for smaller plants.

A clay pot holds a hibis­cus whose apri­cot blos­soms pick up the sim­i­lar colour of nearby lilies. A small, neatly clipped bar­berry shrub har­mo­nizes with ad­ja­cent reed grass striped in the same dark red. Bud­ding se­dum prom­ise fresh flow­ers in late sum­mer when other plants grow weary.

Arch­ing over the bed, as if point­ing the way for­ward, is a trimmed, quirky-look­ing weep­ing spruce. “I never like any­thing too stiff or for­mal or con­trived,” Fran says of the jaunty lit­tle tree. In­deed, the trees should be happy. An ar­borist feeds them an­nu­ally.

The path con­tin­ues through a wooden gate into a court­yard where the en­trance to the house is lo­cated. One wall of the court­yard is mostly glass, a triple-pane slid­ing door be­tween the kitchen and the out­doors. The out­side wall is grey brick. The gar­den that curves around the perime­ter of the court­yard in­cludes a river

“I didn’t want it flat, I wanted highs and lows. And I didn’t want to weed.” FRAN BROWN

birch whose bark is as pa­pery and peel­ing as any ma­ture sil­ver birch, yet more sub­tle be­cause of its or­angey-brown colour.

More lilies, hibis­cus, hosta, se­dum and clus­ters of multi-coloured suc­cu­lents thrive here. “I call it a small gar­den with a big heart,” Fran says, point­ing out two lengths of gnarly drift­wood whitened by wa­ter and time, which the Browns picked up on north­ern hikes. Else­where, a pair of horse­shoes is tucked into soft mulch shav­ings. Noth­ing is promi­nently dis­played.

Set back among plants or criss-crossed branches are sev­eral un­adorned grey wooden bird­houses of var­i­ous sizes. They’re not locked in place. Like the pot­ted plants, they are moved around at the whim of the res­i­dent gar­dener just as sculp­ture or fam­ily pho­tos might be re­ar­ranged in­doors.

Last, not least, the prop­erty has a fenced back­yard, ac­ces­si­ble through the house.

This gar­den wraps around a large stone pa­tio set with a ta­ble and chairs. “It needed curves, it had to be soft­ened,” Fran ex­plains. The yard ac­com­mo­dates a hand­some weep­ing larch and ma­ture maple and mag­no­lia trees. “I like mass gar­den­ing,” Fran ex­plains. “Plunk me in any for­est and I dream.”

In me­mory of their trav­els, a cus­tom-made replica of an Easter Is­land statue, backed by a Siberian spruce, and a Ti­betan prayer seat that she’s dubbed “the wish seat” have prime po­si­tions in the gar­den.

Here, too, plants are stag­gered in height. Heuchera are planted in shade to pre­vent their del­i­cate flow­ers from fad­ing. Again there are rocks, in­clud­ing a few chunks of rugged lime­stone, gi­ant ferns and a rhodo­den­dron that labours to pro­duce a few bright red flow­ers each spring. Through the sum­mer, a pot­ted hibis­cus of­fers its own pop of coral colour to the land­scape.

A minia­ture va­ri­ety of hosta called Gypsy Rose, with bright and dark green leaves, pro­vides good con­trast for a neigh­bour­ing saucer of multi-coloured hens and chicks.

“I want it to be calm­ing, not busy, out here,” Fran says, sur­vey­ing her back­yard. “No gar­den is care-free. Like peo­ple, it re­quires lov­ing care and hard work — prun­ing, feed­ing, nur­tur­ing.”

ABOVE: Care­fully placed ac­cents, in­clud­ing a replica of an Easter Is­land statue, give the prop­erty’s green­ery and flow­ers added iner­est. ABOVE RIGHT: Reed grass har­mo­nizes with bar­berry shrub. RIGHT: Fran Brown works on a sec­tion of her back­yard.

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