We can dream, can’t we? Don’t be a prisoner of win­ter, just imag­ine a sea­sonal gar­den

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO -

When peo­ple were go­ing loco over gar­den­ing in the 1990s — be­fore smart­phones turned us into beady­eye hunch­backs — we were dream­ing of grand gar­dens.

A vast peren­nial bor­der, with colour from April to Novem­ber, didn’t seem im­pos­si­ble.

That idea was lifted from English gar­den books, where Na­tional Trust gar­dens ben­e­fited from a gen­tle cli­mate and the servi­tude of tal­ented paid gar­den­ers.

It took a while, but gar­den­ers got wise.

Lovely peren­ni­als were still cov­eted but in­cor­po­rated into a more holis­tic de­sign. The de­sign of paths, fences and out­build­ings gave the gar­den a pres­ence in all seasons, even as peren­ni­als came and went in their capri­cious way.

Now any­thing goes and we’re richer for it.

A front yard full of veg­eta­bles, a lawn of laven­der, es­paliered fruit trees for a fence — it’s gar­den­ing un­shack­led.

In the last frosty days of autumn, I vis­ited a com­pact gar­den in the Du­rand neigh­bour­hood de­signed by Phyl­lis Tresid­der.

I wrote about her own Frenchthemed gar­den last year — it’s fea­tured in the cur­rent is­sue of Gar­den Mak­ing Mag­a­zine.

The gar­den she de­signed for clients has a spe­cific fo­cus: to look splen­did in the fall. And why not high­light a favourite sea­son? Maybe you love spring or fall, when the moderate tem­per­a­tures make be­ing in the gar­den a joy.

Plants se­lected for autumn in­ter­est are key but, just as im­por­tant, Tresid­der put them in a very at­trac­tive frame­work. Wood fenc­ing is painted a per­fect shade of grey­blue, and makes any plant in its vicin­ity stand out. A big, lime green hosta has a vi­brant in­ten­sity on an over­cast fall day, and the lus­cious red-orange of burn­ing bush could not find a bet­ter back­drop.

It’s easy to over­look out­stand­ing but fa­mil­iar plants like burn­ing bush (Euony­mus ala­tus), or la­bel it too com­mon, but its dura­bil­ity and fall colour are rock solid.

Cut­leaf sumac was se­lected for fall colour too, but in win­ter shows off a wel­come sculp­tural form.

The lazy and grace­ful Ja­panese for­est grass (Hakonechloa) added a spicy yel­low and green to the mix, and draped it­self over a path dis­sect­ing the gar­den.

The path was sim­ple and el­e­gant,

a com­bi­na­tion of square cut flag­stone nes­tled into a bed of pea gravel, and con­tained by lin­ear stone edg­ing. The path drains wa­ter ef­fi­ciently, is easy to weed and re­pair should a stone heave from cold weather frost. Peren­ni­als were in short sup­ply, yet the gar­den was an­i­mated by colour.

Ja­panese maples were shed­ding their bur­gundy leaves on un­der­plant­ings of ground cov­ers, and the spiky, ma­roon branches of bar­berry shrubs paired smartly with or­na­men­tal grasses.

Mixed in with the de­cid­u­ous plant­ings were a va­ri­ety of ev­er­greens, in­clud­ing mugo pines, dwarf cy­press and a large blue spruce.

Though the fall colour might have grabbed the at­ten­tion of a vis­i­tor, it would not have been so ar­rest­ing with­out the gar­den struc­ture, lay­out and care­ful choice of plant com­bi­na­tions.

Be­cause of those de­tails, I imag­ine the gar­den is just as lovely with a layer of snow, or washed by win­ter rain.

If you’re cooped up by win­ter, dream­ing about a sea­sonal gar­den is an es­cape from drea­ri­ness.


This gar­den de­signed by Phyl­lis Tresid­der has a fo­cus on fall colour. The paths, fenc­ing and at­ten­tion to plant shapes also make it suc­cess­ful in any sea­son.

Ja­panese for­est grass shows off tiny seed heads in the fall, but is at­trac­tive in all seasons.

A burn­ing bush dis­plays vivid fall colour but its winged bark is pretty in win­ter too.



The dark fence is a per­fect con­trast for the in­tense colours of this burn­ing bush.

Small ev­er­greens, Ja­panese maples and or­na­men­tal grasses pro­vide layers of in­ter­est to the gar­den. The base of the es­carp­ment is vis­i­ble just be­yond the fence.

The nat­u­ral tone of the tool shed keeps it from dom­i­nat­ing the gar­den de­sign.

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