THIS IS FULL FRONTAL GARDENING
Call it “full-frontal” gardening — when a gardener decides to remove a front lawn and replace it with flower beds.
I’ve always liked the concept. But it needs to be done well — and with sensitivity to neighbours. I’ve seen “full-frontal” gardens that look overgrown and abandoned: a mess of plants with no discernible design.
Then there is the lawn-free garden of Nancy and Doug Gordon on a little cul-de-sac near the Red Hill Valley. The front (and side) garden suit the house and neighbourhood, look welcoming and well-tended, and blend ornamental and edible plants into an attractive whole.
Their Bettina Avenue garden is part of the Open Garden Week offerings that continue through next Monday; theirs is open today (Wednesday), Friday and Monday to any and all visitors. Dozens more gardens are also open before Open Garden Week concludes July 10.
Nancy has been in this house since she was 20. It’s now a fourgeneration household: she shares it with her husband, Doug, her mother, a daughter and son-in-law and a granddaughter. Her granddaughter is an avid garden helper and competitor on the tic-tac-toe table that’s part of their front garden.
The story of their garden begins with a semi-lawn of “desperate grass,” she says. It had little chance under a big old little-leaf linden tree. They can be messy trees, but have their charms, too and this particular tree has lovely, spreading branches and is a wonderful anchor for the garden.
Having weeping tile replaced left the front with mounds of dirt. She and Doug — who married in 2010 — eventually hired someone with earthmoving equipment to scrape away the mounds and grade the front. A family friend provided a design and the couple went to work.
The results are spectacular. The garden is designed around a flagstone “patio” that provides a home for an inviting garden bench, that tic-tac-toe table, and dozens of containers. More on those in a moment.
The flagstones are surrounded by flower borders that combine perennials, some annuals, and a kind of backbone of small trees and shrubs — boxwood, dogwood, yew, a lovely Japanese redbud tree. There’s a nice variety of hostas, a Japanese maple that’s struggling now, Nancy says, a pink potentilla, and barberry.
But back to those containers: Nancy has planted broccoli, red, yellow and orange peppers, beets, onions, dill and six containers of potatoes. There are planting boxes of herbs — “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme like the song, and chives” — Swiss chard, kale and lettuce. Oh, and strawberries are fruiting now, too.
Rabbits are a major garden pest there, so Nancy uses netting to protect the berries and found cloche covers — transparent plastic “lids” with large holes on top for her pots — at a local dollar store. They’re protecting most of the Gordons’ “crop” — except for the lettuces, of which Peter Rabbit and Co. seem to be particularly fond.
Their kitchen garden pots and containers blend into the garden design and the vegetable plants are
The garden down the side of the house is designed for eating, too. But not by them. This is a pollinator garden, planted to attract and nourish butterflies, moths, bees and other beneficial insects. There is a “bee house” on the wall, five butterfly bushes, columbine, Ohio spiderwort (a plant I’d never seen before), lilies and other flowering plants.
There’s a peony plant, near where the front and side gardens meet, with a story to it. It had been a gift from Nancy’s grandfather to her mother. When they moved to the house on Bettina, the peony was left behind. But her mother didn’t forget about it, and mentioned it a few times to Nancy. So Nancy went back to the old house, peeked over the fence, started talking to the current owners and, yes, was able to retrieve some of the old plant to bring “back” to her mother.
“I never knew I’d get the gardening bug,” she says. “I’m out here all the time now.”
Nancy had practised a form of intensive vegetable gardening called square-foot gardening when her children were small. But after her first husband died and she was raising the kids, there was little time for that. It seemed frivolous.
She got back into the garden, so to speak, shortly before she met Doug. Now, it’s important. It’s a part of her interest in environmental issues.
“It doesn’t feel frivolous anymore,” she says. “It feels compulsive.”
For more information on visiting the Gordons’ garden or other gardens open through July 10, see The Spectator of June 29 or go to www.thespec.com.
Clockwise from top: The Gordons’ “full frontal” garden; Nancy made this game to teach children about pollination; a home for bees and butterflies; Stella d’oro lilies, one of many varieties of perennials in the Gordons’ gardens.
Nancy and Doug Gordon cuddle in their garden.
Seedlings that Nancy Gordon will give out to Open Garden Week visitors.
Strawberries on the vine.
Open Garden Week: For more information on visiting the Gordons’ garden or other gardens open through July 10, see The Spectator of June 29 or go to www.thespec.com.