RENWALD: DESIGN WITHIN REACH
August is a fine time for a saunter around the neighbourhood to collect design ideas
You can look at books and magazines and YouTube videos about making a garden, but sometimes the best ideas are steps away from your front door.
Walk around the neighbourhood and see what other avid gardeners are doing. This really is design within reach.
Suddenly, the mornings are cooler and conducive to a reconnaissance saunter. These walkabouts reveal clever ideas about front-yard garden design. A great looking garden adds immensely to the charm of a house.
In the north end we have small front yards, but the ideas I see are big.
I like a house nearby where bamboo plays large in the landscape.
Bamboo scares people. Its vigour is shocking, a single shoot can grown to maturity in four weeks.
So before planting, know what type of bamboo to use. There are runners, which are too aggressive, and clumpers, which are manageable. Some types are hardy and others will not survive the winter.
Research it online. Or a good book to check out is “Bamboo for Gardens,” by Ted Jordan Meredith. This book has excellent advice on keeping bamboo in check by planting it within a barrier, and also on hardy bamboos for cold climates.
Bamboo is a member of the grass family, and that’s why it’s useful as a landscape plant.
It adds height, movement and an
exotic mood to the garden, while not depleting a small yard of sun — which a big tree would do. It looks perfectly at home with modern architecture, which is how it is presented in the garden in my neighbourhood.
It frames a pair of wood and glass doors and softens a set of wide wooden stairs that lead to the sidewalk. Closer to the sidewalk, two stone steps replace the wood ones, and at ground level a small piece of artificial grass, the size of a welcome mat, solves a challenge. It’s cut to accommodate the city water shut-off valve.
Small ornamental grasses, lavender and a lovely short-needled pine complete the attractive garden.
Another challenge is the sloping front yard, and there are a lot of them in the lower city.
Not many of us want to cut grass on a slope but if you want a garden, the soil needs to be retained. I liked the solution I saw where the homeowner built a series of terraces bordered by rock. These aren’t any old rocks, they are dramatic ones with veins of different colour, striations and sparkles.
Planted with perennial geraniums, coreopsis, coneflowers, native prickly pear cactus and phlox, it’s cottagelike and colourful.
Next to the terraced garden, another inviting front yard features two red Muskoka chairs sitting on a carpet of thyme, and nestled in a planting of shasta daisies, hydrangea and coneflower.
In another yard, an iron fence has become a living fence. With a mixture of periwinkle, Virginia creeper and cedars, the effect is like a living wall; it delivers privacy but with more colour and texture than a wooden fence would provide.
Walking and studying neighbourhood gardens always offers up reminders of plants you love but don’t have. Sunflowers are missing in our yard, which is a shame because they are so happy looking.
Shrubs that bloom in August are overlooked too.
I thought of that as I stopped to smell a fragrant summersweet shrub. The proper name is Clethra alnifolia. I don’t have it because it likes slightly acid, moist soil, but is fine in full sun or some shade. If you have those conditions, plant one.
The hefty and showy rocks are a good match for bold coneflowers and phlox.
A friendly front yard with Muskoka chairs set in a little clearing and surrounded by perennials.
Oversized stairs and plantings are in scale with the size of the front yard.
Top: The showy sunflower is a staple of August.
Middle: An iron fence becomes a living fence with vinca, Virginia creeper and cedars. A string of lights highlights texture at night.
Left: Bamboo suits homes with modern design. Just be aware of its spreading habit and choose wisely.