Au­gust is a fine time for a saunter around the neigh­bour­hood to col­lect de­sign ideas

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - KATHY RENWALD

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.


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