June 30, 2018

A Front Garden Makeover in Toronto's "the Beach" neighbourhood

Landscape Fabric: The Gift from Previous Landscapers that Keeps On Giving


Creating a little bit of beauty is hard enough for a gardener. You may have ideas about how a garden (maybe your own) can be improved visually and functionally but realities like the existing soil and light conditions, presence of mature trees and, more often than not, the condition of your finances can throw such ideas for a loop (or right out of the window.) Low on the list of limiting factors is and should be the presence of that gawdawful stuff known as weed or landscape fabric. But during this Toronto front garden makeover in "the Beach" area, that nasty black material reared its ugly head not once but twice.

Shari and Andrew, the clients, hired me to weed and re-design their small front garden that faces a very busy street. The site receives full sun until about noon with a medium-sized ornamental pear tree shading about half of the garden. Due to the garden's proximity to the lake (Ontario), there's usually a prevailing wind which brings in plenty of weed seeds. There was no mulch on the garden's soil so, of course, the weeds took full advantage as shown below:




New Front Yard Garden Makeover Before in the Beach by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
New Front Yard Garden Makeover Before in the Beach



(Keen eyes will notice the Colorado Blue Spruce to the left in the above picture. The root ball was planted on the neighbours' side of the property line by a few inches undoubtedly but trees have a bad habit of actually growing so this conifer that was likely planted as a cute "Christmas tree" is slowly but sure on its way to achieving a mature height and spread of, hmmm, say 50 feet (minimum) high by 20 feet wide. The clients aren't too happy with this, understandably.)

Here's the garden from other angles, "pre-makeover":



The Beach Front Garden Makeover Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Front Garden Makeover Before



New Front Garden Before in the Beach by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
New Front Garden Before in the Beach



Front Garden Makeover Before in the Beach by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
Front Garden Makeover Before in the Beach 



The Beach Front Garden Weeding Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Front Garden Weeding Before 



The weeding itself wasn't too bad for me since the garden isn't large. It's always interesting to note what weed species will dominate an area based on soil and light conditions. In this case, I yanked out mainly Petty Spurge and Toadflax and little else.

Shari wanted new perennials which had green or chartreuse foliage and white flowers only so we came up with a list including the "Holy Shade Garden Triumvirate" of Hostas, Heuchera, Hakonechloa in the shadier sections while a white flowering perennial sage (Salvia) and annual Alyssum were to be planted in the sunnier area near the fence.

Transplanting should be an exciting time, even if the soil isn't perfect loam and free of roots and construction waste. For this garden, however, it became a "challenge" when I quickly discovered that a previous gardener and likely the builder had installed not one but two thick layers of landscape fabric under the first 3 inches of commercial topsoil. Of course, digging through these layers with a shovel is impossible so I had cut through and shape something resembling a circle to allow me to dig to the proper planting depth. Repeating this for a dozen 1 gallon sized perennials was maddening and I created some new expletives in my mind for the professionals who put this fabric down for me.

Why is this practice continued? As the "before" shots wonderfully show, the fabric does nothing to prevent wind-borne weed seeds from germinating on top or weeds travelling by underground rhizomes from moving below and occasionally up and through the fabric. I just marvelled at the idiocy of rolling out fabric and then putting down a 3 inch layer of topsoil without mulch. 

Anyway, back to nicer topics like freshly-transplanted baby perennials:




New Front Yard Garden Makeover After in the Beach by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
New Front Yard Garden Makeover After in the Beach





The Beach Front Garden Makeover After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Front Garden Makeover After 



New Front Garden After in the Beach by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
New Front Garden After in the Beach



Front Garden Makeover After in the Beach by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
Front Garden Makeover After in the Beach


Alyssum (a sweet scented annual for us) was planted at the front next to the path leading to the door. Behind there are Heuchera, Hostas and Salvia in keeping with the green and white colour scheme.




The Beach Front Garden Weeding After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Front Garden Weeding After 


Originally I thought to plant the Alyssum along this sidewalk border shown above but the "soil" was mainly pea gravel so for the sake of simplicity and minimal maintenance, I placed some mulch on top instead.

All in all, this was a lovely makeover to plan and execute but I'd love to have the previous gardener explain his/her thought process about spreading down the landscape fabric under some fresh topsoil you added afterwards. 

Idiot.

June 27, 2018

Midtown Toronto Summer Front and Backyard Cleanup

When Mulching Doesn't Preclude Actual Weeding


I was half-expecting being contacted by Alex, the client in this post, to weed his rental property's front garden this spring. And why wouldn't I? I installed his new garden last May as profiled in my blog post mundanely titled "Mid Toronto new front garden installation: Another Toronto Front Garden Makeover" and have seen how the new transplanted perennials have coped with wave after wave of weeds germinating and thriving in the garden bed over the past year.

I last visited this garden in October 2017 for a fall cleanup so for the past eight months, nothing has been done in terms of weeding, watering and other garden maintenance tasks. (As a reminder, the tenants in this rental property naturally don't get involved and the owner lives off-site.) Last autumn, I asked Alex to provide me with more mulch as the existing layer was very thin and patchy; consequently, weeds would easily gain a foothold (roothold?) again. He didn't drop any mulch off so the garden has been like a lab experiment: it will have shown what weeds have germinated, their growth rate and how the new perennials have responded to such competition for sunlight, water and nutrients. 

Alex did contact me after all and we scheduled an appointment. When I finally arrived several days ago, I wondered what the state of garden was and then saw this...


Midtown Toronto  Front Garden Cleanup Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Midtown Toronto 
Front Garden Cleanup Before



Midtown Toronto Summer Front Garden Cleanup Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Midtown Toronto Summer
Front Garden Cleanup Before



Toronto Midtown Summer Front Garden Cleanup Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Toronto Midtown Summer
Front Garden Cleanup Before



Toronto Midtown Front Garden Cleanup Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Toronto Midtown Front
Garden Cleanup Before



Avenue Road Midtown Toronto Summer Front Garden Cleanup Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Avenue Road Midtown Toronto
Summer Front Garden Cleanup Before



Midtown Avenue Road Summer Front Garden Cleanup Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Midtown Avenue Road Summer
Front Garden Cleanup Before



By Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company, A Toronto Midtown Summer Front Garden Cleanup Before
A Toronto Midtown Summer
Front Garden Cleanup Before



Quite a weed patch, no? To be perfectly honest, I wasn't shocked. I knew the conditions were very good for weeds to flourish here. The garden is in a very exposed and windy site so weed seeds travel very easily here. There is a layer of mulch but it is quite thin (only about one inch in depth) as it has decomposed slowly over time. The garden, also receives full sun from the morning right until late afternoon. And, lastly, two downspouts drain into the garden so there's plenty of moisture accumulating after every shower or thunderstorm.

Still, I was surprised to see how well the weeds have grown in relation to the perennials planted last year.

I started to pull out the weeds, roots and all, and quickly entered my zen-like "weeding state of flow." Seriously, I just think about what's for dinner, the clients I have to see the next day, and my achy knees.

 Here are some weed "all-stars" I yanked out which made the list:
  • Perennial Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis)
  • Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta)
  • Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)
  • Common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)
  • Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus)


and more than few run of the mill dandelions and broad-leaved plantains.


More than a few hours later...




Midtown Toronto Front Garden Cleanup After by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Midtown Toronto Front
Garden Cleanup After 



Midtown Toronto Summer Front Garden Cleanup After by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Midtown Toronto Summer Front
Garden Cleanup After 



Toronto Midtown Summer Front Garden Cleanup After by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Toronto Midtown Summer Front
Garden Cleanup After 



Toronto Midtown Front Garden Cleanup After by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Toronto Midtown Front
Garden Cleanup After 



Avenue Road Midtown Toronto Summer Front Garden Cleanup After by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Avenue Road Midtown Toronto
Summer Front Garden Cleanup After 


Midtown Avenue Road Summer Front Garden Cleanup After by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Midtown Avenue Road Summer
Front Garden Cleanup After 


By Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company, A Toronto Midtown Summer Front Garden Cleanup After
 A Toronto Midtown Summer
Front Garden Cleanup After



After cleaning out the bed, I spread a good 3" layer of cedar mulch over as much of the bare and exposed soil as possible and away from the crowns of the perennials. While the mulch will greatly reduce the quantity of weeds germinating, it won't automatically result in a "no-maintenance" garden, at least in this location.

I evaluated the growth progress of the perennials I planted last May and the results were mixed. One Fountain Grass (Pennisetum) died surprisingly, the Tickseed (Coreopsis) didn't grow a lot, maybe due to being smothered by weeds, the Echinacea, Little Blue Stem grasses and butterfly weed (Asclepias) grew very well while the Blazing Star (Liatris) was so-so. 

The adage that perennials "sleep, creep and leap" in the first, second and third years after transplanting seems to be true! Or it's just a random thing. 


I still like how it rhymes though.


Bonus cleanup in the backyard


The tenants at this property also have the ability to use the backyard patio to rest, relax and have a few drinks and nibbles. 



Toronto Midtown Summer Backyard Garden Cleanup Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Toronto Midtown Summer
Backyard Garden Cleanup Before 


But apparently the invitation was never accepted. I wonder why? Hmmmm...



Toronto Midtown Summer Backyard Garden Cleanup After by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc.--a Toronto Gardening Company
Toronto Midtown Summer
Backyard Garden Cleanup After 


I tried to make it a little more cozy back here by weeding in between the pavers, cutting back the wild grape, weed tree saplings and rambunctious Euonymus (winter creeper) and just sweeping up. Now the space doesn't look like raccoons have been squatting there.

June 23, 2018

Tiered Front Garden Makeover in the Beach: A Mini-Rant and Case Study

Gardening Beyond Boxwoods, Hydrangeas, Yews.... 



The longer I work as a gardener in Toronto, the more I notice how similar many front gardens are (I can't speak for the backyards, just what I see travelling from one client's residence to another by public transit.) Maybe they're not similar in design (although "foundation planting" is still alive and well) but many share a  general lack of imagination and excitement. Maybe you see it where you live. I call it, off the top of my head, the "Big Box Store Plant" template: the over-using of shrubs and perennials found for sale in the same place you buy your lumber or paint. For us in Toronto, these plants include the ones listed in the title along with lilacs, spirea, "Stella D'Oro" daylilies, purple leaf Sandcherry, Burning Bush, ad nauseum.

The template isn't correlated to a neighbourhood's property values either: tonier sections of the city share the same plants with those found where the unwashed masses (me included) live. The former just have the ability to pay for pristine upkeep at the price of incessant noise and air pollution from gas-powered mowers and blowers. I half-jokingly think to myself that neighbours are paying a lot in property taxes for this privilege.

(I'll the the first to admit that my front yard is s*it but the neighbour's huge silver maple does limit planting options a little. So I let the horde of lily of the valley do its thing and wait for the neighbourhood's anonymous letter "suggesting" that I fix the front.)

I'll chalk it up to mental and physical fatigue: I'm more than a little jaded (and tired) right now and part of this is due to a bad habit of noticing plants and front gardens (call it an occupational hazard.)  There are few "aha!" moments, more like "meh" or "gosh, that's really fugly" thoughts. The last thoughts usually involve garden gnomes, miniature windmills or sadistic pruning examples.  

I'll do something about this instead of moaning on. In fact, I have been avoiding using and planting these "common as nails" landscape plants for a while now.

My modest goal, then, is this: I'm going to try not to add another mundane Toronto garden.

Accomplishing this with clients is a fine art though. If I come across as either arrogant or indifferent, things will end up badly. So gentle persuasion is required, especially if I'm spending someone else's money. The ideal client, when planning for and planting a new large garden, is one "committed to the vision" and has the means and desire to pay for it. These two elements need to be present; otherwise, the client really should have bought some trays of annuals and call it a day.

I met this particular client, Wendy, several months ago. She lives in "The Beach" area of east-end Toronto and normally I don't travel that far for business but she seemed (and is) a nice person and the project was interesting at first glance. Her front garden is composed of many raised beds (I'll call them "tiers" from here on) to deal with the change in elevation from the sidewalk to the front door. 




The Beach Toronto Tiered Front Garden Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Tiered 
Front Garden Before 




The Beach Toronto Front Tiered Garden Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Tiered Garden Before



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier One Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier One Before 


There were many of the aforementioned common shrubs in these tiers: half dead globe cedars, one very dead Serviceberry, a spireae, a purple leaf sandcherry and several euonymous. That is, plants that you cannot avoid seeing walking down almost any street in Toronto and, I suspect, many other places.




The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Two Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Two Before



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Four Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Four Before 



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Five Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Five Before



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Six Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Six Before 



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Seven Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Seven Before 



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Eight Before by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Eight Before 



I asked Wendy what type of gardens and flowers appeal to her and consistently she showed me pictures of perennials with silver-leaves and/or blue flowers. The tiers face west so I could choose perennials which prefer full sun, drier conditions and pump out flowers for as long as our short growing season allows. I also chose plants that offer pollinators a reason to visit in the summer and birds to visit in the winter.

Wendy and I went back on forth on my choices, subject to what she liked and what was available in the garden center until a master plant list was finalized.  Off she went shopping and while her credit card took a bit of a hit, most importantly, she "shared the vision" and bought everything on that list.   

Before we took delivery of the new plants, the beds had to be emptied and weeded. I "shovel-pruned" everything to give us a blank slate. Wendy wasn't sentimental about any of the existing plants (and neither was I) so out the plants went into the compost bags.

The soil in the tiers was mediocre to average so I added many bags of composted cow manure as added insurance to get the puny one gallon containers of perennials established.

After this grunt work was completed, the fun part of any new garden makeover and installation began: actual transplanting! I showed Wendy some of the basics of transplanting small plants (digging a hole wider than deeper, making sure the plant is placed at the proper soil level (not too deep or shallow), etc.) and she keenly helped.

And here are the tiers after transplanting and mulching:



The Beach Toronto Tiered Front Garden After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Tiered 
Front Garden After 


The Beach Toronto Front Tiered Garden After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Tiered Garden After 


The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier One After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier One After 



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Two After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Two After



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Four After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Four After



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Five After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Five After



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Six After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Six After 



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Seven After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Seven After



The Beach Toronto Front Garden Tier Eight After by Paul Jung Gardening Services--a Toronto Gardening Company
The Beach Toronto Front 
Garden Tier Eight After

The gaps in some of the tiers were due to some of my plant choices not being available at the garden centers. I offered alternatives and she'll get these later in the season.

What was planted? Mainly perennials which prefer full sun like


  • Daylily
  • Rudbeckia
  • Echincea
  • Catmint
  • Speedwell
  • Tufted Hair Grass
  • Variegated Iris


The business of gardening, like any other business, is mainly about managing client expectations. If you're not paid and just volunteering your time, that's fine and noble too but if payment isn't received, you don't have any "skin the game." So, as in the case of any new garden I put in, I always stress the after-care requirements. This also serves as a CYA ("cover your a*s) so no one can claim "you didn't tell me to water them regularly!"

I don't offer a warranty for dead plants since clients pay me just for my time on site so, in a way, this gives them an incentive to look after their new plants. For Wendy's new garden beds, the critical factor is regular watering by hand (there's no automatic irrigation in place) for the first summer at least until the plants' root-balls achieve the size suggested by the Holy Grail of a transplant's evolution: "once established." 

I would love to come back in the future to see how the perennials and shrubs fill in. 

And not one boxwood or hydrangea in sight!