May 25, 2016

Cabbagetown shade garden makeover

Massing as a design principle in a shady Toronto backyard garden


A case of "been there, done that" for many gardeners, myself included. During my horticultural novice and "newbie" days. I went plant shopping much like grocery shopping: I picked up one of this plant, one of that plant, another one of a different perennial, etc. This makes sense when picking up a loaf of bread or a bag of milk (milk comes in bags for us in Ontario, which is a bizarre concept for many out of province visitors) but doesn't work too well when it comes to garden design.

This came to mind when I first visited this client's backyard Toronto garden in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood  last fall. As a new gardener, she made some common "rookie mistakes" like planting shrubs that needed full sun in her shady yard, placing a redbud tree in a very narrow bed close to the fence, and buying three of one variety of perennial but planting them separately in different beds. (For the record, we all have done variations of the above, including all too many "professional" landscapers and gardeners.)

It's very apparent how disparate the plantings were. You had one perennial here, the same variety by itself somewhere else and the third in the trio in another bed. Repeat this several times and you can see how there wasn't unity in the plantings.

Here are some "before" examples:


Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc
Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover before

Cabbagetown garden makeover before Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Cabbagetown garden makeover before


These aren't the best pictures as the perennials are either going into dormancy or are hidden by leaves but perhaps you can make out one ornamental grass sitting beside one Heuchera sitting beside one hosta....

Yes, in the picture immediately above, this small bed contained one smokebush, one ninebark and the trunk you see is a redbud. Not ideal plant placement, shall we say, given their mature sizes and present location.

Fast forward to this spring and I came up with a list of new perennials and shrubs that fit in better with the shady surroundings. I also simply grouped all the same type of perennials that were already in the gardens but seemed to be lost when planted by themselves. Here are "after" pictures of the two views above.



Cabbagetown Toronto garden makeover after by Paul Jung Gardening Services Inc
Cabbagetown Toronto garden makeover after


Cabbagetown garden makeover after  Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Cabbagetown garden makeover after 



Massing the same plants together goes a long way to create unity in the garden and nothing rests the eye and brain more than unity, cohesion and congruence (if these goals are what you intentionally aim for.)

I removed two ninebarks, two smokebushes, one small redbud tree (all were donated)  and added three dwarf Fothergilla gardenii, three Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia "Ruby Spice") , one "Rainbow Pillar" serviceberry, and the garden's focal point was a very lovely (you sense my envy?) Acer palmatum "Orangeola" Japanese maple.

New perennials added included "Jack Frost" brunnera and "Ivory Prince" hellebores. Many existing hostas were divided and/or simply grouped together. They seemed much happier!


Nothing sells a plant faster than its flowers and this "Mt. Airy" Fothergilla and his/her nursery relatives were likely snapped up. It's a delightful shrub which I've profiled in a blog post before:

I need to get this plant: Dwarf fothergilla. Horticultural lust for Fothergilla gardenii

The fall colour in this garden should be outstanding!


Dwarf Fothergilla gardenii Mt. Airy in Cabbagetown Toronto garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Dwarf Fothergilla gardenii "Mt. Airy"
in a Cabbagetown Toronto garden 

Once the transplanting was finished, I kidded with the client that "it's actually looking like a garden now!"

I think you'd agree too.

More "before" and "after" pictures of the various beds from different viewpoints. The width of the entire backyard is only 25-30 feet in shade, typical for a downtown Toronto backyard.


Cabbagetown garden makeover before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Cabbagetown garden makeover before 


Cabbagetown garden makeover after 


Cabbagetown garden makeover before Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Cabbagetown garden makeover before


Cabbagetown garden makeover after by Paul Jung Toronto Gardening Services
Cabbagetown garden makeover after 


Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover before Paul Jung Gardening Services
Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover before


Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover after Paul Jung Gardening Services
Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover after


Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover before by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover before


Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover after by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Toronto Cabbagetown garden makeover after 



Cabbagetown Toronto garden makeover before by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Cabbagetown Toronto garden makeover before



Cabbagetown Toronto garden makeover after by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Cabbagetown Toronto garden makeover after