June 23, 2017

Cabbagetown Shade Garden Makeover

A Downtown Toronto Garden Gets a Facelift


Along with my regular garden maintenance visits, I'm occasionally asked to "fix" gardens that have been forgotten or abandoned and reverting to their "natural" forms (tall weeds which have gone to seed, tree seedlings now becoming sturdy saplings, ancient "foundation" shrubs which haven't been pruned since the early 1980s, etc.) Usually, I demur with these "rehab" type of projects as it's more cost effective for the garden owner to hire a crew of younger and stronger men and women to clear the brush and produce a clean slate. 

It preserves my back as well.

I also receive requests for a new garden design and this post covers my recent experience with a garden that hadn't gone to seed but over the years, I felt, it had lost its way from a design perspective.

During my initial meeting with Carol, the client, she mentioned that her backyard garden originally had a Japanese garden style. The "Shishigashira" Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira') certainly contributed to that but I couldn't see too many other elements. Sure, I wasn't expecting a tea house or a strolling garden or moss garden in a typically small downtown Toronto backyard (if you know of one, advise me!) but I thought perhaps seeing a water feature or a rock garden along the lines of karensansui.  I didn't see or feel anything remotely Japanese, garden design-wise, but rather, a part-shade garden with many disparate elements. So while the "hard" elements like the patio and fencing were already established, I could tinker in the margins, literally.

Below is a set of "before" pictures taken from the interlocking brick patio, going around 180 degrees or so. You'll notice that the garden looks full in some places and bare in others.


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



Cabbagetown Toronto shade garden with new perennials before by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Cabbagetown Toronto shade garden
with new perennials before 



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



Cabbagetown Toronto shade garden with new perennials before Paul Jung Gardening Services
Cabbagetown Toronto shade garden
with new perennials before



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



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


There were several perennials and shrubs (e.g., the herbaceous peonies, Japanese maple, and quince) that were not to be moved but everything else was fair game.


Texture, unity, rhythm


No, this subheading isn't my company's new brand tagline (if you want it, it's yours!) but are design principles which usually go through my mind when I'm asked to create or reconfigure gardens.  Carol's shade garden had some interesting contrast in texture (the hostas and one clump of Japanese Forest Grass), a weak sense of unity as there were phlox and sedum in a supposed Japanese garden design and a weak sense of rhythm (few plants were massed or repeated in groupings beside the ubiquitous green "filler" hosta).

I've concluded over the years that when owners express dissatisfaction or malaise with their gardens, these three design principles are either weakly expressed or absent. They (the clients) may not verbalize it this way but they certainly feel it. My challenge is to pick up what they feel and verbalize a solution.

Lucky for me, Carol understood the reasoning behind the garden "makeover" and we decided on suitable part-shade tolerant perennials and shrubs arranged coherently and pleasing to the eye (well, pleasing to her eye more importantly as she has to look at the garden regularly.) 


In a similar fashion to the "before" pictures above, we'll go around the garden after removing, adding and moving new plants:




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

I removed all the perwinkle, trimmed the "Emerald Gaiety" euonymus and replanted the existing sedge and the "Dale's Strain" Heuchera. I added new groupings of toadlily (Tricyrtis), Japanese anemone ( "Honorine Jobert" is the classic variety used here) and "Ivory Prince" hellebores.



Cabbagetown Toronto shade garden with new perennials after by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Cabbagetown Toronto shade garden
with new perennials after 

On the right side, I planted a new grouping of Japanese Painted Ferns, Japanese Forest Grass ( "Aureola") and a "Nova Zembla" rhododendron to the right. I removed a young and awkward-looking fruiting cherry sapling that was near where the rhodo is planted.




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

I kept the green barberry in the picture's centre and small cluster of Pachysandra and re-purposed some Brunnera (Siberian bugloss) whose parents were originally variegated "Jack Frost" but over time self-seeded these all green versions. Carol wanted one false spiraea (Sorbaria sorbifolia) under the redbud tree, an area where, in her words, "nothing grows" in the hopes it suckers. If the Sorbaria dies, then truly nothing will grow there.

Looking at this picture again, I'll ask Carol to plant another Forest Grass where that stone is located at the border. It reminds me of a kid with a big tooth missing when he smiles: initially charming but becoming distracting over time.

(This is the view looking straight out from her deck and kitchen door.)



Cabbagetown Toronto shade garden with new perennials after Paul Jung Gardening Services
Cabbagetown Toronto shade garden
with new perennials after 

I kept the quince at the right in the photo above and placed a grouping of "June" hostas. Yes, they're baby sized but give them a few years and they should shine. Fortunately, the quince isn't heavily suckering at all so keeping it isn't onerous.



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

Under the quince and in front of the existing clump of Japanese Forest Grass,  I placed a grouping of "Skeleton Key" Tiarella (foamflower) and more Japanese Forest Grass under the cedar to "soften the edge" of the pavers. (Whoever came up with the phrase "soften the edge" as it pertains to "hardscaping" and "softscaping" deserves a cookie!)




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

A better view of the repeated Hakone grass, one of my favourite perennials. Okay, it's number one!


As I was leaving after tidying up, Carol wryly admitted her Japanese garden became a run of the mill shade garden over time but she seemed content with that.