October 27, 2017

What Would You Do? Constraints During the Garden Design Process

Tabula rasa: A blank slate can present some plant selection challenges


(Note: Maybe half a dozen times a season I'm asked to design and plant a new garden for clients. In the past, I've posted pictures of what the garden looked like before and after and sometimes included some of the plant names.  I thought it would be interesting to get your thoughts and suggestions about what you would plant in these type of case studies. I'm in zone 5 Toronto but if you have non-hardy choices, that's fine! I'll put up the "after" pictures for today's "lesson" and give you some of the plant suggestions I made in a separate post later. This is meant to be fun and maybe we can learn a little bit from each other too.)

Requests for me to create new gardens usually occur in May and June when homeowners are itchy to have new plants put in or to start anew from scratch. Coming out of a long Toronto winter, I can hardly blame anyone to think of their garden in a fresh and new way. 

But I did get a request last month to come up with a plant list for some new backyard garden beds, which is unusual given that we're in the fall.

It isn't too late in the year to transplant new perennials, shrubs and trees. I think autumn is a great time to put in new plants because the air temperature and humidity are lower compared to trying to plant in July and August, the soil is warm and often you can get plants on sale at the garden centre. Of course, there may not be a great selection of plants on sale and what's on the shelf could be picked over.

Colin and Monica, the homeowners, moved into their Humewood-Cedarvale neighbourhood house recently. As we walked around the backyard, it was apparent that new sod was just put in (I didn't see a single weed!) and the fence recently was installed. Likely, all the old existing plants were removed, the ground scraped and levelled, many rolls of sod were laid and a few rectangular beds were created. Literally, a tabula rasa or "scraped tablet."

I took these pictures below of the three proposed garden beds:




Humewood-Cedarvale new backyard garden installation before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Humewood-Cedarvale new
backyard garden installation before


Humewood-Cedarvale Toronto new backyard garden installation before by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Humewood-Cedarvale Toronto
new backyard garden installation before


Humewood-Cedarvale new backyard garden perennial bed before by Paul Jung Gardening Services Toronto
Humewood-Cedarvale new backyard
garden perennial bed before 


Toronto Humewood-Cedarvale new backyard garden installation before by Paul Jung Gardening Services
Toronto Humewood-Cedarvale
new backyard garden installation 


Here are the dimensions of each bed (length by width, approximately, in feet):


  • the back window bed: 17 x 2.5
  • the bed near the BBQ: 9 x 2.5
  • the back fence bed: 25 x 2 (not a typo)


And here are some site inventory and other important notes:


  • the backyard receives full sun for most of the day 
  • looking towards the back fence, you're facing east
  • the garden bed soil is native clay with 6 inches of new topsoil placed on top
  • no automatic irrigation exists currently
  • the new fencing is all horizontal, made from some exotic hardwood
  • the house is a modernist "box"
  • the clients want to see as much of the yard through the back windows and from the small patio
  • the clients know very little about gardening as they have just moved from a condo
  • they prefer an "Asian" garden design
  • they offered no plant suggestions, specific likes or dislikes, or websites showing me what resonated with them

Given all the above, what would you suggest in terms of plantings and why?