June 08, 2011

A Low(er) Maintenance Toronto Garden Bed

Do you have full sun and lousy grass in Toronto?

I often get asked about how to make a client's front lawn nice, weedless, and green (again) with minimum effort and cost. I try to answer diplomatically that these are contradictory goals. The homeowner must either put in the effort to (a) re-seed or re-sod; b) fertilize and apply weed killer regularly;  and c) mow or pay a "mo-blow-and go" landscape professional a living wage to do so.

Uncomfortable silence usually ensues.

If I'm lucky and have good karma for the day, I might meet someone/couple who sees past a brown and patchy monoculture (a.k.a. failing turf) and envisions a design that is much more more interesting and ecologically sustainable.

New garden bed with lamb's ears, salvia, coreopsis, oriental poppy by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Promising bed, not-so-promising lawn

The little (6' long by 3' wide kidney-shaped) bed above was cut out of a thin patchwork of turf. The front area of this client's house faces south looking onto a quiet street. Although the site is in full sun, the lawn is not lush and full as there is no sprinkler system involved with a poor, compacted, and infertile soil profile. With the client's input, I chose perennials and a shrub which appreciate the southern aspect and drier conditons. These include Papaver orientale "Allegro", Stachys byzantina, Caryopteris x clandonensis "Worcester Gold", Perovskia atriplicifolia, and Cotinus coggygria "Young Lady." The soil was profusely amended with homemade compost and bagged triple mix and topped with a 2" layer of mulch.

The client planted orange tulips and purple alliums last fall which have finished blooming now. We'll have a sequence of continuous blooming from April to September with minimal watering and weeding and no fertilizing. Lastly, there are plans to enlarge this bed in the future!


  1. Anonymous24.6.11

    Hi Garden muses! Good to see you're back. I know what you mean about lawns. I always get asked what someone can plant that is no maintenance, and colourful all year. Other than suggesting plastic flowers, I'm sometimes at a loss as to where to start.....

  2. Hi Lynne,

    plastic flowers for plastic people, lol! Sad to see, but plastic lawns are becoming more popular.