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!






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