Our gardens, terraces, and balconies have become our safe havens during these pandemic times – providing us with private space in which to enjoy nature and tranquility. We asked landscape architect, Kate Fox-Whyte, about gardening today and her top tips for your private outdoor space.
Question: What are the top current trends in landscape design?
K. F-W: We’re seeing more contemporary gardens, and an interest in more native and environmentally-friendly, naturalized plantings. Clients are also integrating vegetable gardens into the overall plan of their landscaping.
Photo: Bob Gundu
Green roofs are another popular trend. Sedum is a great choice for a green roof, as it is hardy, has shallow roots, is easy to maintain, and requires little water. But we are also doing green roofs with full gardens, including perennial plantings. The City of Toronto has an eco-roof incentive program. For all the details, go to: https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/water-environment/environmental-grants-incentives/green-your-roof/
Question: While some people own large, country properties with lots of room for expansive gardens, others must work within a much smaller, city-sized lot, or a condo or townhome balcony or terrace. What are the most important principals to apply to each of these?
K. F-W: When you live in a condo apartment or townhome, your first consideration is likely privacy from neighbours. So start with a large-scale planting, like a tree in a planter, to make your outdoor space seem more like a garden, and to provide that much-needed privacy.
If you have a large country property, a meadow with mown paths is great. Also, take your sightlines into account. Do certain trees need pruning, to make the view more attractive?
For your city-sized garden, it’s all about space planning, to maximize use. Maybe you build a deck with wide stairs that can also be used as extra seating. Be sure to add plant material to soften the edges of any hardscaping included in your landscape design. Planting will also make a small garden feel bigger!
Photo: Industryous Photography
Question: Some of us have a “green thumb”, while others just can’t seem to make anything grow or stay alive. What are the best plants for someone with a “black thumb”?
K. F-W: Perennials and hardy, native ground covers are best. Plant some Oak Sedge, Wild Ginger, native Anemones, or grasses (which provide a lot of structure to a garden). Even artificial grass has its place. It can be a good solution in densely-shaded areas, where grass won’t grow. Be sure to surround it with plantings, to add a natural feel.
Question: How can you best hide the view of something that spoils the look of your garden?
K. F-W: Depending on what you’re trying to hide, you can use hedges, or layer plant materials of different heights. If you’re trying to hide a piece of mechanical equipment, you may want to build an attractive screen or wall in front of it.
Question: What are some of your favourite flowering trees and shrubs to lend colour to a garden?
Japanese Flowing Quince
K. F-W: For the spring, I love Japanese Flowering Quince, Canadian Serviceberry, and Redbud. In summer, PeeGee Hydrangeas, Shrub Roses and Star Magnolia are so pretty. For fall colour you can’t go wrong with Oak Leaf Hydrangeas or Paperbark Maple. You can also include flowering grasses, such as Fountain Grass, Autumn Moor Grass, and Switchgrass.
Pee Gee Hydrangea
Question: What do you consider to be the top three rules for a successful landscape design?
K. F-W: You have to consider the site; every garden must relate to its context. You must also consider the views of your garden – including the views out to the garden from inside your home! Finally, your garden should have a strong relationship to the architecture of your home, in terms of lines, materials, and layout. These three elements are the key to a great design. Your landscaping can’t be an afterthought; it is part and parcel of your home.
Question: What is the biggest surprise you’ve ever encountered, when working on a project?
K. F-W: A few years ago, we completed a project in Oakville. Early on in the site planning and research, we discovered that the surrounding five properties all drained into an existing pipe below the clients’ driveway, connected to an area stream that drained out to Lake Ontario!
We had to bring in a civil engineer to design a new drainage channel, hidden at the side of the property, and a new storm sewer to run below the clients’ driveway. Though we do a lot of storm water management design for our clients, fortunately this is not something we encounter regularly.
Question: What is the strangest thing that a client has asked for?
K. F-W: Every garden we do is different, each site having its own particular assets and challenges. And, of course, for each project we undertake, clients always have their particular wants and needs for their gardens. We were recently asked to incorporate a golf simulator building into a garden. Though not at all strange, since our clients are avid golfers, this was definitely a first for us!
Question: Where do I start, if I want to have my property landscaped?
K. F-W: As with any design project, you have to start with a master plan and a budget. If you love the master plan that your landscape professional has proposed, but it’s too much of a financial investment to handle all at once, discuss how to break that project into manageable phases.
Kate Fox-Whyte is a landscape architect based in Toronto. She is a member of the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects, and is licenced to practice in both Canada and the U.S.