Architecture Expert: Size Doesn’t Matter

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Architecture Expert: Size Doesn’t Matter

The seven-step strategy to creating an enchanting urban garden.

Creating a garden in an urban space can be a challenge. However, because most are typically small, it can be a great opportunity to invest a few really lovely details that inspire the space. Also, because gardening can be a time-consuming activity, a small garden gives you more opportunity to rest and relax in your summer oasis.

When planning your garden, you should have a strategy that encompasses the following elements:

  1. Perimeter and Plan
  2. Sun and Shade
  3. Seating/Entertaining/Relaxation
  4. Vistas and Views
  5. Hardscape vs. Softscape
  6. Greenery and Colour
  7. Lighting

PERIMETER AND PLAN The first activity on your garden-planning list should be to assess the perimeter and the plan. This should include an assessment of the fence, neighbouring properties, built structures, underground utilities, drains, etc. I would suggest measuring this and drawing a plan to scale. This will help you make decisions and allow you to take the plan to the nursery when purchasing plants.

SUN AND SHADE Next, you need to study the sun over the course of the day. What is in the shade? What areas get sun for at least six hours per day? If possible, lay tracing paper over your plan and mark the areas. I suggest using yellow highlighter for sun, and blue highlighter for shade. If an area gets about three hours of sun mixed with mostly shade, mark it in a different colour.

SEATING/ENTERTAINING/RELAXATION One thing to determine is the type of garden that you want. What will be the purpose? Might it be for flowers, vegetables or herbs or relaxing? Or entertaining? How much use will it get? How many people would you like to seat? Will it simply be for viewing? Will you attract bees or butterflies? Or, perhaps a rabbit or two?


VISTAS AND VIEWS After assessing the type of garden you want, determine what possible views you would like to make interesting. Many people decide to study the garden from the window and from the front or backyard. I suggest taking photos, printing them at 8.5 by 11 and using tracing paper to create some ideas for visual interest. Imagine a fence as a backdrop for planters or tall grasses. What would a burst of red flowers look like against a bench? How might you disguise a drain or water main with planting? What if you added a small gazebo or pergola? SoliCanada from Quebec offers some lovely structures with motorized louvers and shades. What about a water feature? This is where your creativity should shine! Use a stack of tracing paper and come up with some crazy ideas, and then whittle them down based upon feasibility, cost and sun patterns.

HARDSCAPE VS. SOFTSCAPE Next decide how much of the garden will be hardscape and how much will be softscape. Hardscape includes: fences, pavers, concrete, walkways, stepping stones, sun structures, retaining walls, etc. Softscape includes all planting areas. Make a wish list and prepare a budget. Hardscape costs can add up quickly, especially if it requires experts to execute. There are many, many choices for paving stones, both natural and manmade. Part of the secret of installing them is providing a good base that doesn’t heave in harsh Canadian winters. Many homeowners opt for poured concrete under pavers, especially if they have large areas. One thing to consider is investing in a landscape company for the hardscape. A good landscaping company will understand what needs to be provided to minimize movement of pavers and also for proper drainage away from the house. While I am a big fan of natural limestone and slate, I also like the look of concrete pavers. Some brands to consider are Permacon, Bestway and Banas Stone.


GREENERY AND COLOUR When choosing plants, make sure you understand longevity, perennials vs. annuals, blooming times and planting instructions. Determine what type of heights you would like to see first. Are you going to plant a few trees? Will they be a focal point? What will be potted vs. planted? Are you aiming for some winter greenery for the holiday lights? Speak to the nursery about evergreens that do well in our climate and are easy to maintain. A selection of evergreen shrubs can create a lovely backdrop to flowers. When choosing colours, analyze perennials vs. annuals. I recommend saving annuals for one or two accent pots and planning perennials that are a better investment over time. While some owners like vibrant mixed gardens, sometimes it’s better to group colours for a higher visual impact. For example, use a flowering white ground cover and then accent a certain area with tall purple Alliums.

LIGHTING Consider extending the use of your garden to early morning and night with landscape lighting. DVI and Eurofase, both Canadian lighting companies, have some great choices for outdoor lighting. Consider wall sconces, fence lights, pendants (under canopies, gazebos and pergolas) and in-ground lighting to spot trees, shrubs or statuary. If you are completely lost when deciding on landscape lights, consider making an appointment with a lighting supplier such as Dark Tools for help with your plan. For any electrical needs, hire a professional as well unless you decide on solar power lights.

Most of all, whatever you decide, the garden is a great way to showcase your creativity. Happy Planting!



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