Tag Archives: Garden


In The Garden: Garden Tourism

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In The Garden: Garden Tourism

It’s been said that there are two types of people in the world – those who love to garden and those who love to look at gardens. If this is the case, then introducing Garden Tourism into our lexicon, is long overdue.

Apparently, more than 27 million people who visited Canada last year, visited a public garden. We don’t have to travel far to see great gardens, as there are many in our own neighbourhoods – so get out and explore.

Close to home

A couple of years ago, Michael Gauthier came up with the Canadian Garden Route concept, and it was a big hit with train travellers. Along the Via Rail Garden Route, participants can choose to visit from a list of gardens, as they would choose their preferences from a menu in a restaurant.

In recent years, I’ve visited 11 of these gardens, and can vouch for all of them. These public attractions offer a broad appeal for casual gardeners who are only browsing, as well as those who like to get their knees dirty. I’ve listed a few of my favourites.

Butchart Gardens, B.C.

This garden is nothing short of magnificent. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why Walt Disney World used Butchart Garden as its model for the entrance into the Canada pavilion at Epcot Theme Park in Florida. When touring this treasure, keep in mind that it was once an open pit gravel mine, and that it was Mrs. Butchart who had the inspiration to convert it into a garden.

Halifax Public Garden

I haven’t visited every public garden in North America, but this destination is the best example of a Victorian-style public garden on the continent – so I’m told. This public space is located in the busy city centre of Halifax, and is, entirely, livable from all points of view.

Plan to visit in the spring, summer or early fall, as the gates are locked during the winter. The original gazebo has been replaced with a new one, in keeping with the style and period of the gardens. There’s no charge for entrance, but the quiet time that you’ll spend in this garden is, as they say, priceless.

Niagara Parks School of Horticulture

I’ve visited this garden almost every year since I joined my father in the nursery business in 1978. Not only is it a teaching facility, but it’s a public show garden. To experience something of the same calibre, you’d have to travel to Wisley or Kew gardens in England. This garden showcases the latest in garden design, the unveiling of new annuals, as well as the enthusiastic use of perennials and roses.

Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens

If you’re a Canadian history buff, add this to your must-see list. The British saw fit to settle in North America for close to a century, and the French settled here and made it their permanent home. The garden demonstrates how life was lived by the original settlers in the 1600s. Seasonal crafts and food are also featured on guided tours.


Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @MarkCullen4. MarkCullen.com


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Garden Expert: Come One, Come All

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Garden Expert: Come One, Come All

Create biodiversity in your yard to ensure a growing population of pollinators

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ~LAO TZU

I made several insect hotels in my wood working shop for some of my gardening friends. They were received graciously but, at the same time, with a common query: “What IS it? What does an insect hotel do? What kind of insects will it attract? Are they all good for my garden?”

An insect hotel encourages insects to visit and reside in your yard. It can be as simple or as complex as you choose. There are many designs for insect hotels, and if you are a creative type, you can create your own.

Clearly, this discussion has a long way to go. It started with concern about the decline in the honeybee population, and has extended to the general concern shared by naturalists everywhere about the problems with our native population of pollinators.

We are no longer concerned exclusively with the decline of honeybees. Truth is, there are over 700 species of native bees (honeybees are not native) that serve as primary pollinators ‘out there’ in the natural environment, many of which you can attract to your yard with an insect hotel. In addition, there are thousands of other invertebrates that either pollinate over 30 per cent of the plants that we rely on for food, or are essential members of the web of insects that make up the whole show.

Take a winter moment to digest the following and you will be on your way to understanding the whole, big picture.

1. UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF BIODIVERSITY. The word comes from ‘biological diversity.’ WWF defines it as, “The term given to the variety of life on Earth. It is the variety within and between all species of plants, animals and micro-organisms and the ecosystems within which they live and interact.” Biodiversity in your yard is represented by the range of naturally occurring plant, animal and insect life that exists in it. There is much that you can do to increase biodiversity, or the range of life in your yard.

2. PLANTS–PACK THEM IN. Do not underestimate the impact that you can have on the beneficial insect life in your neighbourhood by planting flowering plants. The longer each plant produces a flower, and the more of them, the better. If you have a minimum of six hours of sunshine in your garden, you are in luck. The varieties of plants available to you are nearly limitless. If you are dealing with shade, you also have opportunities to plant flowering plants galore, but you will need to be more thoughtful about your plan. In either case, place your plants densely to attract the maximum number of pollinators.

3. GO NATIVE…OR NOT. A recent study in England indicated that it is not important to a bug that a plant is native, if it produces a blossom that attracts them in the first place. According to the results of “The Plants for Bugs Pollinator” research, it is the diversity of plant material that attracts the maximum range of bug species, not whether they are native. To quote the study, “The value of a site can be maximized for pollinators by choosing plants from different regions of the world.”

4. ADD WATER AND DON’T STIR. Adding a still-water element is the single most impactful feature that you can add to your garden or balcony for attracting pollinators. A pond in the yard or a half-barrel on the balcony works just fine. When you add a water feature, I can guarantee that you will discover wildlife in your yard that you have never seen before. As dragonflies, salamanders, frogs, toads, water beetles, amphibians, mammals and bugs discover your new drinking hole, they will grow, thrive and breed.

We are only beginning this discussion about the importance of creating biodiversity in our yards and gardens. As I look in to the crystal ball, I see the interest in attracting pollinators and creating biodiversity in Canadian gardens as growing steadily.

DIY INSECT HOTEL: Use natural materials and arrange them in such a manner that insects find attractive and move in. NB. They don’t like a sanitized environment. Instead insects like messy and thrive on clods of rotting leaves, rough-cut lumber, or better still, a stack of rotting, split firewood.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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In The Garden: Last Minute Gardening Must-Dos

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In The Garden: Last Minute Gardening Must-Dos

For those of you who thought you were done with your lawn and garden responsibilities for the year – think again. Here’s a last-minute check list.

Fertilize the lawn

This is the best time of year to apply the most important application of lawn food. Before it goes to sleep for the winter, your lawn will absorb the nutritional benefits of a fall feed. Nutrients and sugars are stored in its roots in anticipation of the long, cold winter ahead. Choose a fertilizer with a slow release nitrogen (which is the first number), and high potassium (the third number), like 12-0-18.

Wrap the cedars

Cedar trees that are close to the road, especially those that are located on the east side where they are susceptible to the salt spray carried in the westerly winds, are the most vulnerable. To prevent permanent damage from the salt, wrap them in a layer of burlap, and then wrap them a second time. The two layers protect them from drying out – especially those that feel the brunt of the winds from the west, and from the north.

Organic composting

Ideally, all the leaves have now fallen from your trees, and you’ve raked them off your lawn and on to your gardens. If you have a compost pile or bin, now is an excellent time to empty the contents of it on to your garden. Spread it with a rake and let it sit there over the winter. Come early spring, earthworms will pull the raw compost under the surface of the soil and convert it into nitrogen rich castings.

Protect fruit trees

Mice and bunnies can do quite a bit of damage by nibbling away at the bark of fruit trees that are less than six years old, especially if we get an average dump of snow this winter. Wrap each tree with a plastic spiral that extends about one metre up the trunk, from the ground. After the tree has aged for more than six years, the trunks of most trees become too tough for rodents to enjoy.

Refresh and renew

Protect rhododendrons and other wind sensitive evergreens, like taxus (yews) and boxwood, with one application of Wilt-Pruf – it helps to prevent the drying effects of the wind, as well as the low humidity that we experience during our Canadian winters. Hang on to the leftovers and apply Wilt- Pruf to your freshly cut Christmas Tree. It works better than any other preservative that I’m aware of.

Clean the bird feeders

While I don’t anticipate seeing any hummingbirds until mid spring, there still may be wasps around at this time of year. Therefore, make sure to bring in the hummingbird feeders, and clean them in warm, soapy water. All bird feeders should be cleaned to help reduce the risk of disease.

Now that you’ve battened down the gardening hatches for another year, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at MarkCullen.com


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Garden Expert: In The Food Garden

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Garden Expert: In The Food Garden

Cooler temperatures still yield garden goodness.

I have been thinking about food a lot lately. Every time I go out into my 10-acre garden, I am reminded that the food I grew with such pride through the summer is melting away into pockets of rot. But I am here to tell you there is an encore happening in your garden, and the celebration is not quite finished. It won’t be, in fact, for another few weeks.


Leeks are running my life these days. I grew more than I expected on account of when I sowed four packets of their seeds, I had 110 per cent germination (an impossibility, I know, but this is how it feels to be successful in the garden). Every gardener has had this experience. Leeks enjoy the cold, especially temperatures below freezing. They get bigger and better by the day.


Carrots are much the same. “Bring on the cold weather,” they say to one another as they huddle shoulder to shoulder in the cold, sandy soil. I suggest that you dig them soon and put them in bushel baskets of dry sand to hold them over the next couple of months in your garage or cold cellar. They can carry on their discussion there while waiting for you to bring them to the table.


You will no doubt be picking up a pumpkin at your local food retailer or farmers’ market soon. I suggest that you keep it on your porch or in your garage until Halloween just to prevent it from being hit by frost and going gooey and rotten before the big day.

I remind you that pumpkins are 90 per cent water. Therefore, throwing them out or disposing of them at the end of your driveway makes no sense. Think about all the garbage trucks in early November that are driving around with large, orange vegetables: neat packages full of water. It makes more sense to place it on the surface of the soil in your garden and let Mother Nature rot it down into something useful. In time it will assist in building microbes and organic matter there.


The whole routine of planting and harvesting garlic is counterintuitive. You plant the cloves now in open, welldrained soil. Come July, they will sprout a long stem with a pigtail and flower on the end of it: this is called a scape. Three or four of these sell for big bucks at the farmers’ market in July, so cut and use them. Every part of the garlic plant is edible, so be creative and use the flowers in salads or whatever you are cooking on the barbecue that time of year. Harvest the garlic in August and leave the bulbs in the sun for a few days. Then tie the stems together and hang them in a cool, well-ventilated place until you are ready to use them in the kitchen.


If you had a great crop of raspberries this season, now is the time to cut them down by removing the canes that fruited this summer. Cut the woody stems to the ground. Leave the young growth that occurred in August to mature and produce fruit next season. If you have fall-bearing raspberries, then finish picking and cut down the fruiting canes next spring.


If you have a large rhubarb plant in the garden, now is an appropriate time to dig it up, divide it into smaller root portions and replant it or give away some of the divisions. This is also true for hostas, daylilies, monarda, and many other perennial flowering plants.


Strawberries that have been in the same soil for three years or more are ready to be dug up, separated, and moved to new ground. Make sure that their new home is completely weed-free at the time of planting or you will regret it. Weeding strawberries is not my favourite job.


Spring is when the new plants are available for sale and therefore planting. However, if you have an established clump, now is an appropriate time to make sure that it is weed-free. Let the leaves and stems stand over winter. They will help to accumulate snow as a natural insulator and they add some interest to the winter garden.

It may be late in the gardening season, but don’t forget that the garden still needs some of your attention.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden, published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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In The Garden: Raided in a Bed

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In The Garden: Raided in a Bed

Tuck plants in for an extended season.

If you’re thinking of building a raised bed in your yard, urban gardener Tara Nolan has the answers to all of your questions. Nolan is an authority on this subject, and with all the changes in the business of gardening over the recent years, it’s great to have a comprehensive, go-to book on this very popular topic.

Early autumn is the perfect time of year to get handy and build a raised bed to plant in for this season, or in preparation for spring.

There are caveats to the raised bed phenomena. The roots of winterhardy plants are exposed to excess cold in the depth of winter. With this in mind, choose plants that are hardy in a planting zone one above your own. For example, plant winterhardy plants that are rated for Zone Five in a Zone Six Toronto garden.

Raised beds also tend to dry out more quickly than ground level beds. On the positive side, this can decrease the likelihood of over watering, which is at the root of 90 per cent of all plant problems. However, you do have to be vigilant about watering especially during hot, dry weather.

Tara Nolan is a Canadian writer. Her book is a comprehensive treatise on the subject, with a third of the book dedicated to DIY raised bed projects.

Raised Bed Revolution – Build It, Fill It, Plant ItGarden Anywhere is published by Cool Spring Press.

Why build a raised bed?

In her book, Raised Bed Revolution – Build It, Fill It, Plant It…Garden Anywhere, Nolan dedicates 12 pages of reasons as to why you might want might to build a raised bed for your veggies and ornamentals. Here are some of my favourites.

  • Season extension
  • Start earlier, harvest later. The soil in a raised bed warms up quicker come spring. If you have a glassedin structure around a raised bed, or use white Reemay cloth, you can extend the season for several weeks.
  • Control soil quality
  • People frequently ask me what they should do with clay soil. They’re never happy when I advise them to dig out 30 to 40 centimetres of the clay soil and replace it with 50 to 60 centimetres of new triple mix. When you build a raised bed in your yard, you don’t have to dig down and remove the soil. Fill the raised bed with the best quality, weed-free soil that you can get your hands on.
  • Accessibility
  • At Wind Reach Farm (a centre designed to meet the needs of individuals with a variety of disabilities in Ashburn, Ontario), I saw some of the most practical, and handsome, raised bed gardens for wheelchair gardeners. If this is a consideration, be sure to design a wheelchair garden with a wraparound feature for the plants on the left, and a shelf for shallow rooted plants on the right, so that the gardener can belly up to the garden with their legs safely nested underneath.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at MarkCullen.com


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Garden Expert: A Few of My Favorite Things

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Garden Expert: A Few of My Favorite Things

Mark singles out some of his preferred garden performers

It’s late summer and the autumn planting season is on our threshold. Soon, we’ll be tempted by the new plants that growers deliver to retailers. We will be drawn to their colour and fragrance; the pollinators in our neighbourhoods will be drawn in as well. Bees, songbirds, hummingbirds (back from a vacation in the Boreal forest), and of course, butterflies will enjoy our new additions, no doubt.

In my ongoing efforts to help you prioritize your plant-buying decisions, here are some of my favourite garden performers:


HYDRANGEA [Arborescens]

When we built our home in my dream garden eight years ago, I had an image of a giant mass of Annabelle hydrangeas nesting their metre-high blossoms at the foot of our front porch.

To accomplish this, however, I had to plant big. Twenty-seven new plants were placed about 80 cm apart and nurtured into a mass planting that when they grew in, came very close to the mental image that I had of them before I put them in the ground which, frankly, seldom happens.

Annabelle hydrangea was introduced around 1888 and stands as a stalwart perennial shrub bloomer. Virtually no insects or disease are a problem and they stay put for the most part, not travelling across my yard seeking to take over like many other perennials do.


BLACK-EYED SUSAN ‘GOLDSTURM’ [Rudbeckia fulgida]

‘Goldsturm’ was named the 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year. It blooms for up to three months. Three months! What perennial does that? And has virtually no enemies in the bug and disease departments. I do get some aphids on mine from time to time but I just blast them with a stream of water from the end of the hose to fix them. They love the sun, grow to 60 cm tall and they do spread from year to year. I find that I can control their spreading habit by cutting out the new root with a sharp spade in spring.


SPEEDWELL [Veronica]

Another perennial that comes back year after year in my garden, only this one gives me two seasons in one. It produces a 50 cm spire of blue flowers in early to late July, which I cut off with hedge shears the first week of August. Then they re-flower in September and the flowers last even longer, due to the cooler temperatures that time of year. You can cut Speedwell flowers and bring them indoors. Hummingbirds and honeybees like them.


STONECROP [Sedum and sempervivum]

I performed an experiment with these indestructible plants three years ago. I used the roof of a garden shed on my property as a garden in which I planted the lowest maintenance flowering perennials known to humankind: sedums and sempervivums. The results were a little slow in coming but now, in the third season on my shed roof, they are a showstopper. I planted about 12 different varieties, each blooming at slightly various times for a succession of bloom. The first year, I watered and weeded quite diligently, last year much less so, and this year I have done nothing. They have rooted in and provided a great show with virtually no work. Plant them in containers, rock gardens, wall planters, and of course on your roof. They like a soil medium that is at least 40 per cent sharp sand and 60 per cent compost/soil.



I have lost count of the number of hosta plants that I have in my 10-acre garden. Lots. And I love them all. This family of broadleafed perennials includes some mammoth varieties. Sometimes their name says it all: ‘Wide Brimmed Hat,’ ‘Big Daddy,’ ‘Skywalker,’ and ‘Blue Mammoth.’ Others are very small and considered appropriate for the hosta collector but otherwise these may get lost in your garden. Look for ‘Flash Forward’ and ‘Blue Mouse Ears,’ which only grow to 15 cm high and wide.

My real favourites are the tough ones that tolerate shade, thrive in the sun, and can take the competition of mature tree roots. One of my favourites is ‘Halcyon,’ featuring bluish leaves and August flowers. Another is ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ [the 1998 American Hosta Growers Hosta of the Year] featuring a long-flowering plant in July/August that smells wonderful with lime/ivory leaves. Grows to 50 cm high and wide.

With over 7,000 varieties in the hosta family, there must be a few that would appeal to you. The flowers of hostas all attract hummingbirds and bumblebees. Another bonus.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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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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Cover Story : Beauty In Abundance

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Cover Story : Beauty In Abundance

Photography By Larry Arnal

Sculptural, serene and sophisticated, a layered lakeside garden provides changing and spectacular views all year long.

Some homes have great synergy with the landscape—the plants hug the house, and the ivy nestles in comfortably. When Sarita and Arthur Peltomaa bought this charming lakeside house in 2004, it had lots of curb appeal, but the yard came into its own years later after an extensive overhaul. “It was beautiful, with mature trees and shrubs, but the landscape was old and tired. Our vision was to freshen it up, add some living space and give it a style that better reflected the owners,” says landscape designer Adrian Bartels, who owns Cedar Springs Landscape Group in Oakville, Ontario.


The owners, a creative pair with two teenagers, wanted a place to relax and entertain, and to add curb appeal to their wide corner lot. Sarita is a psychologist who brings a Zen approach to the garden, while Arthur is a lawyer and sculptor, whose work is displayed prominently in the new design. “We integrated a large rock by the archway to display his various pieces,” says Sarita. In fact, a lot of heavy rock was moved in that transformed the space with visual interest and texture. The stone, along with well-placed evergreens, forms the structure behind the low-maintenance garden, breaking up the large lot into smaller, cosier spaces.


It all adds up to a very sophisticated design that isn’t trying too hard—upscale but not ostentatious. “It’s somewhat eclectic—a transitional blend of natural, Japanese and traditional English garden,” says Bartels. First the overgrown shrubs were removed, and then a series of new plantings went in to revive the ailing yard. “The varieties and styles are very much English garden with boxwoods, hydrangeas, and vinca groundcover,” he says.

FRONT EAST SIDE: hills yew hedge with phantom hydrangea trees in between (brunnera and blue hosta in front), begonias (annual), tropical oleander trees, let’s dance moonlight hydrangea, vinca ground cover, little Henry itea, rose glow barberry, and hosta


Sarita found herself very involved in the process. “I grew more interested in plants and became more aware of my own preferences in terms of colour, and the types of flowering plants that I like,” she says. Her input and the family’s personal touches really make the space sing. It’s a reflection of how they live here. “We can sit in the courtyard nestled away, and listen to the pond; we can walk out from our kitchen into a private, gardened breakfast nook that has some lake views; and we can roast marshmallows in the firepit,” says Sarita.

POND AREA AND BACKYARD: sedum in the rocks, bobo hydrangea, hinoki cypress, icee blue juniper, begonias (annual), cascading japanese maple, boxwoods, tricolor beech tree, cedar hedge backdrop behind arbor, and hosta


FRONT SOUTH SIDE: bobo hydrangea flower carpet roses, yews, begonias (annual), dwarf hinoki cypress, little Henry itea, christina source (flanking the side door), blue hosta and japanese maple. Blue spruce, hosta, vinca ground cover and yellow hosta.


To carve out dedicated entertaining space, a new patio was laid. “We used natural square-cut flagstone, which was designed to be quite geometric in shape. We relied on the plantings to soften it up,” says Bartels. “The idea was to create a patio that transitioned from the house to the dining area and also cantilevered the koi pond.” The pond, which was also modernized, is a favourite feature of most people who come here. “Since water is “nature’s laughter,” it tends to be the highlight of many gardens, and I think this one is no exception. I particularly like how the patio integrates up to the edge of the pond,” says Bartels.


Landscape designer Jenna Earle from Bulow’s Garden Centre and Landscaping was also heavily involved as the years went on, adding in new garden beds. Earle used plantings in keeping with a woodland garden. She mass-planted hydrangea for maximum impact and colour all summer, and used hardy yews and versatile hostas, all low maintenance, to great effect. “A really neat gem of the garden is the parade yews against the house in the backyard. They are the perfect evergreen for a narrow space. The form on them is spectacular,” says Earle.

Designer Lou Ward created a serene vintage garden-room using a mix of antiques and a bold Ralph Lauren floral wallpaper. The sunroom also acts as a pass-through to the home’s bedrooms on the other side.


With each season, the garden changes, giving the Peltomaa family beautiful vistas year-round. The house was fitted with expansive new windows with views to the garden from almost every room. A favourite spot is the Frenchinspired sunroom, decorated by local designer Lou Ward to complement the outdoors and to embrace Sarita’s love of French antiques. The elegant and serene space is swathed in a botanical print and drenched in sunlight thanks to a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and double doors. It’s hard to think of a more ideal spot to sit with a cup of tea in the morning and take in the lush greenery beyond.

Outside, the large yard, divided into smaller “rooms,” works well for moments of quiet relaxation or hosting a louder, larger crowd. And with a stellar lake view, and the bubbling sound of the pond, it’s quite therapeutic. It seems the house isn’t the only thing in harmony with the beautiful new garden. “I just love that it’s peaceful and calm. We can enjoy nature all around us,” says Sarita. “It feels like a sanctuary.”

SOURCES INITIAL LANDSCAPE DESIGN: Cedar Springs Landscape Group EVOLVING GARDEN: Bulow’s Garden Centre SUNROOM: Lou Ward FURNITURE: Petit et Jolis; WALLPAPER: Kravet; CUSHION FABRIC: Bilbrough; MIRROR: The Millionaire’s Daughter; ACCESSORIES: White Pear Studios and Pier 1

Catherine Sweeney is a Toronto-based writer and editor who focuses on art, design and architecture. She has worked for numerous publications including House & Home, Designlines and Azure.


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Garden Expert: Home Turf

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Garden Expert: Home Turf

These lawn-care tips promote healthy and green grass throughout the peak summer months

Now that June is here, summer weather will come calling, with high temperatures followed, no doubt, and a lack of water. It is time to sit back and let your lawn take care of itself. You can have a great-looking lawn without the supposed ‘work’ or environmental detriment. This is the perfect time of year to get to work on it and make a season-long difference.

Environmental Benefits of Lawns

According to the North American Lawn Institute, an averagesized suburban lawn produces enough oxygen to support a family of four. A lawn is not some green carpet that the Blue Jays play on (which is fake turf) but a high functioning, living, breathing colony of oxygen-producing plants that are knit together to form a low-growing welcome mat to your home.

A properly maintained lawn is cool to walk on as it transpires moisture through its blades. As it cools the air it also cleans it, through the miracle of photosynthesis.

As rain falls, toxins are filtered through the sophisticated root structure of grass plants. Not only do grass roots slow the flow of water through the soil, preventing flooding, but they also absorb an enormous amount of moisture in the normal course of their workday. That is not to say, however, that a lawn is a water hog.

You can give your lawn a boost and help it do its job more efficiently by following these few simple steps:

CUT YOUR LAWN HIGH Six to eight cm will do the job. For generations we cut our lawns much shorter, not realizing that tall grass blades produce deeper roots that are more drought tolerant. Also, the taller the grass blades, the fewer the weeds as weed seeds are ‘shaded out’ by the grass before they get a chance to germinate. More on weed control later.

USE A MULCHING MOWER The cut grass blades are regurgitated up into the cutting chamber of the mower where they are re-cut before being thrust down into the root zone of the grass plants. As they decompose they add precious nitrogen to the soil: the element that grass plants crave the most.

FERTILIZE THREE TIMES A YEAR Sometimes lawn fertilizer is called lawn food but this is inaccurate. The fact is, your lawn feeds on soil-borne nutrients and takes the nutrients up with the assistance of microbial activity in the soil. It is a little complicated. What you really need to know is that a quality lawn fertilizer provides nutrients to the soil that are used by the grass plants to grow and thrive. The aforementioned nitrogen is the primary ingredient in a spring/early summer application of fertilizer, and is always represented by the first number in the three number analysis on the bag.

SLOW-RELEASE NITROGEN The nitrogen that produces the best results in your lawn is most useful to it when it is released over an extended period of time. One of the most sophisticated forms of slow-release nitrogen is sulphur-coated urea. It releases nitrogen to the root zone as rain falls, temperatures rise, and microbial activity occurs in the soil. Iron also plays an important role, as it helps to produce green chlorophyll, deepening the colour and enhancing the appearance of your lawn quickly.

OVERSEED Spread triple mix or lawn soil over areas where bare patches occur and apply quality grass seed by hand at the rate of 500 grams per 40 sq meters. Rake smooth, step on it to bring the soil and seed in firm contact, and water well until the roots have taken firm hold. Remember that a thick lawn is your best defence against weeds. Alternatively, consider a new product on the market this season that combines dehydrated compost with quality lawn seed that you apply with a lawn spreader. Look for Golfgreen Iron Plus Lawn Recovery. It is amazing!

WATER LESS As we approach the summer season, the temptation to get out the lawn sprinkler will pull at you. I urge you to hold off until there is a real need. A lawn will grow nicely without water for up to 7 days. If it hasn’t rained for a week give your lawn a drink and apply about 2 cm to make sure that it moves down to the root zone where it is really needed.

DON’T WATER If we get into a drought situation, forget about watering all together. Your lawn will stop growing and it may go brown, but for the most part it will be dormant, not dead. That is, unless the drought continues for four weeks or longer, at which time my theory of ‘dormant not dead’ could prove erroneous. I argue that watering at that point is not going to solve the problem of dead grass. See below.

If you do experience dead areas in your lawn this summer, plan on overseeding in mid-August. By late September your grass will have revived and will be looking good again.

The lawns that we grow here are a cool weather crop. That is why there is more sod grown per capita in Ontario than anywhere in the world. We do it because we can. We have fabulous golf courses, partly for this reason, also.

Final note: If you have racoons or skunks digging up your lawn, you likely have grubs feeding on grass roots. June is the month to apply dormant nematodes, available from garden retailers. Water these microscopic insects into the soil thoroughly after application for best results.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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In The Garden: Get Your Fruit On

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In The Garden: Get Your Fruit On

Growing fruit trees has experienced a ground swell of interest over the past few years. There’s no better time of the year than right now to make your purchases at your local garden retailer, as the selection doesn’t get any better as the season wears on.

In southern Ontario, the apple is the number one fruit tree of choice. The McIntosh apple was developed here. A lonely apple tree, without a mate, might yield some fruit, but it’s advisable to have two apple trees. If there’s an apple tree nearby in full flower at the same time as said tree, both will produce many more apples.

Insects and disease are an ongoing concern, and many people want to know if they should spray. The answer is yes. I have 40 apple trees in my 10-acre garden and I spray them all with dormant spray in April before the blossoms break open, and again after the blossoms drop (around the beginning of June). I apply a combination of End All insecticide, along with garden sulphur or the lime sulphur that comes in the dormant spray kit. These products are safe to use and environmentally responsible.

The cross-pollination category that requires mates to maximize their fruiting also include pear, cherry and plum trees. However, sour cherries, like Montmorency, are self-fruitful (pollinated by pollen from another flower on the same fruit tree). A Canadian introduction called Stella, which is classified as a sweet cherry, does not need a mate.

Self-fruitful fruit trees include peach, apricot and nectarine, and they all need a good pruning after the winter. Each spring I assess the winter damage on my trees and prune out any dead wood. Then I open the tree up to the sun and wind by pruning out the heaviest wood right down into the heart of the tree. This makes for odd looking trees, but great fruit.

Pears are the easiest fruit to grow. They generally do not like to be pruned, and they are the least susceptible to insect and disease problems. For the most part, your tree will be overloaded with fruit every second year.

Canadian-grown fruit trees provide some assurance that the tree is hardy to your area, and suitable for growing in our weather and soil conditions.

Plant all fruit trees in open, nutrient rich soil. Peaches really enjoy a soil mix that is 50 per cent sand. Never plant a fruit tree in a depression where water accumulates, as none of them enjoy wet feet. Plant high, dig a wide hole about a metre in diameter, and use three or four bags of quality planting soil mix. Stake your trees for the first three or four years, and in the fall put a spiral plastic rodent protector on the trunk to prevent rabbit damage.

In her book, Growing Urban Orchards, Susan Poizner explores the ups and downs, as well as the how-to’s, of caring for fruit trees in the city. OrchardPeople.com

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at MarkCullen.com


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