Simple lines, big impact in Forest Hill contemporary garden: Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling

One of my favorite gardens on the recent Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling was a contemporary garden of massed grasses and alliums in the upscale Forest Hill neighborhood. Nearly all of the gardening space is located in front of the house (the back and side gardens are very narrow). The inner garden, pictured here, is separated from the street with layers of screening, including a steel-rod fence, a naturalistically planted outer garden, and this horizontal board fence.

Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), outlined by a stone path, makes an emerald throw rug in the enclosed courtyard. In the center, a clipped, potted shrub adds height, and a solitary metal chair creates asymmetry and perhaps a little tension. Does someone sit there, or is it just for decoration?

The spherical heads of purple and white alliums, popping up from a grassy border, seem to dance along the path. They provided the only floral color that I recall. The rest of the garden was shades of green.

Bright sunlight contrasting with deep shade made photography difficult, but here’s a long shot that gives a slightly bigger sense of the garden. In the foreground is a patio with space for multiple chairs. On the far side of the sedge lawnette are two modern orange chairs facing each other, backed by a small, rectangular pond.

Chippendale-style wooden screens lay across the pond, presumably to keep out raccoons — or errant bloggers?

At the other end, a shady patio with a fire pit offers space to sit and take in the serenity of the space.

A few intriguing sculptures, including this hanging metal basket with an egg — don’t put all your eggs in one basket! — attract the eye throughout the garden.

A narrow side path leads to this pretty vignette: a robin’s-egg blue chair, Japanese maple, birdhouse, and climbing vines. Turning left…

…you pass through a rustic arbor behind the house…

…and find an intimate patio for two. A birdbath is filled with river rock instead of water — and the stones look somewhat like eggs, wouldn’t you say? I sense a bird theme.

I wish more of my photos had turned out because there were more details to show you. But here’s a close-up of the screening fence. A black-painted core (I’m not sure what it’s made of) is overlaid with 2×2 slats spaced about an inch apart, creating an illusion of depth.

And here’s the view along the street. Short metal rods, regularly spaced but unattached to each other, make a striking low fence to keep out dogs or pedestrians. A simple massed planting of ferns and birch trees fills a sloping bed between the street and interior fence.

A close-up

This is a disciplined garden, with masses of just a few species to create a restful mood. The fences, made of simple materials used in unique ways, add to the beauty of the garden.

Coming up next: Designer Marion Jarvie’s vividly hued collector’s garden. For a look back at a beautiful Algonquin Island foliage garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Garden is But-A-Dream on Algonquin Island: Toronto Garden Blogger Fling

While exploring the Toronto Islands (click for an overview tour) during Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling, I happened upon a cheery yellow cottage near the Algonquin Island harbor.

Adorned with a black unicorn and a sign proclaiming the garden’s name — But-a-Dream — it was irresistibly charming.

You enter via a tropical-looking palapa-roofed gate. Fellow bloggers Judy of In the Garden and Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden posed beneath it. (Notice: jackets and sweaters in JUNE.)

Entering, your attention is drawn immediately to a large rectangular pond edged on three sides by a boardwalk. The long section of boardwalk on the right leads the eye straight to a white-trunked birch tree with stump seating beneath. River rock of varying sizes lines the bottom and edges of the pond, creating a naturalistic look.

River rock is also laid just above the pond (upper right), like a dry creekbed, creating the impression of a stream-fed pond. Amid the stones, tall grasses and iris grow. Water lilies spread their leaves across the pond’s surface.

A mossy length of bamboo, supported by stones, pipes a steady stream of water into the pond.

Creeping groundcovers soften the hard edge where the pond adjoins a stone patio.

Bamboo poles, halved, line up to bridge the pond. The pond assumes a more formal look at this end, where the boardwalk creates a geometric edge.

Looking back toward the palapa gate, you see boats moored in the harbor, reminding you that you are on an island.

Tucked under a large birch, this delightfully rustic stump table and seating creates a fairy garden ambience.

In fact, yes, there is a fairy ornament on the table.

The side yard is patio-paved too, but geometric wooden raised beds create room to grow tulips, among other plants. A large woodpile under a palapa-roofed shelter is a testament to cold winters.


At the back of the lot, a vine rambles over a shed…

…and bikes are parked and ready for an outing.

Colorful potted begonias and sweet potato vine brighten a shelf along the back fence.

I really enjoyed this garden and struck up a conversation with the owner, Jeannie Parker. She told me that the style of the garden is Chinese, which surprised me a little, considering the tropicalesque palapas and northern Europe vibe of the birch and stump seating. But the pond, which is the garden’s centerpiece, does have bamboo, moss, and stone and the tranquil air of an Asian garden. I wish I’d had more time to ask Jeannie about the design, but I’m grateful for the visit. But-a-Dream is a dreamy garden indeed.

Coming up next: A foliage-rich garden at a storybook cottage on Algonquin Island. For a look back at a general tour of the Toronto Island cottage gardens, click here.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Geometric design creates modern garden for entertaining

I’ve been lucky to visit a number of new-to-me gardens this spring, and I have one more to show you: Jennifer Lingvai’s contemporary, designed-for-entertaining garden in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The talented B. Jane of B. Jane Gardens designed and installed it for Jennifer, who requested a low-maintenance, mostly green garden with plenty of room to entertain friends and family.

In front, a mosaic-style paver path set in Texas black gravel leads to the front porch through a no-lawn garden of low-water plants.

Block-style planting gives the garden a contemporary look.

Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia), and ‘Belinda’s Dream’ roses are each planted in two evenly spaced rows and underplanted with spreading silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea). A Hollywood driveway (visible at right), consisting of two concrete strips set in gravel, is a green solution that reduces impervious cover and helps the property absorb rainwater.

‘Belinda’s Dream’ roses look fussy but are tough and easy-care.

An apron of gravel doubles the perceived size of the front porch and creates openness at the entry. No claustrophobia-inducing, overgrown shrubs here. An airy Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) adds height to a bed of irises at right.

As you enter the back yard via the driveway, you see a beautifully designed contemporary carport that draws your eye across a neat, rectangular lawn to the back of the garden. Additional concrete strips appear in the gravel driveway here, creating a sort of patio that aligns with a small patio with built-in seating directly across the lawn. Immediately to your left is a low, open deck — a holding space, Jennifer told me, for a future house expansion.

A closer look at the built-in seating area reveals two L-shaped seat walls with two blocky planters in the middle. A grid of concrete pavers floors the space and melds with a paver path that runs along the lawn between the deck and the carport.

The strikingly modern carport, which was designed by architect Eva Schone, doubles as a covered party space that protects guests from sun or rain. Misters built into the exposed rafters emit a light, cooling spray in summer, and a fan keeps the air moving. The enclosed section, which is clad in horizontal steel planks, with a ribbon of semi-translucent glass or plastic running along the top, contains a bathroom and storage.

An upward-swooping roof protects front-porch seating. The blue poufs were being kept dry on the chairs during my late-April visit but would normally function as ottomans or extra seating.

I love the plank-like steel siding.

Along the carport, a metal-mesh screen with built-in planters and a bench (extra seating) offers a sense of enclosure and also distracts the eye from the neighbor’s garage.

Fig ivy (Ficus pumila) climbs the metal screen and will soon create the effect of a green wall. Foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri) adds soft texture below.

At back of the carport, a generously proportioned potting bench with a built-in sink is a delightful surprise. It doubles, Jennifer told me, as a catering station during parties.

Ivy on the back fence creates a wall of greenery.

As you come around the other side of the carport, a paver path leads you toward the deck. At right, an old clothesline was preserved for outdoor drying, with gravel neatly paving the space. Just beyond, steel planter boxes contain citrus trees.

This summer (the garden was installed last fall) Jennifer plans to hang a screen on the front wall of the carport and host outdoor-movie nights for her friends. The lawn offers space to spread out a blanket and settle in with a bowl of popcorn.

The deck provides space for additional seating and dining, at least until Jennifer decides to bump out an extension on the house. Currently the garden is accessed via a back door along the driveway side of the house, but no doubt Jennifer plans to add direct access when she remodels.

Contemporary planters on the deck hold an agave, variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), and a rose.

Additional metal-mesh screening and built-in steel planters give privacy to the deck seating. Easy-care, low-water foxtail fern is massed for effect.

There are so many great ideas here. My thanks to Jennifer for allowing me to share her lovely and highly functional garden with you, and to B. Jane for the introduction!

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.