A rustic meets zen garden hides surprises

Can you make a retaining wall look like garden sculpture? Can you camouflage a lush zen retreat within a rustic ranch-style enclosure? The owners of this full-of-surprises home and garden in southwestern Ontario (zone 5) sure did and they made it all look so easy. Compared to the other homes and gardens I saw on a recent Toronto Botanical Gardens tour, this place really wowed for its chameleon-like charm. Directly below you see the front of the plank-clad home. The front porch (on the left) has an almost-full-size wooden sculpture of an Asian warrior and his steed. Despite this tip-off, what was revealed behind that plank wall to the right was a complete surprise.

A ranch-style home with garden combining rustic touches and Asian garden styles

Walk behind that plain plank wall and you found a lush retreat complete with dining area. The wall also hid a tranquil pool lined with a bench and it supported a variety of hanging flower containers.

On one of the home’s walls that enclosed this oasis, a gallery of framed succulents helped underline the zen-meets-rustic feel.

Beyond this area, flanking the side of the house, was a narrow patio which overlooked a grassy, terraced hillside sloping down to a pond. A rock garden filled with succulents and other drought tolerant plants bordered the patio. Pavers in the walk up to the patio were surrounded in a carpet of thyme. Below it, a narrow strip of lawn was lined with a second row of boulders, adding interest as well as erosion control.

But one of the most surprising parts of this unique melding of rustic and zen was the way a very utiliatarian retaining wall lining the parking area at the side of the house was transformed into what amounts to a huge garden sculpture. In the top left photo you can see how the drive and parking area, wrapping around the side of the house, is lined by a large retaining wall. Another rock garden flanks the left side of the wall with a staircase leading to the upper meadow. If you’re standing in the meadow, you can just see the car peaking out. The huge stones used to construct the wall have been played up with trellis for clematis and in one large crevice, smaller rocks have been wedged in so that water can naturally tumble down. Who says a retaining wall with built-in drainage has to be ugly?

Once you’ve had a chance to explore this home and garden, you realize that practicality has been a huge part of the design process. But despite the important roles they play on this hillside location, the retaining wall in back and terraced lawns in front look like garden features first, adding wonderful notes of texture, colour and interest to a rustic meets zen garden full of surprises.

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