Garden ideas for the plant maximalist

Think you don’t have room for any more plants in your garden? The wonderfully over-stuffed front and back gardens of this home in northwestern Metro Toronto will have you thinking again. The owner/gardener of this average-sized suburban lot has used every inch of space with no plans for curbing her collecting habit. I think these photos and video I took during a Toronto Botanical Garden day trip, led by Frank Kershaw during a very wet spring day in May (2017), are proof that more can definitely be more. Way more.

WEAVING A PLANT TAPESTRY WITH FOLIAGE COLOUR AND TEXTURE

The front garden (seen in the three photos above) is crammed with woody and herbaceous perennials. What makes this garden look like a beautiful tapestry (rather than a jigsaw puzzle that got dropped on the floor) is that special attention was taken to make sure the heights of each of the mature plants work well together. There aren’t any plants that seem about to be pushed out by thuggish neighbours. And though these photos captured this garden in mid-May when spring flowers are in full throttle, what captivates the eye here is the play of foliage colour and texture.

Even a narrow strip separating the front driveway from the neighbour’s driveway (seen in the photo immediately below) is filled to capacity.

The space between two driveways is filled with flowering plants.

Surprisingly, there’s are pathways that wind their way around the front garden. You see a glimpse of one path in the video below.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF EVERY INCH OF THE GARDEN

Even the front basement window wells of this home have been filled to capacity with plants. You can just make out the well (seen in the photo immediately below) softened with arching branches of Bleeding Heart. Wisely, the homeowners have a wrought iron fence around the area. Without it, the large well looks like it could be used effectively to trap a tiger. Though you see the fence easily enough in this photo, the front garden is so densely planted that it isn’t noticeable from farther away.

The window wells in a front garden are filled with plants

NO BIG REVEALS IN A GARDEN THAT TEASES THE EYE

In contrast to the front garden, with a narrow pathway traced through the dense, almost continuous planting, the back garden has been loosely divided into small themed areas. I can’t use the term ‘garden rooms’ because the areas aren’t defined as clearly as you would expect a garden room to be. Rather, each area melts into the other. And that’s not a bad thing for a suburban backyard with space at a premium.

We’ve all heard about how creating garden ‘rooms’ provides added interest as well as mystery–you want to find out what’s beyond the ‘room’ or down the path. In this garden, something that separates off an area that you can’t see through (whether it’s a stone wall or impenetrable shrubs, for instance) might feel claustrophobic. Instead, you’re cued to each area by what lies on the ground–a small patch of lawn, a path, a pond, an inviting chair. You look up and though you think you can see the entire garden, the wandering beds, filled to capacity with perennials, shrubs and trees, create a translucent curtain of shimmering greenery. Salome had seven veils yet her dance would’ve been more revealing.

BUILDING UP INTEREST

Where trellis or some kind of screening is used in the back garden, the effect seems more to provide amusement than definition, though some of the structures actually work to support plants. I think another reason why this garden seems larger is that there aren’t any matching design elements. With every screen, arbor, and piece of garden decor in a different style, adding vertical interest in its own, unique way, the garden is rich in attention-grabbing detail. Trying to look into the distance isn’t an option here.

I’m a big fan of using old fire screens in the garden. I used two of them in my last garden to provide interest as well as discourage our big dog from trampling certain plants. So I loved finding a fire screen being used in this garden. Because fire screens can be plunked into a garden, usually without additional support, they’re so handy to pick up and move to any plant that needs a little extra protection or deserves an eye-catching frame.

As you can see in the photo below, this gardener still has plenty of specimens waiting to be added to her already well-planted garden. But even these plants, still in their nursery pots, have been grouped thoughtfully to create temporary displays that invite lingering as effectively as an established flower bed. In a garden seemingly filled to capacity, opportunities for adding more beauty looks to be in endless supply.

A suburban garden filled with plants uses arbours and partial screens to create spaces.

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