My Garden Design: Part I


I received a comment from Rebecca at In Your Garden that got me thinking. I had posted the pictures of my Serviceberry Allee and she had asked how I came up with my design.  I answered her comment, but I felt that it needed something more. Julie from My English Country Garden had very cleverly put a map on her blog. It was so helpful, when she was describing a section of her garden, you could look at the diagram and visualize it. So I thought that I would try something similar.

When we purchased our home in May 2006, I was given this.

The Before 

 The Before

 The lot is 210 x 150 feet.

You can see it is a rough sketch from the architect that was selling the house and the 3/4 of an acre property. She applied to have two 35 foot lots severed off the property, which would have demolished the garage and she would have built a new driveway on the east side. But I wanted it all, or none. It is very difficult to find such a large property in a city (even a small one like Owen Sound). We can walk to the downtown, with a grocery store and a Tim Hortons within 10 minutes, yet we feel like we are in the country. That is in large part to the Niagara Escarpment. You can see in the lower left hand side, it is 40 feet from the edge of our property to the bottom of the Escarpement. This is a high forested hill, that is protected and not to be built on. Thus, we always have privacy (and lots of shade, birds, and squirrels, with the occasional skunk, racoon and fox) from that direction.

Before the house even closed, I had drawn a million plans for the garden. Everywhere I went, everything I read, all my previous gardens had given me tons of ideas for this space. But, I had to be careful, as the teacher of my garden design course I took last fall said, do not make a mini botanical garden!  But, I want a mini botanical garden, I want a million different rooms, I love the tropical look, I want a Japanese garden, a parterre, and on and on. He was concerned about future maintenance, and about it looking too busy!

I must confess to having approx 300 gardening books, a good portion of them on design. I love books that tell a gardens story, how the author came up with the features that are in their garden. I started with the classics, Margery Fish “We made a Garden”, all of Beverley Nichols, Vita Sackville-West, especially the diaries of her husband Harold Nicholson, and many, many more. Then I moved onto more modern day, Rosemary Verey, Penelope Hobhouse, Page Dickey and Mary Keen. My current favourites are David Hicks, Sir Roy Strong, Monty Don and Frank Cabot. My most, most favourite is Paul Bangay, a garden designer based in Melbourne, Australia. He designs very strong formal gardens and is brilliant.

I steal ideas from all of them. I have already written about how I stole the name for the Flora Glade here, but I was shameless at stealing so much more.

When you are designing a garden (according to every book that I have read) you are supposed to look out your windows, and design something to look at. Well, that might work for most people, but as you can see from the picture above, the house sits sideways on the lot.  Originally the front lawn went all the way down to the next street, and there was a circular drive for the carriages in front, but that has been sold off over the years and now my front door faces my neighbours.  The window in the library faces the street, no view there, the bay window in the front parlour faces our neighbours house, there is maybe 20 feet between us, something could be done there, but not anything huge.  The only other room downstairs (besides the mud room) is the kitchen. this used to be the former dining room (the mud room was the kitchen) and has two windows facing south with the stove in-between the windows. This is the best view in the house. So I decided this would be my starting point. (Although, this was not the first part of the garden planted, it was the first part of my garden design).


 To be continued……

26 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    teza said,

    I’m waiting Miss Deborah……. perhaps tomorrow will reveal the wonders of your garden design (I have the day off and all to myself) and just seeing the ‘map’ of the property….. have you any space to ‘rent out’ to a self proclaimed garden geek similar to yourself? LOL!

  2. 3

    So interesting, thanks for sharing your story, I’m glad I could be a source of inspiration! What a beautiful and unique property,you’re so lucky to find a special ‘country in the city’ place to call home.

    I know what you mean about the mini botanical garden, I started with more of a specimen collection, but am now trying to make it more cohesive & flowing. Sounds like you’ve done lots of research. It’ll be so much fun to watch your garden develop and grow. I really like the idea of different themed rooms.

    Looking forward to the next installment. 🙂

    • 4

      Thanks Rebecca, I am really trying hard. My first garden was 20 x 90, then the next was 35 x 152. And that is the whole property, not just the garden, had to leave room for a house. I was really excited to find this place in the city, (and so was my husband, as he has a serious Timmy addiction!). The Kitchen Garden is a great place to plant my impulse purchases, and then I can bulk them up, divide them and add them to the garden. My garden design instructor was big on repetition in the garden. Either colour or plant material, he felt it gave a more finished look to the garden.

  3. 5

    Barbarapc said,

    Your yard is massive – fantastic. I find that some of the trickiest bits of the garden that I’ve had to puzzle over, when I finally figure them out are my favourite spots. My backyard was a tricky 70ft x 18ft with a St. Bernard puppy and a big collection of plants. When I was finished, I’ve managed to have a garden that satisfies on so many levels. As far as the mini-botanical garden goes, I think just as long as you’ve got good strong lines and an eye for shape and form, and judging by your new allee you do – I say go for it. I believe that shade plants blend beautifully.

    • 6

      Thank you for those encouraging words, Barbara. A St. Bernard is tricky to fit in even in the largest garden, my sister in law has a Newf, he doesn’t seem to always realize where there are plants, they are stilll a bit small and unnoticeable to him.
      I do love strong, straight lines, I am in love with both my serviceberry allee and my lime walk.

  4. 7

    Wendy said,

    Good point about the garden’s story. I’ll have to think about what mine is. I think it’s be painfully boring to hear…

    What did she mean by don’t create a botanical garden – meaning not to have one of this and one of that?

    Interesting about looking out the window. I always planned things according to how they look when I’m standing outside with pen and paper…planning. But it seems I do spend an awful amount of time looking out the window! I recently added an obelisk with plans to add a clematis, and I can’t stop looking at it through the window! Like why didn’t I think of that years ago!

  5. 8

    Wendy, it seems like most houses are not designed with the ability to really look out into the garden. There is always something in the way, a garage, a street, something. Out of the three windows that look into the garden, one looks at the neighbours, one at the street and only one into the back. Why do they design this way, should the garden not be an extention of your house?
    No mini botanical gardens : ie, don’t have a shade garden, next to a tropical bed, next to a Japanese garden. In a small garden, decide on a look, cottage, or formal, or whatever, and stick to it.

  6. 9

    I see you started off reading the same favourites as I did.

    Our garden was landscaped into 4 levels when we moved here but from there the garden has evolved partly with our needs and my love of enclosures.

  7. 10

    Joanne, I have a real love for English garden literature,the story of a garden is fascinating. I also have a love of enclosures, probably read The Secret Garden too many times when I was a child.

  8. 11

    Barbara H. said,

    Thank you for the fascinating beginning. I’m anxious to hear the rest of the story. I moved from a 50 x 100′ lot with a small house and oversize detached garage to 3 acres with woods in the back, a sloping yard, 2 sheds and a ranch style house. I’ve been content with the landscaping – lots of dogwoods, pecans, hollies, a couple of cedars, Grancy Greybeard, etc. But now I’m beginning to think about doing some closing off of areas, so this is great timing. I’ve been a fan of Beverly Nichols for years – so nice to know others appreciate him.

  9. 12

    Barbara, it sounds beautiful, I think that you would like some closed off areas, it gives a different feel to those parts of the garden. What is a Grancy Greybeard?
    I still reread Beverley Nichols books and feel I always learn something new.

  10. 13

    fairegarden said,

    You have us on the edge of our seats, Deborah! I can’t wait to hear more. Your property is very similar to mine in size and a portion was sold off to the neighbor behind long ago. I so want it back to square out the land, and of course have more space to plant! You are wise to find the best place to look out, that is so important, before beginning too. Tall hedges, we liked the Arborvitae, screen out the neighbors houses well without taking up much space for that feeling of privacy. And I adore Beverley Nichols writing. Merry Hall is my fave still. 🙂

    • 14

      Frances, everytime I have bought a house, the garden was mostly laid out by the previous owners. It was possible to do a little “tweaking” to make it more my own, but they were very small and I could only do so much.
      This time it was 3/4 of an acre of grass. How is it possible to have a 130 year old house and not have any garden? Did the previous owners rip out all traces of a garden? I am inclined to think so, as he was a man who loved trees. The developer who sold it to us, owned it for 6 months. She cut down 7 trees that we know of, and I am sure there were more. That left 14 in roughly the centre of the yard, never mind all the ones on the perimeter. And we are talking big tress here, maples, ash, walnut and horse chestnut. They cast a lot of shade. I am sure that the garden will take years to develop, I certainly hope so. “When you are tired of gardening, you are tired of life.” (I know that is not an exact quote, but it suits me).

  11. 15

    Joy said,

    Deborah .. my goodness ! do you know how lucky you are girl ?
    My scenery out of my kitchen window is my neighbor’s metal roof .. honestly I try to close my eyes while working there .. makes for an interesting life ? haha
    I know if we ever won the lottery I would love to live in a place like Yvonne Cunningham from the Country Gardener. but now you have me waiting to see your design and adding to my list of “what I want” from Deborah’s design : )
    Joy (really really hoping to win the lottery ? ) haha

    • 16

      Joy, I certainly do! When we moved back from England, we drove around Southern Ontario looking for a town to live in. We thought of coming back to Kingston, we loved it and loved the sailing, but my husband is a snowboarder and he used to drive to Mt Tremblant on the weekend. So we decided it would be better to be near Blue Mountain. The trick was to find a large enough property to satisfy me, and close enough to Tim’s to satisfy him. Owen Sound has 5 Tim Hortons so he is happy, and I think that this space could keep me busy for the rest of my life.
      I also am hoping to win the lottery, I would love to get some stone work and terracing done!

  12. 17

    It is always so nice to be able to look at a bird’s eye drawing of the property. The Niagara escarpment comes all the way to Wisconsin! We have similar books and a similar path to current favorites. I love my old David Hicks because it is black and white which makes designing easier since color sometimes confuses me. That way you can work on the design and plant forms and then add the color.

    • 18

      Linda, I love the birds eye view! That is the section in garden design books I always go to first. I have most of David Hicks books, I love how he draws on the black and white photos, such a good idea. And we both know how important structure is in the garden. Most people go for that second instead of first.
      It is amazing how long the Niagara Escarpment is, would be interesting to hike it from one end to the other!
      Have you seen Paul Bangays books yet?

  13. 19

    Barbara H. said,

    Deborah, I realized I was spelling Beverley wrong as soon as I submitted the comment. It’s been a while since I’ve re-read him – guess I’ll have to get on it. Grancy Greybeard, also known as fringe tree, (Chionanthus virginicus) is popular in the south – I had never heard of it. It gets white fringed flowers in the spring and is quite spectacular for a couple of weeks. Mine is huge but not well situated as far as I’m concerned. It’s down to the left so not seen from the main house windows and not in the part of the yard that I spend much time in. But I get to see it from the road and driveway, so it’s not all bad.

  14. 20

    Barbara, there is actually fringe trees in Toronto, on King street in the downtown area. They are beautiful, I wonder if they would be hardy up in Owen Sound. It certainly is an interesting (and apt) nickname for it!

  15. 21

    Mary Delle said,

    I love all this garden design stuff. The before/ during…during….during/after, maybe. Do post another sketch when you’ve got things a bit set out. A sketch is a very good idea. I plan to that of my little garden.

    • 22

      I hope you put a sketch on your blog, it really helps me get the feel for the garden. I do have a sketch ready to post, not as well done as I would like. Perhaps in winter when I have more time, I will get out the drafting paper.

  16. 23

    Jared said,

    You’re inspiring me to make a plan of our garden, too. I’ve read some gardening books that say, yes, well, make the plan, but the experience of the reality of the garden is so much different than a two-dimensional representation on paper . . . well, duh! Still very, very useful, I would think.

    I just discovered Beverley Nichols this summer, and his treatment of the triangular lot in Green Grows the City is amazing (and he drew it on paper to explain it to the reader, too). Pretty wonderful. I love what you’re doing!

    • 24

      Jared, I am glad that I am inspiring you. I find a plan is very useful, something about drawing it out (even very roughly) helps me visualize it. I most have over a hundred rough sketches of different parts of my garden, from drawings on cocktail napkins to sketches in my journal. Everytime I see something brilliant that someone else has done, I change my mind and redraw. But it is amazing, how many times I come back to my original idea.
      I love Beverley Nichols, have all his books. He will draw the garden in most of his books, Merry Hall is another great one.
      Thank you for visiting my blog and your very kind comments. I hope you will visit again soon.

  17. 25

    Flowers said,

    Your garden designs look wonderful. it was nice going through your blog. keep it up the good work.

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