The client was an avid plant collector, a woman well-versed in horticulture who had been trying this and that for many years. But somehow it never came together.
Disappointed and underwhelmed, the owner of the Moore Park garden conceded that she needed help and called in the landscape architects and designers from Earth Inc., an award-winning Toronto firm that re-imagines outdoor spaces.
It’s a common conundrum, says landscape architect James Dale, one of the partners in Earth Inc.“People get overwhelmed with all the possibilities. They are bombarded by ideas from magazines and online. They keep buying plants and trying new things and they don’t know when to stop. Nothing is ever thought out,” he says.
The genius in landscape design, he adds, is seeing the larger picture and distilling all those wants and dreams into a singular concept.
In this case, the homeowner was a traditionalist who had begun to experiment with elements of the modern gardening aesthetic that is now in vogue. The result was a garden with what Dale calls a “split personality.”
The Earth Inc. designers re-made the 40-by-60-foot garden of the historic Arts and Crafts house into an elegant and harmonious space that marries traditional and contemporary styles in a unified palette of green, white and purple, with flashes of pink.
A walkway of tightly laid dark-grey brick pavers forms the central axis of the garden, ending in a dramatic line of yellow birch trees. On each side of the walk, there are defined “rooms,” each with its own purpose.
Near the house, the garden maintains a modern stance with two patios – one for dining and one for sitting – both made of Georgian Bay limestone pavers cut in random rectangles and connected by the brick path.
On one side, a faux-wicker sectional sofa and recliners are set around a fire pit. And on the other, a long harvest table anchors the outdoor dining room where the family eats and barbecues as long as weather permits. Beyond the dining area, a secluded spa is hidden from view by mature Ivory Silk lilac trees(syringareticulata).
About midway down the path, the garden cedes to Old-World formality with boxwood-edged rectangular parterres.
The narrative comes to a dramatic close with a sweeping row of graceful river birch (betulanigra) trees underplanted with Amsonia“Blue Ice” and metre-high cimicifuga“Hillside Black Beauty” with its purplish-black foliage and white flower wands.
A large antique stone finial from France provides an Old-World focal point.
The juxtaposition of modern materials and traditional layout creates a design with interesting appeal. It was also the means by which Earth Inc.’s team melded the garden’s two distinct personalities.“When you are sitting in the cleaner, more modern area at the front, you have a beautiful view of the old French style in the back,” says Dale. “I like how modern and traditional work together – how a mysterious old urn or sculpture can look so incredible in a modern setting.”
Caitlin Bowie, Earth Inc.’s horticulturist, says she gave new purpose to the homeowners’ old plants by moving them around, adding to their number. Before the work began she toured the garden, pinpointing sedums, physocarpus, hydrangeas and cranesbill geraniums to be relocated. Then everything in the garden except the river birches (betulanigra) and a dramatic black walnut (juglansnigra) in the center of the garden was dug up and moved aside while construction was underway.
Once the new beds were ready, boxwoods that had been planted randomly around the garden were pruned to be used as edging for the new parterre gardens.
Two European beech trees (fagussylvatica) were repositioned to flank the walkway. And the random sampling of birch trees at the rear of the garden became a dramatic line of silvery-white when three more specimens were added.
Far from having a split personality, the landscape is now a happy union of Old-World and contemporary elements.