Skip to main content

Backyards that work

Get your yard looking great for summer with planning tips and high-impact changes you can make in one day

By |

For many people, summer means put memories of winter behind you and getting out and enjoying your backyard as much as much as possible

But just as your home interior needs to be refreshed occasionally, so does your yard. The process can range anywhere from a simple afternoon job (see sidebar below) to a full-blown outdoor remodelling.

Horticulturalist Dave Milburn, who owns Focal Point Landscaping in Fredericton, says many clients have “expired” landscapes, often filled with evergreen shrubs and trees planted in the 1980s, that they want to update. Other people may be setting out to create a small urban oasis, or are building a yard for families to live and play in.

Whether you’re planning a full rebuild or taking things more gradually, there are a few important principles to follow, including having an overall plan.

“A lot of people don’t think about an overall concept of the garden,” says landscape architect Ange Dean, who runs the Land Studio East consultancy based in Halifax and at her home studio in Mount Pleasant. “If you’re thinking English cottage garden, or contemporary edible garden, or Zen garden, you have that overarching theme you’re keeping with and that can create a cohesive design. When people are doing a little bit here and there, it looks like they’re doing a little bit here and there.”

Be realistic. A pool may sound great, but are you going to be able to maintain it? The same holds true for the types of plants you choose. “Unfortunately, there is no such thing as no maintenance,” says Milburn. “Every living specimen is going to require some form of care at some point, just like we do. Is there lower maintenance? Yes. But every tree, shrub, perennial, and annual is going to need some form of maintenance.”

Before starting on any major overhaul, have a good idea of what’s in your garden now. What’s working? What isn’t? Emily Tregunno of Halifax Seed suggests taking notes and photos for a full growing season.

“It’s hard to say in spring that you’re totally redoing your garden, without having an understanding of how it grows through the season,”Tregunno says. “Because you forget! I have bulbs coming up right now that I forgot I’d planted.”

One of the hot trends in gardening is breaking down the barriers between edibles and ornamentals. Dean says 90 per cent of her clients want vegetable gardens, but that edible plants don’t have to be limited to them. “People want to grow food and edibles, and not just have it in a corner of their yard but integrated into the whole landscape, so their vegetable garden is beautiful, or they have a blueberry hedge.”

Tregunno agrees that there is a trend towards edible shrubs and has put it into practice in her own garden. “I have a propane tank on the side of the house, and rather than a flowering shrub I planted haskaps. They’re beautiful and they provide food. If you want a border that’s not too high, high-bush blueberries and haskaps are very nice and have lots of greenery.”

She also recommends peppermint Swiss chard (“it’s absolutely stunning and you can plant it in an ornamental garden but pick it”) and edible flowers like nasturtiums, which attract bees, in the vegetable garden.

Whether you go with native shrubs or something more exotic, make sure that whatever you plant is right for your location. “Don’t always expect every plant you see in the garden centre to be appropriate for your yard,” says Milburn.

And he cautions people not to fall for the “big colourful plants on Pinterest.” He says the difference in what plants are hardy in different parts of the region is “mind-boggling really.”

Tregunno says local variation means you should look at more than zone hardiness. She notes that her own front and back yards “are two totally different climates,”with one getting full sun while the other is cool and damp.

Our climate doesn’t just affect what varieties you should grow, it also affects where you should place them. “We’re going to get snow,” says Milburn. “Where’s the snow going to go? One of the first things we look at in a home is where the snow is going to come off the roof.”

Milburn says falling snow and plows often lead to broken shrubs, so perennials are a good choice for those areas. “They can take it. They’re going to wake up in the spring and be good to go.”

 

Refresh your space in one day

You don’t have to completely redo your landscaping to feel better about your yard. Here are some quick fixes experts recommend.

– Edge and mulch garden beds. You can be done in an afternoon and it creates clean lines while reducing visual clutter.

– Rejuvenate your deck by power-washing it.

– Add outdoor LED lighting. A new generation of low-voltage lights offers soft lighting and is easy to install for uplighting, path lighting, and hardscape lighting that slips under stair treads.

– Create a pea gravel patio seating area, which doesn’t have to be perfectly level like a stone one. “It’s inexpensive and quite simple if you’re doing it yourself,” says Ange Dean.