It’s time for an early-season tweak to your garden’s design

It’s time for an early-season tweak to your garden’s design

There is no such thing as a “finished” garden — every garden is a work in progress.

You might be looking at yours and thinking it could use a little design upgrade. We’ve been upgrading gardens for over 50 years. Mark wrote a book on the subject called “Canadian Garden Design.”

Here are our top seven tips for elevating the design of any new or existing garden:

1. Garden to your values. In gardening as in life, there is no faking it. We recommend that you focus on creating a garden that reflects what you care about. A vegetable or herb garden for the foodie, native shrubs and perennials for the bird and butterfly lover, tranquil space for those who seek it, and space to gather for those who enjoy entertaining.

2. Consider the calendar. It is one thing to have a bed of peonies surrounding your magnolia if you are only home in May to enjoy them, and for cottagers that might be the case. The rest of us live in our gardens all season long and if that’s you, make sure to choose a diverse collection of early, mid-season and late-blooming plants and flowers to maintain interest throughout the season.

To find a succession of blooming plants, appropriate for the exposure in your garden and your growing zone, go to and visit the library where our internal search engine will help you discover new design and plant ideas.

3. Structure is fair game. Where plant life ebbs and flows, a fence, bench, planter or sculpture provides a constant feature in the garden. Rather than try and hide your shed, consider making it part of the overall design. Window boxes full of colour, a fresh coat of paint, a chair outside the door all signal that your garden is a welcoming place.

4. Create a focal point. Some gardens happen by accident, a collection of random, smaller features brought home from trips to the garden centre. These small additions are an important part of your garden story, but they are hard to tie together.

Using a specimen tree, a fountain, sculpture or pond can help guide the eye and provides a direction for the rest of your garden. Mark uses a giant insect hotel, visible from the front of the garden, to guide the eye to the back.

Mark uses a giant insect hotel to guide the eye through to the back of his garden.

5. Site the focal point from where you are likely to view it. Most of the time you will look at your garden from a window inside your home. Consider this practical point of view when creating your design.

Consider the view from your window when creating or upgrading your garden design.

6. Repetition. Repetition is pleasing visually. Employing any type of rhythm in a garden helps tie it together and gives it a useful theme.

A series of echinacea spaced evenly, a row of trees, or even a tidy vegetable bed can make any garden feel intentional and inviting. Choose the plant you love most and make it a theme by repeating it. The rhythm of plants clustered together gives your garden authority.

7. In small spaces, use height to your advantage. Every year, the average new home garden gets smaller as more people occupy less space. There is a reason why sprawling junipers have largely gone out of style: we no longer build big bungalows on large lots.

If you have downsized into a smaller garden, look for ways to layer vertically. Consider planting tall grasses or shrubs in the background, flowering perennials in the mid-ground, and ground covers or small flowering plants in the foreground. Not only will this give your garden more interest through density and complexity, but staggering heights is also a way to create rhythm through repetition.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4


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