Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Secret Garden: Part 1, The Front Garden and Layout

We are driving down a rough gravel road in what feels like the middle of nowhere, even though in reality, we are not far from the town of Uxbridge, Ontario. 

This is prime farm country, but on this particular stretch of road, trees press in on either side. The only indication that there is a house, let alone a garden, is a roadside address marker and the mouth of a driveway.

The driveway is a long winding one through the trees. There are hints along the edges of the forest that this is a cultivated space, but the view of what is to come is somewhat obstructed.

Suddenly, it seems, the driveway opens into a large clearing. In front of you there is a house sitting high  on a gentle slope. 

And all around you there is a spectacular garden. The descriptive "park-like" springs immediately to mind.

Immediately on your right, there is the grand sweeps of a large perennial flower garden.

As you look to your left there is a pond.

A long path takes you by the pond to a shade garden.

(We'll take a better look at the pond and shade garden in an upcoming post. )

And if you aren't impressed enough already, there is another large garden that awaits 
you at the back of the house.

I asked Carole what first attracted her and her husband to this particular piece of property:

"We liked the mixture of woods and pond, sun and shade, the abundance of water available to water the gardens, and of course, the house."


This enormous garden must have been a tremendous undertaking. I asked Carole to tell me a little bit about its creation:

"The garden is 12 years old. There were no gardens when we arrived, as a matter of fact, we had to bulldoze the front yard just to see what it looked like."

"I brought in 1000 perennial plants with me in 2 gallon pots as I had been collecting perennials for over 30 years. We made a hosta bed in the front yard for the shade plants and a sun garden in the backyard for sun plants. Both gardens required 50 yards of top soil to prepare them."

As with most gardens, Carole's plans evolved over time:

"When we brought the property I envisioned the hosta bed and the pond garden. Most of the other gardens were installed within the past 5 years."

Carole tells me that, with the exception of the driveway, the area around the culverts and the large rock in the parking area, she and her husband did all the landscaping themselves.

Now you may not have a large garden like Carole's, but there is lots of ideas here
which can be an inspiration for any sized garden.

Carole has spaced her plants expertly, giving each plant just enough breathing room that it is not crowded by its neighbours. 

This sounds like it something that is easy enough to do, but it is really tempting to overcrowd a bed when your plants are young and small. Stronger plants will inevitably overtake weaker neighbours. Lack of air good circulation also means that tightly packed plants are also more likely to be susceptible to disease.

In these front beds, Carole has a lovely array of perennials. Let's take a look at a few:

This daisy-like flower makes me think of a shaggy dog! 

Carole tells me that it is an Inula of somekind. Poking around on the internet leads me to conclude that it is an Inula magnifica. Can anyone confirm this?

Inula magnifica: belongs to the Asteraceae (Aster family) and is a fast-growing perennial that can reach a height of 2 metres (6 feet). The leaves of this plant are arranged opposite one another along a stems that have a reddish-brown mark.  Inula magnifica blooms July to August. Full sun.

Blanket flowers, Gaillardia

Carole wasn't sure of the particular cultivar of Penstemon, but I am going to make an educated guess that it is Penstemon 'Elfin Pink'. Carole tells me that she has found it to be very hardy in her Zone 5 garden.

Penstemon 'Elfin Pink': This hybrid Penstemon was developed in Nebraska and chosen for its hardiness and ease of growth. The plant forms a low clump of green foliage and has flowers mid-June in Carole's garden. Its flower is attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Full sun and average to dry soil. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones 3-9.

I love the combination centred around the vivid orange Butterfly Weed in the foreground: 

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa: This is a native North American wildflower and the primary source of food for Monarch butterflies. Plants form an upright clump of narrow green leaves with orange or gold flowers in mid-summer. Butterfly weed need dry, well-drained sandy soil and full sun. Remove seed heads if you want to limit its spread. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread 30-45 cm (12-18 inches) Hardy USDA Zones 4-9.

To the right of the orange Butterfly Weed (1) is a bright chartreuse colored foliage plant: Spirea, Orgon 'Mellow Yellow' (2)

Directly behind the Spirea is a daisy Leucanthemum x superbum 'Broadway Lights' (3).

In the foreground is a low mounded Weigela with pink and green foliage that is named 'My Monet' (4).

Aster x frikartii: makes a good cut flower and is attractive to bees and butterflies. Full sun and average water needs. Prune in early summer to promote bushiness. Blooms midsummer to fall. Height: 60-90 cm (24-36 inches), Spread: 45-60 (18-24 inches) USDA Zone: 5-9

Meadowsweet or Queen of the Prairie, Filipendula purpurea Elegans: Plants form a bushy clump with soft pink flowers in early summer. This plant does best in moist, humusy soil in sun with some afternoon shade. Trim flowers after they bloom. Height 75-120 cm (1.5' to 2'), Spread: 75-120 cm (1.5' to 2').USDA Zones: 3-8

More of Carole's garden coming in an upcoming post!


  1. Holy goodness here Jennifer! My eyes are welling up as I am just blown away with this garden! It is just a thing of beauty! The borders are so beautiful and I really like how the background frames the foreground! I am pinning!! I have to go back and look at this one again! Thank you so much for sharing! A wonderful week ahead to you! Nicole xo

  2. What an enormous undertaking it must have been but wow! What a stunningly beautiful garden it is now, like Nicole I think I'll re-read this one too. Simply stunning!xxx

  3. Could that large, yellow daisy-like flower be a Telekia? They have the same characteristics, originate from russia (so they're hardy) and have similar flowers and leaves.

    1. Carole suggested Inula and it does seem to match the descriptions/images I was able to find online. I looked up Telekia speciosa, and you know, it closely matches the description and pictures I found there too. Can anyone confirm which it is?

  4. This is a really beautiful garden with a lovely backdrop of mature trees to set it off. It has certainly been planted by a talented couple. Thank you so much for showing it to us, I look forward to seeing the rest!

  5. Beautiful gardens, thank you so much for sharing them with us. Love all the flowers and lovely trees.
    Looking forward to seeing the rest.

  6. wow, how gorgeous! I have to admit though, that my first thought was along the lines of 'what a lot of work this would be!" but absolutely stunningly beautiful.


  7. Stunning and it seems they have planned it very well! What a treat to visit it. Thank you for sharing : )

  8. Absolutely amazing, it is all so beautiful.

  9. Wow ! It looks like perfection to me ! The spacing is meticulous ! They must be two fit people !

  10. How beautiful. So much in bloom together. Great photos of a truly lovely garden.
    As for Inula...I have this plant and it was sold to me as Inula Magnifica.

  11. My goodness, Jennifer, these gardens are truly so beautiful.
    I think it is especially wonderful because you can no doubt see all of the love that went into creating these.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  12. My jaw dropped a bit. The approach to Carole's garden sounded a bit like mine, but wow! The result is different! What an inspiration! Carole and her husband have done an outstanding job. It is heavenly! Now if only there was a cheap, low-maintenance way of creating swaths of colorful blooms on my own hot, humid, bug and fungus ridden piece of property, which currently feels more hellish than heavenly...

  13. I have bookmarked this post so that I can come back and study it over the winter. So many very good points in it. I am especially interested in your comment about how the gardener has spaced the plants so they aren't overcrowded. When you are looking at the plants do you see just a bit of mulch in between them? I know my back border has things that are too close and I am trying to rectify that. (Have found someone who will take the extras off my hands, too!)

    1. I really wanted to write more about Carole's spacing, but I felt that the post was getting ridiculously long as it was. You can tell that Carole created the bed and then placed all her 2 gallon perennials more or less at one time. My own garden has evolved more slowly and I have planted over an extended length of time. I add new perennials in spring when everything is emerging. The problem is my method is that you are more likely to over plant or plant on top of other plants as you try to squeeze in new items into an existing flowerbed.
      Carole really paid attention to her spacing when she laid out her perennial borders. You can tell just by looking at them. She has 30 years of experience behind her! There is just the right amount of breathing room (as you write Diane, "a bit of mulch" between her plants).
      I find myself going back to my own borders and doing some editing of duplicate plants and sifting off clumps just to give all my perennials just a bit more space so they aren't crowded, while attempting to keep them close enough that the flower border feels "full".

  14. oh wow! I envy the tall established trees...sigh, I am dreaming of such a garden! hope you share this post at Fishtail Cottage's garden party this week! everything is so lovely! oxox, tracie

  15. Oh, this is breath-taking! I love the many different perennials she has in all of her beds. Just glorious!!!

  16. What a gem to find this gorgeous garden(s). I cannot wait to see more.

  17. Hello Jennifer girl
    All I can say is OMG ! ... what amazing gardens and the thought of how much work went into it .. but having all those plants on hand to find a new home for with the exact amount of spacing needed ... it is awesome and overwhelming at the same time. I totally love it but could never handle such huge gardens .. it is like a public garden in fact ... I can't believe how they can upkeep and have it look so absolutely gorgeous ... it is their own garden wonderland !
    Yes ... I have to remember myself that spacing is so important ... I tend to crowd ... but I have wee gardens .. micro gardening ? compared to these ! LOL
    PS ... your photos are wonderful girl and I totally love your header .. reminds me I need to restock on helenium for next year !!

  18. It is gorgeous! :-)

  19. Just dropping in to tell you, your one of the featured posts at the Tuesday Garden Party in the morning! Beautiful indeed! xxx....Brooke from
    Creative Country Mom's Home and Garden.

  20. WOWZERS! This is an incredible garden! I love the different colors and textures. I wonder how she potted up 1000 plants. I'd probably go mad! This garden looks like a professional botanic garden.

  21. They have the same characteristics velg power , originate from russia (so they're hardy) and have similar flowers and leaves.


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