Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Natural Forest Garden in Mississauga, ON

I am sure you have either witnessed or heard of this urban scenario: an older neighbourhood in a central area of town becomes a much sought after address.

Modest family homes are torn down and the property is clear-cut to make way for the mega-mansions meant to appeal to those home buyers who can afford a house in a prime location.

The most heartbreaking change to watch in these up and coming neighbourhoods is the loss of mature trees- some of them as old as fifty or one hundred years. For developers, modest fines for clear-cutting land is simply the cost of doing business.

Jamie and George DeWolf live in just such a neighbourhood in the heart of Mississauga.

The Mineola West area of Mississauga has a peaceful forest-like setting and yet is a quick commute from downtown Toronto. In Mineola West, the DeWolf's property is sadly becoming the exception rather than the rule- the house in which they reside is one of the area's original dwellings and was once a carriage house on a large estate.

What is now the back was originally the front of the carriage house. The original doors to the carriage house are now two large windows.

Jamie DeWolf's potting shed. I purposely tried to create a sense of scale, so you could better appreciate the magnificence of these tall trees.

The trees on the property tower over the old carriage house. "I have many native plants and have tried my best to integrate what I have created into the natural surroundings of a very special woodland that is at the heart of this area- many of the trees in our backyard having never been cut," says Jamie.

The forested area at the back of the property is carpeted with white trilliums 
and blue scilla each spring.

Large Flowering Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum are wildflowers native to Ontario. They have white flowers with three petals. The flowers are held aloft on a stem containing a whorl of three leaves. Cultivation of trilliums is slow and requires 7 or more years from seed to flower. The flowers are pollinated by ants, flies and beetles. As the flowers fade, they turn from white to a soft pink. Trilliums require moist, well-drained, sandy soil that is rich in organic matter. Full to part shade. Height: 20-50 cm (7-19 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

A small seating area by the back door.

"Other than the trees, there was not a living thing on the property when we bought it in 1999, as it was let go by an elderly lady. We hired Christopher Campbell, a landscape architect to figure out what was best. When Christopher suggested we could have a beautiful woodland garden, I wasn't even familiar with the term!", continues Jamie.

"When he presented a drawing that proposed a lovely labyrinth of pathways filled with shade-loving plants I cried...I just didn't know how to deal with it...especially the endless list of plants that I had never heard of. So, I set out to put in this garden with my husband over the next few years, a few feet at a time."

George DeWolf made the charming front gate.

The front of the house.

Shade can strike fear into the heart of even an experienced gardener.

Armed with a carefully conceived design and plant list, the DeWolf's had a clear vision of what they were working toward. The did all the work themselves a little bit at a time. I asked Jamie about the other challenges she faced.

She replied, "The soil was very acidic due to the oaks and conifers that line the property. Fortunately, we live very close to the lake (Lake Ontario) which provides a 'micro-climate' where it is s bit warmer in winter and we can get away with growing less hardy varieties."

Though there are dashes of color, the predominant palette of the woodland garden that Jamie and George have created is green. If that sounds a bit dull, not the bit of it.

Jamie has skillfully mixed leaf shape and size to create little textural stories. The end effect is soothing and relaxing.


A table and chairs sit in the centre of the front yard, where there is a small pocket of sunshine.

A standout in this area of the garden, partly because of the sheer size of its leaves, 
is a Rodgersia (shown on the left). 

 Silene 'Clifford Moor'

Silene 'Clifford Moor' is a nice variegated cultivar with green leaves flecked in cream. Small magenta-pink flowers appear in spring. Silene 'Clifford Moor' prefers sun to light shade. Normal, sandy and clay soil all work well for Silene. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches) USDA Zones: 5-11

Bugbane or Cimicifuga (recently reclassified as Actea)

Bugbane, Cimicifuga has ferny foliage and long, bottlebrush-shaped flowers with the most divine fragrance. This plant is native to Eastern North America. Cimicifuga prefers moist, rich soil and some protection from the afternoon sun. Height: 120-150 cm (47-60 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches).

Pink Rhododendron

When you are creating a large garden, hiring an expert and creating a plan is a great way to go.

"The bones that Christopher had in his drawings and many of the original plants we put in 15 years ago are still intact, but other factors have played a role in the evolution of the garden", says Jamie.

"The change in climate has meant the loss of certain species particularly over the last couple of winters. Tree pruning has opened up the canopy allowing more sunlight."

Athyrium otophorum v. okanum also known as the Auriculate Lady Fern forms a clump of arching triangular leaves.  Full to part shade.  Moist sandy or clay soil are its preferences. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread:30-45 cm (12-18 inches).

Dwarf Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum 'Imbricatum'

Bleeding Hearts with an understory of Sweet Woodruff.


Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum

"My own interest in plants has become a hobby and a passion. I have also come to appreciate texture and color more over the years. For instance, I have introduced more grasses", Jamie tells me.

Sources for her inspiration includes Lost Horizons:

"I am always on the lookout for new and interesting varieties beyond the standard fare. Lost Horizon's Nursery and display garden has provided me with inspiration that I can grow more than just impatiens and hostas."

Two types of Solomon's Seal

Dwarf Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum humile (shown on the left) is a dwarf cultivar with dainty white flowers in spring. Plants are slow to establish but are long-lived and low maintenance. Part to full shade. Sandy or clay soil that is on the moist side is best. Note: Harmful if eaten. Height:15-30 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 30-90 cm. USDA Zones: 5-9

Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum: Depending on the cultivar this shade lover can range from 60-120 cm (23 -47 inches) and can spread to 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). Dangling white flowers appear in May and can be harmful if eaten. Again sandy or clay soil that is on the moist side is best for this perennial. Divide in early fall. USDA Zones: 3-9

Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens

Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens is native to Korea. Like Solomon's Seal, they emerge mid-spring with arching stalks of bright green leaves. Lemon yellow flowers will last for up to a couple of weeks. Black berries appear in late summer. Part to full shade and clay soil that is on the moist side are this plants preferences. Height: 70-90 cm ) 27-35 cm, Spread: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Black False Hellebore,Veratrum nigrum (shown on the left) has tall black bottlebrush-like spire of star-shaped flowers which have a somewhat unpleasant smell. It likes rich soil, somewhat moist conditions and sun to part shade. All parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested. Height: 1.8 -2.4m (6-8ft), Spread: 60-90 cm ( 24-36 inches) USDA Zones 6-9.

Sedge Grass, Carex elata Bowles Golden' (shown on the right) has yellowish-green foliage. It is semi-evergreen, moisture-loving grass that likes to find itself on the edge of a pond. It prefers full sun unless afternoon shade is needed to keep it from drying out. Height: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread:60-90 cm (24-36 inches). USDA Zones 5-9.

Primula Sieboldii

I asked Jamie if she had any favourites.

"I love them all", she says," Favourites are huge trees, the Trilliums and carpet of Scilla each spring, the Hellebores, Tree Peonies, the mini Clematis that grows on a natural trellis of Snakeroot and the Filipendula that jumps out of the garden like pink fireworks in July."

A few ideas you can take away from this woodland garden:

Begin with a plan and tackle it bit by bit as time and money permit.

• Don't fight it! Work with the natural surroundings. Add plants to your garden that suit the naturally occurring light and soil conditions.

• Create little textural stories by mixing leaf texture, shape and size.

As Jamie and George's woodland garden proves, gardening in the shade is only limited by your imagination.


  1. I am speechless... This is absolutely gorgeous, tasteful, peaceful garden which touches my gardening soul. The house itself is stunning. Jennifer, thank you so much for telling about this gem. I'll return to your pictures again and again. There are so many interesting plants and beautiful areas! Hardscape is very nice, too. If I needed to chose only one word to describe this garden.... it'd be probably tasteful... and exquisite, and elegant. Jamie and George did a great job! And you wrote a great post!

  2. My kind of place! I have no desire for a megamansion with a sterile, manicured garden that no one ever walks through. This is so inviting, and so interesting. They've done a wonderful restoration/reconstruction of the house. So appealing!

  3. What a wonderful old house. I love the unusual details. Lovely garden also. Many varieties I would love to grow here if I had enough shady areas.

  4. You have your house in a wonderful environment surrounded with beautiful flowers. I too love to live in such a greenery environment...

  5. Thank you for this great post about this wonderful woodland garden, there are so many unusual plants in there. The house is also stunning, who should not like to live in such an amazing place.

  6. So amazing! The canopy that covers their home and garden is amazing as is their house!! The McMansions are going up everywhere here...makes me sad as it changes the whole landscape I think their philosophy on how to approach the garden is so true. Every beginner should hear that as it is this ever going process. Such striking plants and their features such as that gate are fantastic! Just stunning Jennifer!! Nicole xo

  7. Such a beautiful home, and such magnificent gardens.
    How much fun this must have been to photograph, and you've done it so beautifully, Jennifer.

  8. This garden is magnificent! I enjoyed seeing all of the sitting areas built into this garden. I'm beginning to prefer shade over full sun. The hot summer sun loves to fry every plant in the garden and that gets old year after year. Loved the 'new to me' plants in this garden as well.

  9. What a pretty garden and a stunning house! Thanks for the tour!

  10. I have just forwarded the open garden information to my brother who lives in Missassauga.

  11. Yes, absolutely wonderful, my type of gardening! It was a steep learning curve for me too when we moved to our present house, now it is my favourite type of gardening.

  12. What a gorgeous garden, Jennifer! I love high old trees, ferns, pretty foliage.

  13. I do love woodland gardens and this one is no exception.

  14. Perfect advice...I had a natural woodland shade garden at my old house and loved it...

  15. I love woodland gardens, they are so calming and peaceful and elemental. Such a beautiful home and beautiful property! I live the gate and their patios are so inviting . The trend here in this hot zone is to clear cut any vegetation, build a house and put black or dark stucco on it with a black roof, yard Is a collection of different piles of rocks and plunk a few yuccas or junipers in them. And water the heck out of them and use A/c constantly. Unreal. I come back to your blog lots to look and learn about gardening.

  16. Once again you have captured a beautiful, exotic garden with your lens. I am tingling with excitement now because my sister actually lives in this neighbourhood! I was thrilled to see the garden tour note ... I am definitely going to see if she and I can spare our Sunday to take this tour! Thank you Jennifer, it's so strange the things I have learned on this blogging adventure ;)

  17. It looks absolutely gorgeous! :-)


  18. I run into clients too that never heard of a shade or woodland garden. The plants that he used are all wonderful choices and clients are always pleased once they see them bloom or see how textures work in concert. I would love to get to the Spring Garden Tour, but we have our garden fest coming up and there is a luncheon for us that day. I may tell my friend and see if we can get some time to visit. Beautiful property and home.

  19. It's a beautiful garden, melding nature and design together.Don't fight it, is good advice for all of us, learning to plant with natures rhythm's brings less trouble then trying to make nature fall into our designs.

    They must have put so much work into this garden, and it shows.


  20. Jennifer - I just love visiting your blog and experiencing the wonderful gardens. The height of the trees here is amazing, you almost forget how high they can grow - inspirational to show Jamie DeWolf's potting shed amongst the trees, you do get to realise the true height of them.

    Hope all is well with you, thanks for a lovely read.

    All the best Jan

  21. What a fabulous home and garden! It is always a tragedy to see mature trees cut down. I am fortunate to have many huge old trees on our property, and in my hot climate they are a huge asset. I am struck by how many shade loving plants grow in subtropical Alabama as well as in Ontario, Cananda! Thanks for posting on this wonderful woodland garden.

  22. My kind of garden, absolutely beautiful!!!

  23. Such inspiration! We have a very small property (perhaps 1/3 acre), but with several very big, 70+yrs old trees. Between a big maple, a conifer and a mature lilac hedge there is one corner of it that is fully shaded... I love the idea of working it as a small woodland garden. It already has Bleeding Heart and Soloman's Seal... I am aching now to add Trillium and Jack in the Pulpit (all native here too).

  24. Simply beautiful and serene. Love it! :o)

  25. Valuable information ..I am delighted to read this article..thank you for giving us this useful information. Great walk-through. I value this post.

  26. This place is beyond stunning.


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