Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Shade Garden in the Toronto Beaches Neighbourhood

What Yvonne Butorac found when they moved into her home in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto was a bit of a mess. The "garden" consisted of some straggly evergreens, lilacs and a well-rooted, but terribly overgrown quince shrub.

"We moved to this house in August 2007," Yvonne recounts, "The house required a lot of work and nothing much was done on the garden until renovations were finished in 2008. In the process of those renovations we tore off the old deck and eight and a half feet off the back of the house. Even with the large deck we presently have, we gained a few more garden feet."

To make something of the yard was no small undertaking. At one time there had been a garage and remnants of the driveway remained along the west side of the house. The fence had fallen down on three sides, and at the back, there was ugly, green corrugated fencing. Where the current garden shed is now located, there was a rickety playhouse.

The fence was replaced in 2009; a new shed was constructed in 2010. During this time, Yvonne began to create a garden around the ongoing projects.

To creating a garden, Yvonne brought a wealth of experience. "I had a lovely garden at our last house in north Toronto that I has worked on over the 20+ years we lived there. Much of that previous garden was somewhat shaded, so I was familiar with shade plants. There I had the additional problem of clay soil. Here the soil is a treat to work with. Even so, I still supplement it with bags of black earth mixed with the city's compost."

The garden's layout evolved over time. "There was never a plan," Yvonne says,"Originally I thought that I would have no grass in the backyard, but then I tried digging up the sod so changed that plan."

Coleus in hanging baskets on the front porch.

The Beaches neighbourhood, just 20 minutes east of downtown Toronto, has the casual atmosphere of a lakeside resort town. If your very lucky there is a view of Lake Ontario, and even if your not, the lakefront is often within walking distance. Though there is lots of new development, many of the charming homes sit on shady, tree lined streets.

As is so often the case, older homes have their quirks and idiosyncrasies. "The backyard shares property lines with five other properties," says Yvonne,"Camouflaging two bleak garages 
was a challenge."

"I bought the rusty rabbits in a shop in the county near Bancroft maybe twenty 
years ago," Yvonne says.

1. Astilbe 2. Heuchera 3. Aralia cordata 'Sun King' 4. Bowman's Root, Gillenia trifoliata 5. Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum 6. Ligularia

Two plants with great foliage are Brunnera 'Jack Frost' and Heuchera.

Aralia cordata 'Sun King' is on the left of the plant stand.

Japanese Spikenard, Aralia cordata 'Sun King' is a fast growing, part-shade foliage plant. It has bright gold leaves provided that it gets a few hours of sun each day (in full shade the foliage will turn chartreuse). Young shoots of this plant are a delicacy in Japan and taste a bit like asparagus. The white fleshy roots are also edible and taste a bit like parsnips. Tall spikes of white flowers appear in the summer and are followed by purple berries (not edible for humans, but birds like them). The berries help 'Sun'King' self-sow and naturalize a shady area. This plant prefers average to moist conditions and well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Choose a sheltered location for this plant away from harsh winds. Height: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones:3-9.

Bowman's Root, Gillenia trifoliata (see also in the numbered photo above) is a tough, long-lived native plant with reddish stems, narrow leaves and white, star-shaped flowers. Full sun or light shade. Prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil. Good fall color. Height: 60-120 cm (24-47 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (24-30 inches). Zones: USDA 4-9.

Yvonne says, "The pieces on the back fence have just happened. There is the old cold air return from this house, a couple of pieces neighbours had put out in their garbage, some refugees from friends' garage clean outs, etc."

Hostas are key plants in the shady areas of Yvonne's garden.

Yvonne has made the most of the yard's sunny pockets to stretch the possibilities beyond shade plants.

"I have an open approach to selecting plants. I try to avoid those that require a blazing hot sun all day because that does not exist here. Plants that are a little more tolerant of only a few hours of sun work better for me. I have over 70 varieties of day lilies and five tree peonies. One old rose bush I brought from the last house survives, but other than that, I don't do roses...

I often fall into the trap of not realizing how large a plant will get, so my plants are constantly on the move. I will try almost any interesting plant once. My car never passes a garden centre. I love garden club plant sales and garage sales where plants are offered. You never know what will turn up."

All Yvonne's hard work has paid off handsomely. The garden nicely reflects her personality and is as charming as the Beaches neighbourhood in which it resides.


  1. Fabulous! I love all the cool stuff hung on the fence as well, what a great idea!!

  2. Beautiful! What great inspiration!
    Thank you!

  3. What an achievement, battling shade is no mean feat and ugly garages are a nightmare. What a beautiful

  4. I always enjoy visiting the gardens you feature. Yvonne's efforts have certainly paid off, as her gardens and foliage combinations are wonderful!

  5. What beautiful gardens these are!
    I especially love the variety of hostas.

  6. Thanks everyone! I am sure Yvonne is touched by all the positive feedback on her garden.


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