Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Late Summer Visit to Lost Horizons Nursery

Any serious plant collector in the Greater Toronto area should be able to give you driving directions, but if you aren't watching carefully for the sign, Lost Horizons Nursery is fairly easy to miss. The nursery, which specializes in rare and unusual plants, sits back from the road and is largely hidden by dense brush. As you head out of the little town of Acton, travelling west on Highway 7, the only hint of this plant lover's paradise is the sign on your left and a glimpse of the nursery owner's home peeking out from amongst the trees.

Should you be lucky enough to visit, take a stroll through the display garden before you go shopping. To find it, wander through the rows of plants, past the hoop greenhouses and over a little wooden bridge. There you'll find yourself in a garden that feels intimate and private in comparison with the more public side of the nursery.

This isn't a "garden" in the traditional sense of the word. For the suburban homeowner, familiar with flowerbeds bordering an expanse of lawn, strolling around the property will feel more like a walk in the woods. On the surface, this planting style feels very casual and informal in comparison to the typical home garden, but make no mistake– what feels quite natural and woodsy is actually carefully edited. The selection of materials and planting combinations have all been well considered.

You may not want to replicate this relaxed style of garden, but there are lots of ideas that might inspire your own plantings at home.

As I walked down this gravel path, it was impossible to miss the solitary, rather striking peduncle of white oriental lilies, but what really captured my imagination was something much more subtle and sophisticated–the interesting mix of foliage textures and colors. The view would fall flat if it wasn't for the deep red of the Japanese maple and Barberry (on the middle left). 

Experienced gardeners know that flowers are fleeting and foliage is around for the long haul. You quickly learn to try to vary the foliage color, shape and texture. I, for one, have always relied heavily on perennials with variegation and colorful foliage to counter the dominance of the color green. This little corner of the display garden was a nice reminder that larger, more structural plants like shrubs and trees continue that interplay of colors and texture above basic ground level.  

While the cream and green of this variegated Knotweed are very attractive, I caution you that this is an aggressive perennial that can spread quickly if left unchecked. Better to try something like the Acer seen in an upcoming photo.

Why have shrubs and trees always tended to slip down my list of priorities? 

They're expensive! My budget feels like it stretches further when I buy perennials, but that's a bit shortsighted. In fact, the one thing I regret most, ten-plus years into making my garden, is not investing more in trees and shrubs back at the beginning. So I'll pass on the wisdom gleaned from my oversight.

Isn't this a lovely view? In the distance, you see a clay pot sitting in front of a wooden bench. Sometimes simple is the best way to go.

I'm not sure of the name of this specific hosta, but there are quite a number of new introductions that have a nice ruffled edge. 

While I love color, I have to say that all this green feels so serene. In parts of the garden where the palette is more restrained, texture becomes the star.

Shape is another design element that is often overlooked. Here the rounded leaves of Solomon Seal contrast so beautifully with the tall, delicate fronds of the fern behind it.

A butterfly on Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata.

Here the tall yellow spires of a Ligularia make the perfect backdrop for the pale lavender trumpets of a number of different hostas. In the lower-left corner, there is a Sedum about to bloom.  On the right, the big, silvery-green leaves of a Brunnera stand out next to the fine, lime-green foliage of the hosta just behind it (on the middle right). 

All the foliage has a different shape, color and texture. Together they make a pretty picture.

Ligularia 'The Rocket' has toothed leaves and dark, erect stems bearing yellow flowers. This plant needs moist, rich soil to be happy. Clumps may be divided every three to four years in the spring. Slugs can be an issue. Full sun to part-shade. Height: 120-180 (47-70 inches), Spread: 80-90 cm (31-15 inches). USDA zones: 4-9. (If you are looking for a smaller plant consider 'Bottle Rocket' or 'Little Rocket'.  

I love the way the Ligularia flower finds a color echo in the foliage of a Japanese Maple.

Carnival Hedge Maple, Acer campestre 'Carnival'

Carnival Hedge Maple, Acer campestre 'Carnival' is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub with a nice rounded shape. In the spring the leaves emerge with a blush of pink. As the summer progresses, the leaves mature to be green with cream variegation. This is a slow-growing cultivar. Height: 10 ft., Spread: 10 ft. Hardy to USDA zones 5.


Yellow Wax Bells, Kirengeshoma palmata is a great foliage plant for moist, part-shade. It has pendulous butter-yellow flowers and medium green foliage that is shaped like a maple leaf. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-8.

You may be too far away to ever visit Lost Horizons Nursery, but I would encourage you to visit local public or private gardens on organized tours this spring. There is no greater inspiration than seeing a garden firsthand.


  1. I loved my virtual walk through this serene nursery, Jennifer. Thank you. P.x

    1. Thank you for stopping by Pam. Stay safe and healthy in these worrying times!

  2. I too go for colour in the flowers and tend to overlook what different leaves and textures can add. I also need to concentrate on planting things that will self-maintain as I try to do too much and then things suffer from lack of care.

    1. I think many of plant lovers are in the same boat Julie. I constantly have to remind myself to be realistic as to the amount of garden I can handle. I think it may be a great subject for a future post.

  3. Your garden tours are such a lovely break in my self isolation. It we were not going into all the beauty of spring,singing of the birds,rebirth in the garden and how my dogs make me smile I don't think I could do this. My daughter is an er nurse and returns to work today after some 3 weeks off.(she and husband had a cruise in the Mediterranean scheduled and fortunately canceled)I am scared but have faith she will be ok.Working in the garden relieves some of the stress.

    1. Kathy, Nurses and doctors are on the front lines in this fight. We owe them so much! I do hope your daughter remains safe and that her patients recover. My garden has also become a welcome place to escape all the bad news. More than ever, I feel very lucky to have it.

  4. I like lot of plant in lost horizen nursery nice collection so many verity .i am also gardener so my heart is plant.


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