The physical conditions

The garden is in southern Ontario, near Lake Ontario, so has ‘Lake effect’ conditions: cold, late springs; long, warm falls; ‘cooler by the Lake’ summer temperatures;  winters that are cold, with less snow than might be expected as ‘Lake effect’  snow falls on the southern shore of the lake, not the northern one.

The garden has been a work-in-progress since early 2000.  We started with not much other than a mature white ash, maturing white pines, and a juvenile red oak in the backyard.  The front yard had an unattractive aging white spruce (long gone now and not in the least lamented!) and an attractive mature white cedar clump (one trunk; 6 tops). The property is ~75×155′ (~1/4 acre).  The mature ash is likely to succumb to Emerald Ash Borer in the not-too-distant future – we have had it treated twice and so far; so good although we also had deadwood removed in late fall 2017.   The next door neighbour to the south tree died from EAB a couple of years ago and was finally removed.  The neighbour to the north still has one ash but it’s not very healthy.  When our ash eventually comes down due either to old age or EAB, that will be a major change in conditions in the backyard, which might set the garden off down a new path.  Time will tell…

The soil is fairly heavy clay.  In ancient times this property was at the bottom of the lake that was here before Lake Ontario.  While we have not had the soil tested, it appears likely that the soil is neutral–to-alkaline in pH.




The purpose of this manual is to provide information on the plants and other structures/features in the garden and how best to maintain them.  There are some plants that are spectacular if properly maintained but can become problematic if maintenance is neglected.  In some cases, standard maintenance techniques are ignored or modified in order to give the effect desired in the garden, or because I prefer an alternative, more efficient and just as effective, but perhaps unconventional, approach (see Philosophies section later in the manual) .  Lists of chores to be done at various times of year are included at the end of the manual.

This manual is intended to be useful for ourselves, for a subsequent homeowner, or for any landscape service company that we might hire in the future.  If this manual is being read by a subsequent homeowner, I suggest that you:

  • not be intimidated by the size/complexity of the garden – it’s much easier to take care of than you might think;
  • live with it for a year, attempting to maintain it as per this manual;
  • after one full garden season, assess what parts you liked – or didn’t like – and what was too difficult  for you to maintain.

Having made that assessment, then modify the garden to suit your taste and ability.  Everybody needs to make their own garden but it will look more mature and ‘finished’ if, wherever possible, you can retain good quality existing plantings, particularly trees and shrubs.

For assistance in identifying specific plants in the garden, consult the binders of plant tags.  While not all plants had tags that have been kept (some were seed-grown and have no tags; some tags were lost, or not kept) the majority of the plants are recorded there, including ones which may no longer exist in the garden because they died or were otherwise removed.  Such removal is usually noted on the information behind the tag.  For the most part, I have not been overly concerned about variety names.  Plants in the garden were largely selected on the basis of their features – e.g. size, color, bloom-time etc. Any variety that has the necessary features would suit equally as well as any existing variety with those same features.


Updated Jan.-Feb. 2018

Garden Maintenance Manual


One of my winter 2010/2011 projects was to create a maintenance manual for the garden for our own use as well as for the use of any future owner of the house and garden.  It  turned into quite a large tome – about 50 pages and about 23,000 words!    A couple of people asked if I’d be willing to share it and I can’t think of how to do that as a Word document.  So I put a copy here.  The Word version has a nice Table of Contents; I wasn’t sure how to do something like that here so I split it up into lots of smaller posts.   I’m not sure if I’ll be maintaining the information here/keeping it up to date, so what you read/see here might not reflect the current year’s garden but the garden will continue to be maintained in the spirit of this document.

Updated Jan. 2017

Don’t panic!

It’s easier that it might appear on first glance…  (and I’m verbose; there are lots of pictures and descriptions of the garden style and intent.)  The manual deals with the ‘why’ the various parts of the garden, as well as the mundane ‘what’ and ‘how’ to maintain the garden).  If you want to skip the detailed reading, go to the chore list first and read the detailed text as needed to understand the chores.  I do recommend, though, that you read the detail for each garden bed/area before you tackle the specific chores for it.