Great Ponds & Gardens

Garden landscape design and construction tips

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The dog days of summer, a personal reflection

Today I’m not writing about plants, stones or landscaping. My pen, err typing, is dedicated to my best friend, my dog. Eleven years old she’s been here tail wagging day in, day out. You take it for granted that she’ll be around forever. Then everything changes. A lump in her leg… cancer. To be specific, a malignant, locally aggressive soft-tissue sarcoma known as hemangiosarcoma. Intensive googling and I’m an expert: common condition in dogs, left untreated it can get very nasty, if radiation is required its best to use a clinic with linear accelerated technology (more effective, less damaging). I find out that the tumor is a difficult surgery with a challenging outcome given its location on her elbow. Like everything, a plan is set in motion. First priority deal with the cancer, then healing. Two days later, the tumor is removed – isn’t pet care amazing?

It’s been a difficult process – grieving, then HOPE. All changes with a call – fantastic news – the tumor is low grade and removed with a clean margin despite its location, no radiation required!

I learned a lot in this process:

  1. The many ways to get your dog to take a pill
  2. Dogs are so adaptable
  3. The importance of investing in a soft comfy cone elizabethan collar
  4. Swift action – no matter how difficult – can make all the difference
  5. There are many great, local pet care professionals, and
  6. Above all, never take a wagging tail for granted.

Many thanks to the Mississauga-Oakville Veterinary Emergency Hospital: Dr. Gauthier, Dr. Halling, Dr. Sylvestre and the amazing team. Your expertise and personal care were so appreciated.

Back to the dog days of summer.


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Get the most out of summer – the ultimate staycation

Dreaming of relaxing by the pool, with a good book? You don’t have to be sitting in a far away place to enjoy a good summer read. That and more can be yours in your own backyard. With so many luxurious appointments now accessible and affordable, many homeowners are choosing to invest in their own backyard as a vacation alternative. Creating your backyard oasis can be as simple or elaborate as your needs and budget allow, with a range of products available:

Backyard staycation

More and more homeowners are choosing to stay-at-home for their vacation destination

  • Beautiful, functional outdoor furniture, hammocks, rugs and colorful accents
  • Plant varieties that bring the tropics to northern locations, such as the basjoo banana plant, and hardy hibiscus
  • Don’t have the space for a pool? Think again. Pool builders have created a new line of smaller, feature rich pools to address the trend for compactness and simplicity.  A spool is much smaller than an in-ground swimming pool, but at least twice the length of the average spa
  • Firepits and fire features
  • Outdoor kitchens and appliances
  • Gas heaters and lighting (torches)
  • Garden rooms and cabanas
  • Outdoor televisions and entertainment areas

To get the most from your stay-at-home vacation:

  • Give your staycation a start and end date with the time in between devoted to relaxing, having fun, and breaking out of your daily routine
  • Don’t do the laundry or clean the garage, or other household projects… take care of household chores and projects before your vacation begins 
  • If you enjoy eating out on vacations, do the same on your staycation
  • Fight the urge to be accessible – limit emails, calls and work activities
  • Plan several day trips – by train, bus or subway – to enjoy local attractions like sporting events, the zoo, the theatre or theme parks which you are usually too busy to appreciate
  • Visit a local farm or petting zoo – go for a horse ride
  • Go on a hike or bike ride
  • Set up an outdoor movie area. Don’t forget the popcorn!
  • Take a nap. Escape daily life and relax.

The trick to enjoying a staycation is to deviate from your daily routines and truly make it a vacation. And, if you find your garden isn’t measuring up as a five-star staycation destination, now’s the time to consult with a landscape contractor.

National study shows that homes today are doing double, even triple duty as workplace, staycation, gym and more:


Daylily: the perfect perennial

The daylily is often called “the perfect perennial,” due to its dazzling colors, tolerance for dry soil, capability to thrive in many zones, and ability to endure in a garden with little or no care. Daylilies establish quickly, grow vigorously and survive winter with little or no injury. Many of the plants that we call lilies — canna lily, lily of the Nile, daylily and calla lily — are, in fact, not lilies at all. True lilies, such as the popular oriental, asiatic, and trumpet types grow from bulbs. The daylily belongs to the genus hemerocallis – an appropriate name, since each flower lasts one day.
Growing daylilies
Daylilies thrive in full sun, although certain daylilies require partial shade, depending on their color. Lighter shades, such as yellow, pink, and pastels require the sun to bring out all of their color. Darker daylilies, such as some red and purple flowers, need shade because their darker colors absorb heat. Each daylily plant produces an abundance of flower buds that open over a long period of time. There are many varieties, a wide range of flower colors, and the flowers continue during the heat of the summer. Varieties with muliticolored blooms, often with a contrasting “eye,” or center, are increasingly popular.

Daylilies have a relatively short blooming period, depending on the type of daylily. There are a variety of different daylilies; some of which will bloom in early spring, while others wait until the summer or even fall. Most daylilies bloom for one to five weeks, although there is a type of daylily known as a rebloomer, which will bloom twice in one season. Depending on the variety, heights range from 1 to 4 feet, with flower stalks on the tallest varieties reaching 6 feet. Depending on the species and cultivar, daylilies grow in USDA plant hardiness zones 1 through 11, making daylilies some of the more adaptable landscape plants.

And with more than 13,000 types available, deferring to daylilies that have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit can make your decision easier:

Beloved returns • Berlin lemon • Berlin red • Berlin red velvet • Burning daylight • Cartwheels • Chief Sarcoxi • Corky • Golden chimes • Green flutter • Helle Berlinerin • H. lilioasphodelus • Lemon bells • Marion Vaughn • Missenden • Neyron rose • Nova • Pink damask • Red precious • Royal Mountie • Stoke Poges • Tetrina’s Daughter • Whichford

Planting instructions
In the north, lilies should be planted in spring, spacing plants 1 to 3 feet apart. Daylilies are commonly used in perennial flower borders, planted in large masses, or as a ground cover on slopes, where they form a dense mat in just a few years. Daylilies should not be planted near trees and shrubs as they can compete for moisture and nutrients. Although daylilies are adaptable to most soils, they do best in a slightly acidic, moist soil that is high in organic matter and well drained.

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The garden that keeps on giving

Does your garden measure up to its full potential? The purpose of your garden is very personal: a place to unwind after a long week, a hobby, a hub for family and/or neighborhood fun, a place to entertain, a source for food.

Get the most out of your garden landscape:

  • Set up containers with your favorite herbs
  • Select trees, shrubs and perennials that produce a variation of color and texture through the year
  • Use a water feature or select plants that attract butterflies and birds
  • Climbers are by far the most useful plants in any garden taking up little space and delivering against a variety of purposes: privacy, accenting structural elements, draping walls, and disguising items. One of my favorites – clematis:
  • Propagate some of your favorite plants. Layering is a form of propagation which involves bending a low branch or shoot down into soil level, wounding the shoot and then covering this portion with soil to encourage the root. It can then be severed from its parent to produce a new plant.
  • Take inventory as you plan for next year
  • Research: every year new species of perennials are introduced as well as new products that will help you get the more from your backyard
  • Arrange for a seasonal touch-up from a local landscape contractor

If your garden isn’t measuring up, you may want to consult with a landscape contractor. Before you do, be sure to think about your goals and how you want your garden landscape to measure up.

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Where does a landscape contractor offer value?

I’ve been asked far more times than I’d like to come in and fix past landscaping disasters. Quick fix services provided by less reputable providers or DIYs gone bad. Ponds or water features that longer work or leak, landscape grading that settles in the wrong areas and improper drainage flooding homes. The sad reality is that the initial decision can cost the homeowner far more in the future through damage, and may require a new solution, ripping out the initial install and starting over. The bottom line: you get what you pay for. Do your research. Be sure to choose a quality contractor that has a proven track record.

An experienced landscape contractor offers:

  • Knowledge of plants to get the optimal mix of seasonal color and layering
  • Creativity
  • Structural knowledge
  • Craftsmanship
  • Grading expertise
  • Knowledge of local bylaws
  • Proper disposal procedures
  • Vast supplier network including licensed sub-trades (e.g. electricians, gas fitters, plumbers) 
  • Access to a variety of material resources
  • Training and expertise

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Splish splash, water in the garden

Water featureBig or small, a water feature works hard to refresh the senses. In landscape design, a water feature can include fountains, pools, hot tubs, ponds, waterfalls, and streams. Water gardens, aquatic gardens, and backyard ponds will transform your outdoor living space into a beautiful paradise to relax, unwind, and enjoy quality time with family and friends.

Spools – swim spa or compact pool?
Think your yard’s too small for a pool? Think again. Pool builders have created a new line of smaller, feature rich pools to address the trend for compactness and simplicity. A spool is much smaller than an in-ground swimming pool, but at least twice the length of the average spa. Built like a conventional pool, owners can select from a variety of finishes and accessories. A spool also comes with strong jets that create a swirling current against which to swim, ideal for exercise.
On the plus side a smaller pool means more space for other things in your backyard and is easier to integrate into an overall design. Lower construction costs leave extra money to account for premium deck and coping work, a gazebo or pergola, or even more elaborate landscaping to create your ideal outdoor space.

Is a spool right for you? The top reasons for choosing a spool include:

  1. You’re tight on space: a spool doesn’t take up loads of space. Even if you have a good-sized yard, you may not want to dedicate the space required for an in-ground swimming pool and deck
  2. Cost: you want to enjoy the benefits of a pool and a spa, but can’t afford both
  3. Versatility: a spool can be kept cool for swimming or warmed up and used with the jets for therapy
  4. A spool can be used year-round
  5. When not in use, a well-designed spool can look like an appealing water feature in a yard

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Time to refresh your patio?

In this patio refresh, several dwarf varieties provide color, texture and layers to the space surrounding a new water feature. Plantings from front to back: Golden Nugget Japanese Barberry – compact, slow growing border hedge that does well in sun; Shrub Rose; Dwarf Golden Threadleaf False Cypress; the Purpleleaf Sand Cherry (Standard) which has purple foliage all season and fragrant flowers in May; Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis “Gracillimus”); Pine Topiary; and Anthony Waters Spirea

Quick updates to your patio
The quickest way to update your patio is with accessories. Like your home, a new tablecloth, pillows and/or can brighten up your space quickly and cost effectively. Or just bring some of your inside comforts to the outdoors. If you’re up for something bigger, a landscape contractor can help you incorporate water and/or features, freshen up overgrown foliage, and much more.

Ideas to get the most out of patio entertaining