Homes

Designing an Urban Oasis: Tending Your Neighbours Garden

When Charles (Chip) Hamann, principal oboe with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, moved into his 1870s New Edinburgh terraced house in the summer of 2013, he couldn’t wait to get his hands dirty. He began work immediately, tearing out the ailing boxwood hedges, the miserable peonies, and the odd geranium, leaving a barren landscape. After plenty of hard work, digging out gravel and mixing in compost, he laid new sod and added structure to the site — an iron arch, a metal obelisk, a pedestal, and an urn. Then he started layering complementary flowers and small shrubs to create the feel of a classic English country garden.

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Facing page and above Structural elements such as standard hydrangeas, box hedging, obelisk, and arch add definition to the space. The plantings include a pair of hydrangeas and a profusion of yews, begonias, peonies, irises, dahlias, ferns, astilbes, ‘Johnson’s Blue’ geraniums and a pair of ‘Felix Leclerc’ roses that climb the arch. Photo: Photoluxstudio.com – Christian Lalonde

Next, Hamann turned his attention to his neighbours’ front yards. As they became friends, those neighbours were only too happy to let Hamann take over the gardens, harmonizing everyone’s plantings and designing for the whole row. Today, six houses boast six interconnected gardens that form a single extended landscape concept. “Each garden has its personality, but they work together,” Hamann says. “I’m the unofficial ‘lawn boy’ and enjoy mowing and trimming the grass for the row. Luckily, no one seems to mind my poking around and occasionally importing plantings to their gardens.”

The garden is now known for its spring palette of pinks, whites, and purples.
The garden is now known for its spring palette of pinks, whites, and purples. Photo: Photoluxstudio.com – Christian Lalonde

Top Tip In a restricted city garden, add interest with strong structural plants such as boxwood, yew, and standard hydrangeas. Add elements like an arch or a pedestal with an urn. You can have fun with seasonal changes to your plantings. Remember, a small garden does not have to mean a lack of punch.

Hamann uses a narrow walkway along the side of the house to nurture an eclectic selection of plants in pots. That profusion of potted plants continues on the busy back porch (below), where Hamann is experimenting with succulents, designing two miniature “living pictures” that hang on the fence above the dining table, adding a vertical element to the garden
Hamann uses a narrow walkway along the side of the house to nurture an eclectic selection of plants in pots. That profusion of potted plants continues on the busy back porch (below), where Hamann is experimenting with succulents, designing two miniature “living pictures” that hang on the fence above the dining table, adding a vertical element to the garden. Photo: Photoluxstudio.com – Christian Lalonde
Photo: Photoluxstudio.com - Christian Lalonde
Photo: Photoluxstudio.com – Christian Lalonde

The back garden is an exercise in contrast. “It was a true dry Zen garden that had been created with care and faithfulness to the concept but had fallen into neglect after many years,” recalls Hamann. Blessed with a fine Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star,’ other mature trees, a Japanese-inspired shed that needed repair, plenty of pea gravel, and even a large rock with a water basin, it just needed a facelift. Hamann added a textured green palette of plants at the edges of the garden to soften the greys of the stone. The shed got a makeover with fresh paint, as well as new acrylic panels and an updated cedar shingle roof and a front step.

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Photo: Photoluxstudio.com – Christian Lalonde

Top Tip Collect moss from damp spots at garden centres or on walks in the woods after rain to cover the soil in a small Japanese garden. It looks wonderful as a complement to stone and other Asian-type plantings and also conserves soil moisture.

Structural elements such as standard hydrangeas, box hedging, obelisk, and arch add definition to the space. The plantings include a pair of hydrangeas and a profusion of yews, begonias, peonies, irises, dahlias, ferns, astilbes, ‘Johnson’s Blue’ geraniums and a pair of ‘Felix Leclerc’ roses that climb the arch. Photo: Photoluxstudio.com - Christian Lalonde
Soft plantings around the edges of the compact garden break up the subdued palette of greys and taupes. Hamann introduced shrubs and small trees, including boxwood, rhododendron, pieris, and pine, as well as low-to-the-ground textured plants such as Japanese painted ferns, mosses, lamium, ajuga, trillium, and Japanese forest grass. Photo: Photoluxstudio.com – Christian Lalonde