I am sure you have either witnessed or heard of this urban scenario: an older neighbourhood in a central area of town becomes a much sought after address.
Modest family homes are torn down and the property is clear-cut to make way for the mega-mansions meant to appeal to those home buyers who can afford a house in a prime location.
The most heartbreaking change to watch in these up and coming neighbourhoods is the loss of mature trees- some of them as old as fifty or one hundred years. For developers, modest fines for clear-cutting land is simply the cost of doing business.
Jamie and George DeWolf live in just such a neighbourhood in the heart of Mississauga.
The Mineola West area of Mississauga has a peaceful forest-like setting and yet is a quick commute from downtown Toronto. In Mineola West, the DeWolf's property is sadly becoming the exception rather than the rule- the house in which they reside is one of the area's original dwellings and was once a carriage house on a large estate.
What is now the back was originally the front of the carriage house. The original doors to the carriage house are now two large windows.
Jamie DeWolf's potting shed. I purposely tried to create a sense of scale, so you could better appreciate the magnificence of these tall trees.
The trees on the property tower over the old carriage house. "I have many native plants and have tried my best to integrate what I have created into the natural surroundings of a very special woodland that is at the heart of this area- many of the trees in our backyard having never been cut," says Jamie.
The forested area at the back of the property is carpeted with white trilliums
and blue scilla each spring.
Large Flowering Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum are wildflowers native to Ontario. They have white flowers with three petals. The flowers are held aloft on a stem containing a whorl of three leaves. Cultivation of trilliums is slow and requires 7 or more years from seed to flower. The flowers are pollenated by ants, flies and beetles. As the flowers fade, they turn from white to a soft pink. Trilliums require moist, well-drained, sandy soil that is rich in organic matter. Full to part shade. Height: 20-50 cm (7-19 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.
A small seating area by the back door.
The bubbling of a fountain creates a relaxing ambience, while a large white screen provides extra privacy for the large dining area on the back terrace."Other than the trees, there was not a living thing on the property when we bought it in 1999, as it was let go by an elderly lady. We hired Christopher Campbell, a landscape architect to figure out what was best. When Christopher suggested we could have a beautiful woodland garden, I wasn't even familiar with the term!", continues Jamie.
"When he presented a drawing that proposed a lovely labyrinth of pathways filled with shade loving plants I cried...I just didn't know how to deal with it...especially the endless list of plants that I had never heard of. So, I set out to put in this garden with my husband over the next few years, a few feet at a time."
George DeWolf made the charming front gate.
The front of the house.
Shade can strike fear into the heart of even an experienced gardener.
Armed with a carefully conceived design and plant list, the DeWolf's had a clear vision of what they were working toward. The did all the work themselves a little bit at a time. I asked Jamie about the other challenges she faced.
She replied, "The soil was very acidic due to the oaks and conifers that line the property. Fortunately we live very close to the lake (Lake Ontario) which provides a 'micro-climate' where it is s bit warmer in winter and we can get away with growing less hardy varieties."
Though there are dashes of color, the predominate palette of the woodland garden that Jamie and George have created is green. If that sounds a bit dull, not the bit of it.
Jamie has skilfully mixed leaf shape and size to create little textural stories. The end effect is soothing and relaxing.
A table and chairs sits in the centre of the front yard, where there is a small pocket of sunshine.
A standout in this area of the garden, partly because of the sheer size of its leaves,
is a Rodgersia (shown on the left).
Silene 'Clifford Moor'
Silene 'Clifford Moor' is a nice variegated cultivar with green leaves flecked in cream. Small magenta-pink flowers appear in spring. Silene 'Clifford Moor' prefers sun to light shade. Normal, sandy and clay soil all work well for Silene. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches) USDA Zones: 5-11
Bugbane or Cimicifuga (recently reclassified as Actea)
Bugbane, Cimicifuga has ferny foliage and long, bottlebrush-shaped flowers with the most divine fragrance. This plant is native to Eastern North America. Cimicifuga prefers moist, rich soil and some protection from the afternoon sun. Height: 120-150 cm (47-60 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches).
"The bones that Christopher had in his drawings and many of the original plants we put in 15 years ago are still intact, but other factors have played a role in the evolution of the garden", says Jamie.
"The change in climate has meant the loss of certain species particularly over the last couple of winters. Tree pruning has opened up the canopy allowing more sunlight."
Athyrium otophorum v. okanum also known as the Auriculate Lady Fern forms a clump of arching triangular leaves. Full to part shade. Moist sandy or clay soil are its preferences. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread:30-45 cm (12-18 inches).
Dwarf Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum 'Imbricatum'
Bleeding Hearts with an understory of Sweet Woodruff.
Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum
Sources for her inspiration includes Lost Horizons:
"I am always on the lookout for new and interesting varieties beyond the standard fare. Lost Horizon's Nursery and display garden has provided me with inspiration that I can grow more than just impatiens and hostas."
Two types of Solomon's Seal
Dwarf Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum humile (shown on the left) is a dwarf cultivar with dainty white flowers in spring. Plants are slow to establish, but are long-lived and low maintenance. Part to full shade. Sandy or clay soil that is on the moist side is best. Note: Harmful if eaten. Height:15-30 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 30-90 cm. USDA Zones: 5-9
Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum: Depending on the cultivar this shade lover can range from 60-120 cm (23 -47 inches) and can spread to 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). Dangling white flowers appear in May and can be harmful if eaten. Again sandy or clay soil that is on the moist side is best for this perennial. Divide in early fall. USDA Zones: 3-9
Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens
Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens is native to Korea. Like Solomon's Seal, they emerge mid-spring with arching stalks of bright green leaves. Lemon yellow flowers will last for up to a couple of weeks. Black berries appear in late summer. Part to full shade and clay soil that is on the moist side are this plants preferences. Height: 70-90 cm ) 27-35 cm, Spread: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.
Black False Hellebore,Veratrum nigrum (shown on the left) has tall, black bottlebrush-like spire of star-shaped flowers which have a somewhat unpleasant smell. It likes rich soil, somewhat moist conditions and sun to part shade. All parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested. Height: 1.8 -2.4m (6-8ft), Spread: 60-90 cm ( 24-36 inches) USDA Zones 6-9.
Sedge Grass, Carex elata Bowles Golden' (shown on the right) has yellowish-green foliage. It is semi-evergreen, moisture-loving grass that likes to find itself on the edge of a pond. It prefers full sun, unless afternoon shade is needed to keep it from drying out. Height: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread:60-90 cm (24-36 inches). USDA Zones 5-9.
"I love them all", she says," Favourites are huge trees, the Trilliums and carpet of Scilla each spring, the Hellebores, Tree Peonies, the mini Clematis that grows on a natural trellis of Snakeroot and the Filipendula that jumps out of the garden like pink fireworks in July."
A few ideas you can take away from this woodland garden:
• Begin with a plan and tackle it bit by bit as time and money permit.
• Don't fight them but, work with the natural surroundings. Add plants to your garden that suit the naturally occurring light and soil conditions.
• Create little textural stories by mixing leaf texture, shape and size.
As Jamie and George's woodland garden proves, gardening in the shade is only limited by your imagination.
For all of you who live in the GTA, Jamie and George DeWolf's garden will be open to the public as part of the Canadian Cancer Society's 10th annual Spring garden tour this Sunday, May the 31st. As well as the DeWolf's woodland garden there will be a number of other gardens in the Mineola area of Mississauga on this years tour.
New to the tour this year is a plant sale. Volunteers will also be selling "Mystery bags" filled with garden related items. Local musicians will be performing instrumental music in selected gardens throughout the day. All proceeds will be donated to the Canadian Cancer Society.
For more information call (905) 608-8411 or visit The Cancer Society's Garden Tour Page.