Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Garden Sheds: Everything from Classic to Pretty and Rustic


There was a time when a garden shed was simply the place you parked the lawn mower, garden equipment and other tools. These days garden sheds are so much more. They're workspaces, creative studios and retreats for outdoor entertaining. 

Whatever end use you may have in mind, here is some inspiration to help you to get you started in creating your ideal space.

Classic Garden Sheds:



It's a little hard to see, but the weathervane on this classic garden shed is a grasshopper. How perfect!

So what makes a great shed? It's all in the planing and the details. In my first example, everything has been considered: the building's design, the colors on the exterior and the plantings that surround it. 

Notes on Design Choices:

• Before choosing a style for your shed, consider the design of your home. The style doesn't have to match, but it should be complimentary.

• It's also a good idea to think of the color of your home when choosing paint colors for your shed. Either repeat the trim and main colors of your home or choose a color scheme that coordinates.

Take function into account. Is your shed simply a place where you plan to store things or is this a space that will have other uses?

• Consider the seasons of use. If you plan to use the shed year round, you'll need insulation and a way to heat the interior.

• A shed can be a pretty dark place if there is no electric lighting, so incorporate enough windows to allow natural light make the space bright and airy.

• Think about how you plan to get equipment in and out of your shed. Make the door wide enough to accommodate what will be the largest tool or machine. In our own garden shed, we also added a ramp that makes it easy to roll the lawnmower in and out.

Here the trim and the shed are all one color making the dark olive-green doors really stand out.

Another great use of color. The red door is terrific on this greige shed!

Use the area that surrounds your shed to display a collection. Here the homeowner has displayed a menagerie of metal objects on the adjacent fence.

Take advantage of the walls of your shed to train climbers or to create a pretty vignette like this one.

Pretty Garden Sheds:



Location, Location, Location!

• Locate your shed close to the place where the equipment inside is needed most. Orient the shed in such a way that it is easy to move any equipment in and out.

• Integrate your shed into the surrounding landscape with attractive plantings. In the example above, curved flowerbeds sweep gracefully away from the maroon shed.

Window boxes are always a nice detail.

Another shed beautifully placed in a garden setting. See more of this garden here.

See more of this garden here.

It looks like a shed, but actually it's a playhouse for the grandchildren.

Before you build:

• Look up the rules governing the construction of sheds for your town or city. In the city where I live, there are bylaws that govern how many sheds you can build, where you can build them, how big or tall your shed can be and how close to the property line it can sit.

• Depending on your area, you may be required to get a building permit.

• Before building or installing a shed, lay down a sturdy foundation of cinder blocks, a concrete slab or crushed stone.

• Decide on a budget. The costs of building a shed can add up quickly. Price out the materials you will require and make sure they fit within your budget. 

Decorative trim, a screen door and accessories give this shed a romantic country style.

Rustic Sheds:


There's no worry here about repainting the exterior every few years. 

A shed with a weathered patina fits easily into any garden and is a very popular choice. Depending on the design elements, a rustic shed can feel like a remote cabin, or as in the example above, it can be quite traditional.

Each trellis is layered with container plantings.

A pretty circular courtyard sits in front of the french doors.

See more of this garden here and here.

A yellow rose looks wonderful on top of the weathered wood.

Love the x's on these double doors!

A shed with a slopping roof and lots of country charm.

A pair of old cowboy boots becomes a whimsical container planting.

See more of this garden here and here.

An old milk can filled with a succulents.

Pieces of driftwood over the porch make this shed into a rustic cabin.

This shed also functions as a poolside bar.

A overflowing window box, potted plants and black shutters make this shed charming.

Express your personality with decorative accessories.

Hanging baskets and some old crockery just in front of the back gate.

A birdhouse makes the perfect roof topper.

So, which shed is your favourite?

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P.S. I'll post the winner of the latest book giveaway shortly.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Silk and Venom



In the third post in her series on garden insects, Jean Godawa writes about the benefits of having spiders in your garden.

To me, the beauty of a garden goes beyond the sensory enjoyment it provides. The vibrant colours, varying textures and fragrant air command our attention, but it is the inner workings of the garden, the things happening regardless of our horticultural skills, that make it a special place, worthy of our awe and appreciation.

Spiders are one of those creatures with a significant role in keeping garden plants healthy and they do this with little to no help from us. By eating the bugs that destroy plants, these eight-legged animals are always on duty as pest control agents.

Orb weaving spiders spin silken webs to attract flying insects. One of the most striking of the orb weavers is the black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia). Although its bright colouring and large size make it look somewhat tropical, this species is quite common in gardens throughout the U.S. and Canada.


The female creates a complicated web that can have a diameter of more than 60 cm or 2 feet. She adds zigzag strips, called stabilimenta to the construction. Despite the name, these structures probably don't help stabilize the web. They are more likely used for attraction of prey or mates, or for warning or camouflage. It costs the spider much energy to produce these intricate patterns so they must provide some advantage. Scientists are still trying to figure it out.

Any flying insect is a potential meal for garden spiders including grasshoppers, aphids, wasps, bees and butterflies.


Some spiders prefer to capture their insect meals by ambush methods rather than expending any silk. Crab spiders (Thomisidae), use their larger front legs to easily grab their prey. Some species can change over time to match the colour of their plant surroundings.


A more active hunter is the jumping spider (Salticidae).These creatures pounce on their insect prey using their sharp vision and nimble movements.


Most spiders only live for one season. They lay eggs, usually inside silken cocoon-like structures. In some species the eggs hatch before winter but the young spiderlings remain protected in the silk until they can disperse in the spring.

Spiders feed by injecting venom into their prey to immobilize it. Digestive fluids liquefy the prey and the spider sucks up the remains. Gruesome as this sounds, most spiders are rarely dangerous to humans. They are more likely to escape your presence than to bite you.

Even an arachnophobic gardener can't deny the benefits of welcoming spiders into the garden. Tall grasses and long stemmed plants provide stable support for orb-weaving spiders to construct their webs. Other spiders prefer the dark damp conditions of thick mulch. If a garden provides these habitats, it can be sure of non-stop, natural pest control from spiders.


About Jean GodawaJean is a science teacher and writer. She has been writing science-related articles for print and online publications for more than ten years. Jean holds a degree in biology and environmental science with a focus on entomology from the University of Toronto. She had conducted field research in the tropical rainforests of Asia and South America.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Safe Harbour


Scilla in Mom's garden.

It's the first week in May. It has been a tough week and a really long day, but phase one is complete and my parents have been moved from their house of over fifty years into their one bedroom apartment at the Berkley.

Now in their nineties, my parents have putting off making any kind of change for years, but a stroke in early spring left my father unable to manage the stairs. Despite his limited mobility, it was my Dad who continued to be determined to stay in the house, even at great cost to my mother, who had health issues of her own. However impractical, the house was safe and comfortably familiar for both of them. It has taken months of dogged negotiation to make them see that it is finally time to make a move.

Pulmonaria in Mom's garden.

I sit on a corner of the bed and look around me at the half-empty room. It's taken the last of my energy to make up my bed for the night, which is a mattress and box spring sitting on the floor of what was the family room. For years the huge undertaking of closing the house served as an excuse, so to make the task less overwhelming for my parents, my brother and I convinced my parents to grab what household things they felt they needed or wanted, and to leave the rest behind to be disposed of properly at a later date.

I feel no particular nostalgia for the house where I grew up. I haven't lived in Nova Scotia for almost thirty years. With my parents gone, it feels even less like home. It's just a half-empty shell that already feels cold and impersonal. The dated decor looks shabby and I worry how saleable the house will be.

As I look around the family room, the remaining furnishings are an odd hodgepodge of things. There's no house phone, no radio, no tv and no internet. My room for the night feels like it has all the charm of a prison cell. Exhausted, I climb into bed and wonder if my parents, who are probably just as uncomfortable in their new bedroom at the Berkley, will get even a wink of sleep.

Mom's rock garden in better days of old.

When I arrive at their apartment the next morning I find my Mom, who usually gets up at nine, has been up since seven moving things around the apartment, and rearranging her houseplants on the stand that we setup in front of their new living room window. I feel encouraged that this is a sign that she has started to accept their new circumstances.

When I find my Dad in the bedroom however, he seems a bit lost and bewildered. Together we all head down to the dining room for their first lunch. Dad, who has lost ten pounds since the stroke, eats every bit of the three course lunch with relish. The coming months will be an adjustment, but I feel more convinced than ever that we did the right thing.

On the plane ride home to Toronto, it occurs to me that when the house is sold in the fall, I'll have nowhere to go home to. While the house of my childhood has not felt like "home" for years, it was a safe harbour to which I always returned.

Euphorbia 'First Blush' 

I arrive to find the garden hasn't waited for the gardener. April was unusually cold, but in the second week of May, the heat is not only on, it's turned up to high and the temperatures are so scorchingly hot gardening is uncomfortable.

After doing a post on properly pruning clematis, I look with dismay at the clematis it is now too late to prune. With the sudden heat and dry conditions, I worry that I have already missed the perfect opportunity to move perennials around.

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Cowslip Primrose, Primula veris 'Sunset Shades

Euphorbia 'First Blush'  in behind with Euphorbia 'Bonfire' to the left. 
Geum 'Mai Tai' in the foreground.


Geum 'Mai Tai' forms a low mound of course green leaves. In early spring, soft apricot flowers are carried on tall branching stems. Removing faded flowers will encourage new buds. A hard pruning after it finishes flowering will also refresh the foliage. Divide in fall. Average garden soil and moisture conditions will work for this plant. Height: 40-45 cm (16-18 inches), Spread: 30-35 cm ( 12-14 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Self-seeded Columbine

Sweet Rocket in front of a Dogwood tree.

Weedy Sweet Rocket

Pinks over top of Thyme

False Indigo, Baptisia

I get to work, but its hard to know what to tackle first. It seems everything needs my attention. Which fire to put out first?

I like to begin at back of my deeper flower borders and work to the front. By summer the beds are always so densely packed, it's a safari into a dense, mosquito-infested jungle to do any weeding. Better to get the weeding done early when plants are just emerging from the ground. Edging the beds to keep grass out and mulching are also high on my list of priorities. I couldn't manage a garden of my size without mulch to keep the weeds somewhat at bay.

Siberian Irises

Lupins I grew from seed.



Before I know it, the lupins are flowering. They are past their peak by the time I find the time to take pictures, and a little over a week later, the fuzzy pea-like seed pods have formed.


The white peonies in the back garden open and the flowers smell divine! I had hoped to move them early this spring, but now it will have to wait for fall.


Usually the display of peonies in the front garden is one of June's highlights, but for some reason the buds on peonies in the centre of the flower border have shrivelled- a mystery that I will have to puzzle through and solve.


Geum triflorum: Height: 30 cm, Spread: 40-60 cm. It tolerates most soil types, but like most perennials, it will be happiest in well-drained soil that has been enriched with some organic matter. Full sun is best. Once established Geum triflorum is pretty low maintenance and is very drought tolerant.

Foxgloves I grew from seed.



Jacob's Ladder, Polemonium caeruleum: forms a low mound of ferny foliage with star-shaped blue flowers on tall, upright stems. It can self-seed prolifically given the right growing conditions, so deadhead it after flowering if you wan to limit seedlings. Average garden soil is fine, but Jacob's Ladder likes the soil to be moist. Height: 45-80 cm (18-31 inches), Spread 30-45 cm ( 12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.


Most magnificent of all are the pink roses along the fence marking the entrance to the backyard. The display of blooms has never been as lush. 



Explorer Rose 'John Cabot' : This rose has arching stems that can reach 3 meters in height  and can be used as a climber. It has glossy foliage and pink rose that are lightly fragrant. Its thorns are quite lethal!


The time that remains with my parents is precious now. I call them almost every day to check on them. Two weeks ago Dad was back in the hospital again. There were a few tense days, but he made a good recovery.

With the house to be sold in the fall, things will never be quite the same. The safe harbour to which I will now return is a place of childhood memories.

I will be travelling for a few days. Have a wonderful weekend!