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Bringing an English garden to an urban neighbourhood

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The owners of this landscape drew their inspiration from across the pond, wanting to create an English garden in Toronto.

By Heather Neal

When the design crew of Toronto-based firm Beyond Landscaping arrived at this residence in the city’s Beaches neighbourhood, they were challenged to complete a total overhaul of the space and create a functional, yet esthetically pleasing front entrance.

Having visited England several times, the clients drew their inspiration from across the pond, wanting to create a stone wall and English garden similar to the ones they had seen during their travels. The landscape also needed to keep in character with a traditional Toronto Beach residence and appear as if it had been there for years, as in England. To achieve this goal, a significant amount of time and effort went into planning the project, which was executed simply and effectively.

Out with the old

The pre-existing space comprised a steep row of concrete steps, an over-grown hosta garden and a patch of grass that struggled to grow under mature shade trees. The trees and one Euonymus alatus (burning bush) were the only elements of the landscape the clients wanted to keep; everything else had to go.

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The pre-existing space comprised a steep row of concrete steps, an over-grown hosta garden and a patch of grass that struggled to grow under mature shade trees.

The first design challenge involved proper placement of the stairs in order to make them feel more balanced with the house and not as steep. Rather than centring them with the house, they were placed in accordance with the prominent peak of the house, to create symmetry. This also allowed for the placement of two new landings to break up the steep steps. The top landing was extended to add a seating area for the clients to enjoy their garden.

The next challenge was to add some retaining walls to help pick up the slope for the garden. The walls had to be placed carefully around the trees and were kept as far away as possible on the relatively small urban lot.

Step by step

Before beginning the project, proper hoarding had to be installed around the trees. The city, with its wonderful green canopy, can sometimes prove to be a landscaper’s nemesis. While the crew on this project would have loved to dig out the entire job in a morning using a skid steer, hand digging was required close to the roots of the trees. During this process, it was discovered that the tree had actually grown into part of the existing brick retaining wall. In order to preserve the tree’s health, the affected part of the wall was left intact. Thankfully, it is located towards the back of the landscape, meaning it had a negligible impact from a design perspective. All in all, it is better to be safe than sorry when dealing with a 100-year-old tree. The rest of the dig out went relatively smoothly.

The next phase was the steps. Solid stone steps were chosen, as they hold up very well functionally speaking. From a design standpoint, since so many other materials were used in the rest of the landscape, solid stone steps also served as a good contrast. Another bonus was the ease of installation. With the proper equipment, these steps can be installed relatively quickly. In this case, after a little time was spent running all the string lines, the steps were simply popped into place with a skid steer.

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