It’s a jungle out there! A garden out of control

Around 15 years ago, my green buddy, Cheryl Vanderburg, decided to do a backyard makeover. She’s always been drawn to natural gardens, and if you’ve read any of her many Leaside Life ‘Litterati’ articles, you know she cares a lot about the environment. 

Cheryl didn’t want to mow any longer and watering seemed wasteful. So, she had a friend draw up a plan which included a patio, arbor and large perennial garden. “I thought it would be pretty, natural, less maintenance and require fewer resources like water.” And the garden became all of that…at least, for a while.

But Cheryl soon learned that some plants quickly outgrow their given space, others require too much attention, and there are always unknown and uninvited invasive plants that show up out of nowhere.

Back in February (when most of us gardeners get the first hit of spring fever) Cheryl asked me for some garden advice.

“My garden has become a jungle!” she said. She went on to explain that she wanted more space, a garden that would look beautiful all year, and as much as she loves gardening, she didn’t want it to be a full-time job.    

I was delighted to offer help and asked for some photos so I could see what the garden looked like during the winter. 

What the garden looked like during the winter. Photo Cheryl Vanderburg.
What the garden looked like during the winter. Photo Cheryl Vanderburg.

Her photo gave me a perfect view, and though it was too early to see this garden burst into life, I could clearly see the many problems she was facing. With only one path to the back patio, there was no easy access for her to tend to the oversized garden bed. I saw the bare branches of too many scattered deciduous shrubs, and the dried stalks where hostas and ferns were beginning to take over. But what I noticed the most was the lack of evergreens, making this garden look completely dead in the winter. 

Progress is made in the garden. Photo Cheryl Vanderburg.
In the early spring I saw everything I had imagined. Though looking lush and lovely, I knew it was a perennial garden on the verge of becoming a jungle. Photo Cheryl Vanderburg.

In the early spring I saw everything I had imagined. Though looking lush and lovely, I knew it was a perennial garden on the verge of becoming a jungle.

I suggested cutting through the enormous garden bed and laying a new flagstone path to mirror the existing path. This would form a centre island bed and create a beautiful focal point, but more than that, it would provide Cheryl easy access to tend to her plants. I suggested she take out most of the ostrich ferns that I personally adore, but will soon take over the entire lot. She could pot some up in containers, where they could be controlled while adding visual interest along her patio. But most important, I suggested adding evergreens!

Evergreens are essential trees and shrubs that add a sense of weight and body to a garden. They support birds looking for shelter, a place for them to nest, and bring life to a winter garden. They can also block unsightly views, and once established, most evergreens are low maintenance. What’s not to love?

Cheryl took action immediately. She ordered some new planters, started giving away plants to neighbours, and even put some ferns out at the curb where they were scooped up in no time.

She enlisted two enthusiastic garden helpers from Leaside High and got them to dig in. Photo Cheryl Vanderburg.
She enlisted two enthusiastic garden helpers from Leaside High and got them to dig in. Photo Cheryl Vanderburg.

She enlisted two enthusiastic garden helpers from Leaside High and got them to dig in. Suddenly, a new path began to appear, and her lovely new planters were filled with beautiful ferns that will come back year after year.

There’s still a lot of work to make Cheryl’s new dream garden come true: the new flagstone path to lay down, transplanting of her favourite flowers to the new island bed, and the addition of some evergreens. But it sure is shaping up fast, and personally, I can hardly wait to see the final creation.

About Debora Kuchme 67 Articles
After a 30-year career as a fashion designer, Debora worked at Horticultural Design for over a decade. Now with her concerns about climate change, she hopes to help local gardeners find positive solutions for a greener and healthier neighbourhood. As a board member of the Bayview Leaside BIA, she created the Bayview Pixies, a volunteer group introducing sustainable gardening practice to Bayview.