Gardeners expect change. We're used to our plans falling through: that rare shrub, the focal point of the shade border, freezing solid in winter; the new tender perennial becoming a feast for a rabbit rather than one for the eye. Unlike some plants, we're a hardy lot-we pick up our trowels and trundle forth. But when your whole garden, the one you've toiled in and dreamed about for several years, is changed in a heartbeat, it can stop you in your tracks.
In designing my Oakville, Ontario, garden, I had heeded classic advice and worked with the borrowed view of the next-door neighbour's garden. I had also taken into account the far-reaching shade from its ancient black walnut tree and planted a shade garden. The plants around the pond and in the bog garden and native plant bed had matured to lush fullness since the garden was featured in the June/July 1999 issue of Canadian Gardening. In 2000, I installed a new waterfall in the northeast corner of the garden, as well as a long stream through the shade garden to the pond. Then two years ago the property next door changed hands, and in a mere few hours the small cottage, and its tiny garden-including the shrub border consisting of mock orange, weigela and lilacs that divided our properties – was plowed under and the black walnut was chopped down. With it went 100 years of history, a haven for countless birds-and my shade garden.
I now had a full-sun exposure, which meant the design I'd developed and the plants I'd used no longer worked. In an odd way, my plantings were dwarfed by the vast emptiness a few metres away, and I finally understood the concept of a garden depending so much on its setting.
And what became of the space next to mine in the ensuing six months? Two imposing storeys of beige stucco were erected, with many large windows overlooking my once-private refuge. If I didn't know it before, I knew then: I had to create a new garden.
One of the first steps in any garden design is to determine the focal points. In my case, the eye went straight to the beige wall next door. A 1.8-metre fence had been built along the property line, but the wall rose above it, and I had to find a way of screening it out if I wanted to reclaim my privacy. The new house was only 1.2 metres away from the fence, so whatever screen trees I planted wouldn't have much room to branch out. I chose 'Dawyck Gold' columnar beeches (Fagus sylvatica 'Dawyck Gold') because they naturally grow in a narrow shape. I planted 28 of them in a row along the fence; in time, they will completely hide the beige wall. To provide interest and privacy over winter, I planted five dozen inexpensive white cedars (Thuja occidentalis) between the fence and the beeches. They're scrappy and thin but are filling in quickly.