Gardens - Shade Gardens

Green peace: A shady oasis in Toronto

Kathleen Dore
Photography by
Stacey Brandford

An attentive gardener listens and learns the secrets of her space to create a bewitching urban garden

green-peace-inset1.jpgGarden stats
Misha Dubbeld
Size: 23 by 30 metres
Zone: 6 
Orientation: West 
Conditions: Dappled to full shade; mix of clay and sand with good drainage 
Growing season: Spring
Garden focus: Spring-blooming forest garden (perennials and native trees)
Maintenance tip: “Keep the ground covered to smother weeds. My friend Michelle Cope, a fabulous gardener, does some maintenance for me as I’m away so much in the summer.”

Gazing at the dense sea of green from Misha Dubbeld’s stone terrace, it’s easy to imagine Toronto as it was before it was Toronto. Trunks of towering red and white oaks rise up from a lush understory of woodland plants, the thick vegetation cushioning the city sounds. A playful trickle of water, unseen but close by, brings to mind an underground spring breaking the earth’s surface, bubbling over rocks.

It feels like a forest, but make no mistake: this is a designed space, created by Misha to evoke that effect. “The space had great bones,” says the experienced gardener. “All I did was respect the oaks and yews, and plant what could thrive in their shade.”

When she bought the property on Toronto’s Davenport ridge, a geological feature marking the ancient shoreline of the glacial-period Lake Iroquois, she already loved it. For 15 years, she’d lived on the same street and gardened the same sand and clay soil, driving by the house daily, admiring its Georgian symmetry and handsome columned portico. When it went up for sale, she and her husband bought it, and she inherited a backyard gifted with 100-year-old native oaks, but also studded with unsuitable plantings of lilacs, spruce and a big open lawn that were all struggling in the shade of the leafy canopy. “I knew I had to joyfully accept the shade, not struggle with it,” says Misha.


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