So I’ve been working on the back yard and the front garden for the past few years. When I first moved in with my then-boyfriend (now fiance!) in 2015, The back yard was an oasis of concrete and dog poop. The front yard wasn’t much better — the garden bed was covered with a thick layer of small rocks, and not a thing was growing. We had nowhere nice to sit outside and just relax.
Now we do! After putting in hours of hard work over the course of several summers, both the front and back yards look decent. Not amazing, but decent.
The back yard has the biggest changes, so let’s start there.
The Back Yard
I know this isn’t the most accurate “before” picture — the yard isn’t usually that messy — but you get the general idea. It had uneven concrete stones and no decorations. H wanted a grassy yard, and I wanted a small area for growing plants. So we got to work!
I started by sweeping up and bagging all the pine needles and other debris. Once that was done, we pulled up the concrete stones and put down a sheet of black plastic to keep down the weeds. After pulling it all up, we had to wheel the chunks of concrete out the gate, down the side of the house, and into the back of the truck. I helped, of course, but H did most of the heavy lifting.
Next step: Put down grass. Unfortunately, the soil beneath the concrete was severely compacted. We would have to put down topsoil, which neither of us wanted to pay for (or lug home).
Soooo I did the next best thing and created my own soil via lasagna gardening, which is basically a method of composting. It involves putting down “green” layers (high-nitrogen materials like fresh grass clippings) and “brown” layers (high-carbon materials like newspaper and straw). All you do is add the layers to the lawn, leave it there, and the earthworms gradually work their way through it, leaving you with workable soil.
We left it there all summer, fall, and winter. In the spring, I removed the top layer of straw. Almost everything beneath it had decomposed. It wasn’t quite enough to cover the lawn, but it reduced the amount of topsoil we needed to buy.
Which brings us to the next step: picking up topsoil and grass seed. Because we’re planning to add a deck later, I only bothered to seed half the lawn. I also put out two planters, added a small garden section, and set out the Canada mat that was just sitting in the garage.
This is what it looks like now!
I’m mostly growing edible plants: rhubarb, chives, basil, thyme, arugula, a hot pepper plant, cilantro, and nasturtiums.
We still need to pick up a patio set and add more grass seed. For the most part, though, the back yard works just fine as a spot to drink coffee first thing in the morning. I usually sit on the steps with Eowyn before watering the plants.
She loves being outside! Right now, I only let her in the back yard where she can’t get too far. She would probably love the front garden, too, if I were to let her hang out there. Speaking of which . . .
The Front Garden
Around the same time I was fixing up the back, I was making plans for the front garden. I want to make it a friendly space for pollinators — especially bees. As you’ve probably heard, bees are in decline around the world. If this decline continues, it could seriously affect our food production.
** Mini Service Announcement! **
One way to help the bees and other pollinators is to plant native and/or non-invasive plants in the garden. Plants that are native to your specific region are best, but you can also add plants that are native to your province/state or country.
Plants that are native to Ottawa, Ontario, include:
- Serviceberry (tree)
- Pin Cherry (tree)
- Black Cherry (tree)
- Elderberry, common or red (bush)
- Chokeberry (bush)
- Asters (wildflower)
- Trilliums (wildflower)
- Violets (groundcover)
- Wild Strawberry (groundcover)
In the link listed above, you’ll also find a list of flowers and ornamental grasses that are non-native but non-invasive, meaning they’re safe to plant in your Ontario garden. Also, the Ottawa Horticultural Society lists other native plants not mentioned on the City of Ottawa site: black-eyed Susan, Jeruselum artichoke, Oswega tea (a variety of bee balm), harebell, and purple coneflower, just to name a few.
** And Now, Back to Our Regular Programming! **
I couldn’t find everything I looked for at the garden center, so I did the best I could with what I did find.
I found this elderberry bush, bought it, and then realized this particular variety is not native. Too late to return it now! I’ll look again next year for the common or red variety and plant it beside this one.
I fared better with my search for native wildflowers. Here’s the native variety of bee balm: Oswego tea (Monarda didyma), aka scarlet bee balm or crimson bee balm.
If you decide to add this plant to your garden, check the Latin name on the tag before buying. The garden centers carry tons of bee balm varieties, including hybrids, and it’s easy to grab the wrong plant. What I personally love about it is that it’s a perennial, which means less work for me next year! It’ll grow back year after year, and it’s supposed to spread easily (it belongs to the mint family).
I also grabbed three lupine plants.
I already know that lupines are native to Ontario, since they grow wild in my hometown. However, only L. perennis is native to Southern Ontario, and the lupines I bought are a hybrid variety. Gah! I’ll just collect the seeds so they can’t spread. Next year, I’ll order L. perennis seeds online and plant those instead.
I managed to find harebells, aka Blue Bells of Scotland.
From what I’ve read online so far, several harebell varieties are native to Canada, but others came here from Europe. I don’t know what one I have, but I’m going to say “good enough” for now. These plants are perennials, and I’m not willing to replace them anytime soon.
And now for the climbing hydrangea. It’s not native, but Landscape Ontario lists it as a non-invasive plant in its “Grow Me Instead” guide.
It hasn’t grown any buds yet. I’m assuming that this plant is getting established and won’t bloom for a few years at least.
And that’s all I have for the flowers out front. For the foliage plants, I have one hosta from last year.
It looks a bit lonely by itself. Maybe I’ll add one or two more hostas next year.
All in all, I’m happy with the front garden. I’m crossing my fingers that everything will eventually spread out more and look a bit more wild.
What’s in your garden this year? Tell me about it in the comments below!