HOME: Garden Tour

That natural beauty we call our yard gets all kinds of loving care, attention and appreciation in the summer. But no more than a cursory glance on route from the car to the house through spring, fall and winter. That's a big investment of your time and money for a short-term return. Financially speaking, and to stave off cabin fever in the wintertime, make the most of your outdoor environs all year long, says designer Richard Kuizenga of Shademaster Landscaping.

Whether its a gazebo, hot tub, cozy lounge or outdoor kitchen that beckons you in the cooler weather, there are plenty of plant options to keep those al fresco spaces surrounded in gorgeous flora, shaded with trees and shrubs to block the wind.

“To get three seasons, or more, out of an outdoor room you typically need three things,” Kuizenga says. “A roof, walls, and a source of heat.”

 The roof keeps sun, rain or snow at bay. A low knee wall, solid railing such as transparent acrylic glass, or natural wind barrier such as a yew hedge, keep those cool breezes from cutting a nice evening short. These barriers can also help reflect heat from a fire place, fire table, or gas or electric heater. 

Shademaster has more than 30 years of creating luxury spaces in the Oakville, Burlington and Ancaster area, and earned a few awards on the way, including the highest honour from Landscape Ontario, the Dunnington Grubb Award. So it's worth heeding Kuizenga's advice when he says homeowners looking to optimize their outdoor space should make sure their patio is big enough to accommodate all of their furniture, planters, barbecues, and more, as well as traffic paths to move around all of their setups.

“Having a patio that's too small or cramped limits the amount of use and enjoyment you'll get out of it,” he says.
The choice of paving stone can have an impact on creating a spacious patio as well.  New large format paving stones typically have fewer joints in them and as a result look less busy, adds Kuizenga.

Year-round outdoor living of late includes creating covered seating areas that even draw homeowners outside to watch television. Al fresco kitchens are also getting plenty of use through winter, he adds. Whether it's just a nice grilling station or a full-out kitchen with fridges, wine cooler, warming drawer and pizza oven, outdoor kitchens can definitely be a main attraction year-round, says Kuizenga. 

Lighting is vital to enjoying the great outdoors beyond summer. “In my opinion, it's one of the greatest elements for really extending outdoor time,” he says. “Proper landscape lighting can give you twice as much time to use your outdoor space.”

Finally, good all-season plants ensure you are surrounded by nature's splendor as you while away the hours outside.
Consider structure and how they are used rather than other attributes like flowering impact, advises Kuizenga. 
“Yews are a great example. They don't flower but can have a heavy year-round impact on a garden in terms of the structure or architecture of it. Even in winter they can help form the “˜bones' of the garden.”

 Many other shrubs, such as burning bush, can be formed into hedges and offer brilliant fall colour.

One of Kuizenga's favourite all-season plants is serviceberry clumps. In spring the flowers are white, in summer red berries appear, in fall the foliage turns brilliant orangey-red and in winter the branching structure keeps it interesting in the garden. It's also a native plant in southern Ontario so it can handle the climate. 

Viburnums are another, often overlooked, group of shrubs that can provide interest year-round as well with their typically spring flowers, fruit, fall colour, and great structure. And because of their larger size they can be used to anchor corners of the garden, or be used as screening making them valuable in the landscape.

With sound design and planning you too can extend your living space at home and head outdoors to dine, relax and enjoy as much as you like.