As spring approaches, consider these alternative gardens for your home

As spring approaches, consider these alternative gardens for your home

The growing interest in plants among millennials – combined with aging baby boomers who want maintenance-free gardens – means that gardens today are often a radical departure from traditional English or European country and estate gardens.

Natural, native and sustainable gardens are now being tended in more creative ways by professionals and amateurs alike. “The younger generation is moving into the home and they want to do it their way,” says veteran Toronto-based gardener Dougald Cameron. The result is gardens that increasingly reflect the diversity of our landscapes, as well as our people, and our native plants. For their part, boomers want less stressful work.

“Our gardens are closer to nature than ever before,” says Cameron. “And if you think of gardening as an art form, what you like or don’t like, it all comes down to personal taste.”

Here, five unconventional gardens to inspire your warm-weather planning.

Rock garden

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Rock gardens require minimal maintenance and look great too.Alexander Antanovich/iStockPhoto/Getty Images

Since many gardeners don’t have enough time to weed, rockeries are seeing a resurgence. Using rocks to build rock gardens that require minimal maintenance, these spaces look great in real life and on Instagram, and are the perfect backdrop for a wide range of perennials. Plants that thrive include creeping thyme, angelina stonecrop, spreading conifers, alpine, rockchips (the Latin name Saxifraga means “stone crusher”), and hardy succulents like hens and chicks, which live outside on the ground year-round. Rock gardens need full sun and well-drained, gravel soil.

water garden

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Wetland plants such as blue flag iris, puzzle grass, sweet flag and water lily are ideal for the pond garden.Erasofy/iStockPhoto/Getty Images

A water garden has traditionally been just one of many different features in a garden, but with Canadian cities growing exponentially – and lot sizes shrinking – homeowners are turning to water gardens as a focal point for compact outdoor settings. They are ideal for urban life because they provide white noise to mask traffic and plants attract wildlife. There are many wetland plants that are ideal including blue flag iris (Quebec’s provincial flower), puzzle grass, sweet flag, and of course water lily. An ideal plant for the water’s edge is the cardinal flower, which attracts hummingbirds.

Native Plant Garden

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Native plants thrive anywhere, whether rural or urban, and have the ability to attract birds, insects and other wildlife.PhotoCate/iStockPhoto/Getty Images

As the name suggests, these gardens are made up of plants native to Canada. The main attraction is their unrestrained appearance and their ability to attract birds, bees, insects and other wildlife. Native plant gardens thrive anywhere, rural or urban, and in small or large spaces. The key is to know your soil and light conditions when selecting plants. Locally grown species are usually friendly to bees and butterflies (these gardens are a boon to Canada’s endangered monarch butterfly population). Don’t be surprised to find plants that were once considered weeds, such as milkweed and goldenrod, suggested for this type of garden. Other additions can include oak leaf hydrangea, switchgrass, and northern sea oats (which you should keep because they like to reseed).

Vertical garden

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A wall garden requires a strong support structure that has the ability to withstand moisture.Iryna_L/iStockPhoto/Getty Images

If you can’t get out, get in. Perfect on sunny balconies or terraces, these gardens are the perfect antidote to looking at a blank, boring wall. However, there are some caveats. Don’t overdo the height (it’s difficult to maintain), make sure it’s sunny and that the supporting structure is strong and able to withstand moisture. Flowering plants include clematis, roses, Virginia creeper and climbing hydrangea. Vegetables that like to climb are squash and beans.

Shrub garden

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Gardeners often choose shrubs for winter because they are low maintenance.photofantastica/iStockPhoto/Getty Images

The definition of a shrub, in horticultural terms, is anything less than six metres. The key to a beautiful shrub garden with year-round interest is getting the right mix of textures, colors and heights. In years past, shrubs were commonly pruned to achieve a manicured appearance. Now they were left more or less untamed. Cameron likes to mix evergreens with shrubs such as redbark twig dogwood, paper maple, dwarf conifers, mock orange lilacs and star magnolia. People often choose shrub gardens for their winter interest and because they are low maintenance. “They’re like a sculpture group in a way,” he says. “They can be in all shapes and sizes, and they are there all the time.”

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