The Olympics and garden design

This is my homework: historic Campbell House, an authentic Georgian piece of Old York (which was Toronto before Toronto) on a quarter-acre of land at Queen and University. And I, and my classmates, each get to redesign the garden.

Well, design it in theory if not in actuality – although our designs will be juried by the Campbell House Museum curator. Daunting? You betcha. Handed part one of my design plan in this week, and I’m already picking it apart in my mind. I can see the mistakes I’ve made, all the times I rushed past the design rules in my excitement and did what I always do: make for the plants.

I should know better. Which, naturally, brings me to the Olympics.

Over the past week, we’ve watched the performances of some of the world’s most talented, highly trained, determined athletes in the prime of life. They’ve devoted years of hard work and sacrifice to get where they are.

Yet, occasionally, they experience some of the things we mortals do. They make mistakes. In the excitement of the moment, they lose track of their form. When these things occur, usually Olympians dust themselves off and smile bravely for the camera, like true sportsmen and sportswomen.

So, I’m dusting myself off.

Next installment of the design is our preliminary plant list. I’m taking a step breath and reminding myself of the design process:

a) Think of the function the plants (or other design elements) have to perform

b) Think of the size and shape of elements in abstract terms (like kids’ toy blocks: columns, cones, cubes, rectangles, &c.)

c) Which plants would you choose to fill those shapes? Think how massing can change the outline of individual plants. This plant list will likely be long.

d) Now, thinking aesthetically – in terms of design principles such as balance, texture, colour – which plants are the most pleasing or impactful? The plant list is getting shorter.

e) Finally, and most important, of the plants that work aesthetically, which are best suited to the site in terms of maintenance/culture and long-term tolerance?

This is The List.

And I don’t get to make for the plants till I’ve got all that worked out. Wish me luck.


  1. Wow, that is a daunting challenge; it makes designing my new woodland garden seem like baby steps. I love your list of steps in the design process. I'll definitely be using those. Thanks for sharing them. -Jean

  2. A great list of factors to consider in developing a plant list. I love the idea of using the idea of abstract forms when creating the list. I am currently working on a list for two areas so this is really food for thought.

    Thanks for continuing to share your new found wisdome! 🙂

  3. Thanks everyone for your comments. I will be sharing my plant list, but it probably won't be till I present my solution in mid-April.

    In the meantime, I'll try to share some of the practical stuff I'm absorbing — posting, as often as not, as a reminder to myself of what I'm *supposed* to be doing.

  4. What an exciting project~and so much fun. I'm thinking these design rules need to be posted by the computer and in my car~Both places will/might help me stop making impulse purchases. HA! gail

  5. Helen, this is very exciting. I have often thought (I walk past it on my way to work) that it needs a lovely garden. What a great project to work on. Please, please add in some of the small bulbs, that naturalize, especially snowdrops. I so need to see something of spring when I walk by this time of year.

You might also like