Pro Tips: Landscape Designer Joel Loblaw’s Best Backyard Advice
With summer on the horizon, we reached out to one of our favorite landscape designers to answer your top garden-related questions. Toronto-based Joel Loblaw has been featured in H&H many times, thanks to his striking outdoor spaces and super practical approach. “Our firm likes to use tried, tested and true plant material that’s low-maintenance and provides winter interest,” he says. Here, Joel shares his best advice to make the most of your backyard or balcony this season.
Q: What kinds of plants do you recommend for shady and sunny zones?
A: For gardens that don’t get a lot of light, astilbe is a lovely perennial; Winterbeauty dogwood is a great shrub; and Serviceberry is a nice small tree shrub. For sun-soaked areas, you have a lot more options including many ornamental grasses.
Q: What plants suit those of us without green thumbs?
A: Astro Turf… joking! I’d lean towards hardy native shrubs such as viburnums and dogwoods — they’re very tough and hard to kill.
Q: Can pools work in smaller backyards?
A: I’m always amazed at how much people enjoy small pools. But I’d say that if a garden is smaller than 16′ by 16′ you’re probably going to start eating up valuable real estate that could be used for patios and plantings.
Q: What kind of decking wears the best through the seasons?
A: We still use cedar quite often. Again, it’s a tried, tested and true product. It’s also produced in Canada and weathers well for about 15 to 20 years. We find that some of the South American hardwoods can get pricey, especially considering that they’ll all eventually weather into the same woolly grey as cedar.
Q: How can I get a garden-like effect on my small terrace?
A: Planters are great! You can have them custom-made, but there are also lots of prefabricated planters available at a reasonable price. Just make sure that your planters are insulated if you want to use perennial plants that will survive through the seasons.
Q: Aside from adding fencing, how can I make my narrow city yard feel more intimate?
A: We really like using columnar trees. They don’t take up a lot of space and are not nearly as expensive, or as much maintenance, as a green wall (and guess what? They’re still green!).
Q: I can’t wait to set out my patio furniture and planters. Is there anything I can plant now, before the warm weather arrives?
A: It really is best to wait until mid-May. As our weather has shown, you never know when it’s going to get below freezing and kill the sensitive new leaf structure. Better safe than sorry!
Q: What are some trends you’re seeing in urban gardens and landscaping?
A: Prefabricated fire pits — we love them! They add incredible atmosphere and are cost-efficient and low-maintenance. Mass-planting is another trend that, in our opinion, never goes out of style. Rather than planting just one of each plant and using many different varieties, we like to plant each variety in clusters and plant fewer species. This gives gardens a more dramatic look, and also keeps things tidy and easy to maintain.