A large landscaping project is often best done over two or more seasons. You and your designer can break the property up into separate zones and tackle them one at a time.
Naturally, you’ll want to start with the most visible side first, right? Wrong.
“People sometimes want the front yard done first, because that’s what you see when you approach the house. But that can cause huge problems,” says Cassie O’Neill, Project Manager of Parklane Landscapes.
“You always want to start on the lake side and work away from the water.”
The reason for that is twofold, she explains. Firstly, any materials or machinery that are needed at the waterfront will almost certainly need to come from the road. If the front and side yards are already landscaped, access to the lakeside or backyard can be difficult or expensive.
The other reason has to do with waterfront protection.
A lot of properties on Simcoe and Couchiching have aging retaining walls, Cassie explains. Built years ago from cement, armourstone, or limestone blocks, they looked solid and impressive when they were first built but they just don’t stand up to the ravages of ice and waves. “Cement will crack and crumble, armourstone will shift, and limestone is soft and just weathers away,” says Cassie.
The hard, flat surface can also create undertow as the waves crash into it, sucking sand away from the walls and hastening their decay.
As the walls deteriorate, they don’t just look bad: they can also allow significant amounts of sediment to seep into the lake. That’s not good for the individual waterfront – nutrient-rich sediment encourages weed and algae growth right where you want to swim – and it’s not good for the lake as a whole. “You want to mitigate that problem, and deal with the issue before you do anything else.”
Addressing the issuesThat was the approach taken at Derrick and Tami Leue’s cottage on Lake Simcoe. Located at the north end of the lake near the Atherley Narrows, the property sees significant ice build-up every year. “We had a concrete retaining wall that had probably been there for 40 years, and it was really starting to degrade,” says Derrick. So, too, was a waterfront patio made from limestone slabs. “Every year the ice would shift it and we would have to have someone come in and make repairs.”
It was clear something needed to be done. “We asked around and someone said ‘call Parklane. They do a lot of work on waterfront properties,’” says Derrick.
In fact, Parklane is registered with the provincial government’s Lake Simcoe Watershed Greening Shorelines program. This program is free to property owners in the watershed who want to enhance the shore by planting and maintaining native plants. Homeowners who sign up will receive some free trees and shrubs, as well as advice from the Parklane team, all at no charge.
Parklane is also launching a residential greening program to provide 10 free native plants and rain garden workshops for home owners, and eco art garden workshops for children. This program is available to anyone in the Lake Simcoe watershed who wants to plant native plants, enhance the ecological value of their gardens, protect the shoreline, and protect our environment.
Assess and plan
On Derrick and Tami’s property, Cassie and the Parklane team assessed the entire property, noting problem spots – including areas beside the house where runoff from the front yard was eroding the slope, and a section of lawn that turned into muddy swamp every time it rained, as well as the damaged retaining walls and patio. They also took note of the assets, including an abundance of mature hardwood trees that had been growing since the original cottage was built in 1915.
And they talked to Derrick and Tami about their desires for the property. “This is our weekend property, so we want something low-maintenance,” says Derrick. “Lawn is lovely, but it takes work. So we want granite hardscape and lots of perennial gardens.”
Getting rid of the lawn will also help deter geese, an ongoing problem on this and many other waterfront properties.
Enclosing the problem
The plan includes terraced gardens and granite flagstone patios. A rain garden in a low-lying area will hold rainwater and snow melt, allowing it to gradually seep into the soil rather than running off into the lake – and making it accessible to the roots of the mature trees.
But the first step was to encase the worst of the two retaining walls.
“You don’t want to remove the old cement,” Cassie explains. “That just creates massive sediment problems.” Instead, the wall is hidden behind artfully placed granite boulders.
The rounded boulders absorb the energy of waves, dissipating it and eliminating the undertow that a flat wall creates. And in winter, ice can encase the hard boulders without causing any damage. “Ice will shift everything – that’s just a fact of nature,” says Cassie. “It can lift these boulders, then drop them down again, and you’ll never notice a thing. They’ll continue to look great and do their job.”
The limestone flags were removed and replaced with heavier, harder granite flags, set at the same height as the dock to allow a seamless walk from the sitting area.
Derrick and Tami are delighted with the results. “The Parklane team were really professional, and they were right on time and on budget,” Derrick says.
With one section of the project completed, the team can now begin working on the rest of the property, working backward from the lake and finishing at the road – just the way it’s supposed to be done.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN