Pulling up in front of this cottage is like stepping back in time. With every step down the walkway, you seem to be going back into a more genteel era of cottaging.
The cottage itself speaks of 1920s elegance, with multiple rooflines and a deep front porch that terminates in a shaded octagonal sitting area, perfect for sitting in a wicker armchair with a glass of lemonade on a hot day.
The landscaping completes the effect: from the arched pergola framing the walkway to the traditional herringbone pattern of the bricks in the path leading to the front door, it all looks as if it’s been preserved for a century. But beneath it lies some very sophisticated 21st century landscape design and water management techniques.
A complete redesign
While the front yard is impressive, it wasn’t even the initial focus of the project, explains Cassie Zalewski of Parklane Landscapes. “The owners called us because they wanted to protect the shoreline from erosion. We designed the back yard and they liked what they saw, so they said, ‘please design the front and side yards to complement the back yard.’”
A final request was to build two raised vegetable and herb gardens.
“In the end we were able to do a full 360-degree design. The owners are thrilled with the entire project.”
That’s always a fun way to approach a project, Cassie says. “Being able to address all the issues and all the opportunities at once is just really exciting.”
On this project, the Parklane team split the work into two phases, addressing the shoreline erosion in the fall and then returning in the spring for five or six weeks to take care of everything else. Not all clients want the work done that way, of course. “There are properties where we’ve created a full design, but built it over several seasons as the client’s budget or schedule allows,” Cassie says. Whether the project is built in one year or five, though, it’s always useful to design everything from the start.
Protecting the shoreline was the first order of business. As waterfront landscaping specialists, the Parklane team is extremely familiar with the pounding that Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching can deliver – particularly to properties on the eastern shore, like this one, which are hammered by storms in summer and wind-driven ice in winter and spring.
For years, the standard solution was to build solid retaining walls using cement or squared blocks of limestone. But no matter how well they are built, over time those walls will crumble under nature’s onslaught.
A much more effective approach is to carefully pile round boulders along the shoreline. The rounded stones diffuse the energy of the waves, and if the ice shifts some stones in winter, they just fall back into place in spring. “This is a fix-it-and-forget-it solution,” says Cassie.
Native plants can grow in the spaces between the boulders, softening the look while further stabilizing the shore. And beneath the waterline, fish and other creatures find an abundance of crevices to live in. “It’s good for the shore, good for the lake, and good for the homeowner.”
Let it rain
With the shoreline stabilized, the Parklane team could address another water-related concern: runoff.
“Nearly every waterfront home has challenges with runoff,” Cassie explains. “The rain or the snowmelt comes off the roof and the driveway and it either pools in big wet patches or carves channels in the ground on its way to the lake.”
The conventional approach was always to direct the water into an erosion-resistant channel – a dry streambed, for example – so it could escape the property as quickly as possible.
These days, though, smart landscape designers are incorporating rain gardens instead.
“We got on board with rain gardens very early, and have been designing them for many years,” says Cassie. “They just make so much sense in so many ways.”
A rain garden consists of a large bed of gravel or sand hidden beneath the ground. Water that is diverted to the surface of the rain garden quickly seeps into the gravel bed, and then slowly percolates into the soil, or is absorbed by plants growing on the surface.
When a rain garden is working as it should, it can also be completely invisible. “You can have plants growing on the surface, but you can also have walkways or patios or driveways – anything you like,” says Cassie. “The ‘garden’ part is completely optional.”
On this property, there are rain gardens beneath a gravel and flagstone pathway running alongside the house, as well as beneath a flower bed and the vegetable garden.
“You have to pay attention to the soil type when you’re designing, as well as looking at the amount of roof surface, rainfall expectations and so on, but as long as you do your calculations properly, it’s incredibly effective.”
And when a heavy rain starts to fall, there’s no need for the homeowner to do anything but sit on the porch with a glass of lemonade and let the landscaping do its work.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN