Thunder Bay, Ontario, is the home of many scenic views, including a charming country-style garden crafted by hardworking Sue Sikorski. Though it looks and lives large, this lush landscape is on an average-size city lot. Take a tour and learn about her money-saving tips.
As you can see, Sikorski started with a big challenge. Her long side yard lacked color and interest, and she wanted to break up the space.
The addition of a 150-foot-long border running the length of her property line was a perfect solution. To keep the border from feeling too massive, Sikorski, who loves salvaged objects, punctuated the space with an old bench she found at a yard sale. An antique newel, which she painted purple, adds additional structure. Because the rebar-reinforced sidewalk would have been difficult to remove and expensive to haul away, Sikorski covered it in a windy, narrow, pea-gravel path leading to her garden gates.
A little bench and planter made from a wood crate set the tone for the garden. Located near the entrance to the backyard, the combo serves as a focal point. Sikorski added more interest by painting it purple, her favorite color.
Before she started gardening, Sikorski's sister convinced her to add a small perennial border. One of the first plants Sikorski installed was purple coneflower, which she quickly learned is a top performer for her conditions. It provides beautiful blooms, long flowering season, and outstanding hardiness.
Most people think of their garden as a whole, but make magic like Sikorski did by creating vignettes. Here, for example, her gates frame a view of the lushly planted backyard, inviting a closer look.
Sikorski wanted a private garden room in the spot where a dilapidated garage had stood in her backyard and decided the back corner was the perfect spot. She placed an antique firebox in the area as her focal point.
It started with a retaining wall made from rough timbers, an idea Sikorski picked up from an old magazine. To ensure long-term stability, she built the wall with pressure-treated lumber, then faced it with timbers cut at different heights.
Sikorski built a beautiful arbor that provides an entry to her garden room. She designed it based off a photo she saw in an issue of Better Homes and Garden's Country Gardens magazine.
After four years of work, Sikorski's garden room was well underway. She filled the area with her favorite perennials, including purple coneflower, coreopsis, phlox, and lamb's ears. For more charm and character, Sikorski installed garden accents, such as an old chandelier, which she hung from the arbor.
Initially, Sikorski planned to fill the area behind her retaining wall with long-flowering perennials but decided on low-care 'Limelight' hydrangeas. Unlike the sometimes-finicky mophead types, 'Limelight' is a hardy sun-loving variety with showy blooms in summer. They fade to beige in fall and add interest to the cold season when they catch snow.
Now full of a wide array of perennials, Sikorski's garden room is connected to her side yard by a winding gravel pathway. Tall fences offer privacy from neighbors, and profusely blooming flowers attract butterflies. It has become her favorite spot to curl up with a book or magazine and plan her next garden project.
Because spring can come late and fall may make an early appearance in her region, Sikorski included an antique cast-iron firebox. Filled with flame or sitting on its own, it makes a wonderful impression in the landscape.
Sikorski's landscape slopes, allowing her to establish two levels. Her garden room is the lower level, and the display area shown here is just above it. Originally a gravel driveway, she spent a summer hauling away the gravel.
The upper seating area features two salvaged antique church pews and a raised bed made from cedar window boxes Sikorski picked up at a yard sale. A gravel path connects this area with other sections of her property. Annuals create a big burst of color fast and inexpensively.
A handful of inexpensive salvaged containers sit among the plants, giving Sikorski's backyard a distinct country feel as they surround her homemade raised bed. Such garden ornaments offer character in the winter months after the flowers fade.
With a beautiful garden underway, Sikorski got into photography and spent time shooting her yard. Her images helped her realize something was missing -- the far back corner felt empty. So she found an old door and installed it on her fence, calling it a "door to nowhere" because it doesn't open. An old bus bench sits beneath her spruce, which shelters her from rain, giving Sikorski a place to sit and enjoy her garden even on rainy days.
One of Sikorski's best garden design tricks is repetition. By using the same plant or plants with a similar feel, you can draw the eye through your borders. Here, for example, she's combined upright, light-color plants, including pink astilbe, lamb's ears, white veronica, and white delphiniums, to lead the way to her cozy bench.
Sikorski has many salvaged doors around her yard, most of which are decorative instead of functional. She found this pair for free and hung them on the fence behind her upper garden area.
Lush plantings of pink cosmos now soften the fence around Sikorski's free doors. She also put in an invisible trellis by stringing fishing line along the doors and planting clematis to clamber up it. Sections of old, white picket fence complete the look and add charm.
Sikorski got double her money's worth from the free doors. They add interest as garden accents, and she uses their hardware works in other ways. An old knob attached to a section of rebar makes for a great doorstop or hose guide, for example.
A Zone 3 climate can be challenging. Sikorski desperately wanted foxgloves in her garden, but for three years in a row was disappointed that these biennials would not overwinter and bloom. She discovered from the gardening community on BHG.com that there are varieties (such as the 'Foxy' and 'Camelot' series) that act more like annuals and flower the first year from seed. She's now able to grow these beautiful plants.