Garden Photo of the Day

A Garden Sanctuary From the City

Looking forward to spring in eastern Ontario

Greetings! My name is Jan Le Clair, and I live in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I have been gardening for about 15 years at our current house, an 1866 historic Victorian row house, fully attached with a former carriage-through on one side. When I was growing up, my family home had a large, sprawling, suburban-style lawn that was always in need of cutting. I swore that as an adult I would have little or no lawn. That has come true. We garden both the front and back of our home. The front is well drained with full sun until about 2 pm, and I operate on a classic purple-yellow-white color scheme shot through with a splash of orange later in summer. Our backyard is all shade, and we call it our “sanctuary” in the city.

bearded irisI am a lover of iris, which does so well in the front yard. The garden sports several different kinds of irises, and I love how they really herald the spring. This is an old-fashioned variety of bearded iris.

Siberian irisElegant Siberian iris (Iris siberica, Zones 3–9)

Wider view of the Siberian iris. The individual blooms are small, but they are produced in such profusion that big clumps like this can be breathtaking.

More bearded irises in yellow and purple.

‘White Crinkle’ peonyI purchased this single petal peony plant called ‘White Crinkle’ on a whim when it was on sale a few years ago. It was past its prime at a box store nursery; however, it has gone on to become an absolute show-stopper in the front garden. I receive constant comments when it has over 50 blooms and a gorgeous, puffy, cloudlike petal formation.

‘White Crinkle’ is like sunshine peeking through clouds on a summer day, and just looking at these blooms brings me great joy.

Norway mapleAfter entering the carriage-through to the small backyard oasis area, one can peek over the bright blue antique piece of garden gate we installed to see mostly foliage shrubs and plants. The garden is fully shaded, thanks to a mature Norway maple (Acer platanoides, Zones 3–7) planted by a previous owner decades ago. We replaced the back garden retaining wall a number of years ago with beautiful Welland, Ontario, limestone we sourced and reclaimed from some former steps near the local university campus, which is not far from our house. Welland limestone is darker and hardier than Kingston limestone, which shales and breaks more readily.

This shade planter always occupies the limestone wall in the backyard.

A ‘Miss Bateman’ clematis (Clematis ‘Miss Bateman’, Zones 5–9) clings to an arbor, giving us a feeling of two “rooms” in this small garden. The clematis is a bit fussy in this shade garden, so it gets a bit babied and coaxed in order to bloom, but bloom it does every spring. We like to host musical house concerts here in summer, which our kind neighbors support. When the torches are lit and the fireflies come out in the late dusk, it is a magical place to host and to hear terrific live music.


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View Comments


  1. sandyprowse 01/23/2020

    Miss Bateman clematis and White Krinkle peony. Both spectacular blooms. Breathtaking. I am a Torontonian and will keep my eyes peeled for the Mass of White Krinkle Peony if I visit Kingston this summer and walk around Queen’s in Peony season. I enjoyed your garden thoroughly. Well done!

  2. k0kat 01/23/2020

    I really enjoyed your post! The limestone differences were really interesting. Both of your spaces sound like beautiful spots to live in.

  3. User avater
    treasuresmom 01/23/2020

    Love that shade planter and Miss Bateman as well. She is definitely worth getting into bloom.

  4. User avater
    meander_michaele 01/23/2020

    Hi, Jan, I loved your delightful description of your 'White Crinkle' peony...what a treat it must be to see all those sunshiny blooms when they are at their peak. Your rock wall is so handsome and certainly serves as a wonderful frame for the plants the grow in the elevated bed.

  5. Maggieat11 01/23/2020

    Wonderful job with your gardens! I have been meaning to get that 'White Crinkle'.... a good reminder to do it THIS year. It is fab! Ah, an old Victorian home. How fortunate. It must be gorgeous! Thanks for sharing!

  6. coastalgardener 01/23/2020

    Love, love, love that 'White Crinkle' peony. I have several peonies in my Massachusetts garden, but I especially love the single ones because they stay upright even after a heavy rain. Thanks for sharing your lovely garden!

  7. nwphillygardener 01/23/2020

    Seeing your full garden in fine spring form was just what I needed to see this morning, Thank You. The picture taken over the vintage gate had me wanting to step in to see some of what was obscured in your shade garden….Is that a dwarf japanese maple planted in front of the wall?

  8. btucker9675 01/23/2020

    What a wonderful garden! Your summer musical evenings must be enchanting!

  9. User avater
    simplesue 01/23/2020

    I think maybe a garden is enjoyed even more living in the city, like you said- it's your oasis!
    I really like your garden and your house sounds wonderful too!
    That cement garden bench photo in with the garden plants and flowers is pure poetry!

  10. jocelynsp 01/23/2020

    That 'White Crinkle' peony is a doozy! I may very well look for that one. Thanks for the ideas.

  11. Sasha_HMS 01/23/2020

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    A new app in the Google Play Store tells you exactly how much sun or shade any place will get.
    Try it out. Share with your friends! Give feedback!
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  12. User avater
    SarahCullen 01/24/2020

    Very Beautiful!

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