Garden Photo of the Day

A Garden That Works With Nature Instead of Fighting It

Echoing natural features ties this garden into its location

Today we’re visiting Anne’s garden on the outskirts of Ottawa, Ontario.

Our garden is a happy mix of cultivated and naturalized plants situated on alvarlike terrain in a rural development about 35 km west of our nation’s capital, Ottawa. An alvar is a limestone flats–based environment that is very cold and wet in fall, winter, and spring, and dry in summer. It supports a large variety of indigenous flora and fauna. Not far from our property, the Burnt Lands Alvar is actually protected as a provincial park because of its delicate ecosystem properties: grassland, shrubby trees, native plants, birds, insects. The neighborhood we live in is built on the edge of the alvar, and we benefit from many prominent and stunning limestone outcroppings in the area. In prehistoric times, this was the site of the Champlain Sea, and vestiges of its former life are evident as plant and animal fossils all over our limestone patio and outcroppings.

Gardening is a challenge because the soil layer is thin and lightly acidic. The area is naturally covered with cedars, sumac, burr oak, and ironwood. It is very beautiful. Our garden is centered mainly around the house, with its load of original builder’s topsoil as host to mostly cultivated perennials interspersed with natural wildflowers left in beds to attract pollinators. As you radiate outward on this two-acre lot, the garden blends into the natural landscape.

The pictures below provide a look at our summer garden, which incorporates the types of plants that can withstand and thrive in the fairly harsh conditions here: daylilies, sedums, hydrangea, rudbeckia, hosta, echinacea, phlox, etc. Our lawn is a naturalized mix of fescue, clover, thyme, ajuga, and other indigenous ground covers, all blending into the perfect mix that even during the dry summer season still provides a covering of green at the same time that lawns covered in brown, crispy grass are entering dormancy.

I hope you enjoy these as an example of what can be done in a northerly garden.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Zones 3–9) is a reliable perennial in a wide range of conditions and is beloved by pollinators.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrids) put on a colorful summer show.

Hydrangea paniculata (Zones 3–9) shows off behind blooming perennials.

Uncultivated areas can still be beautiful, with Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota, Zones 3–9) blooming happily.

Bright yellow black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida, Zones 4–9).

The hardscaping features around the garden incorporate the same limestone as the base of the bedrock.

The garden blends into the natural areas around it, which feature the limestone bedrock of the alvar.

Using limestone in the hardscaping helps the garden complement the natural landscape.

More local limestone surrounds the pond.

A peaceful spot to sit and enjoy the natural beauty.


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View Comments


  1. Chefin1950 09/12/2019

    Dear Anne, Your garden is just lovely – it just goes to show what can be accomplished when we work with instead of against nature. I'm very must interested in learning much more about your naturalized lawn mixture. Did you start this out with seeds? Did it just establish itself? I have exactly the dried crispy lawn that you described and would love to plant something that could stand up to our dog running and playing on it, but didn't need water in our increasingly dry summers.

    1. annegad 09/12/2019

      Thank you! Actually we started out with a full grown lawn when we bought the house about 23 years ago. We have very dry summers and it was a challenge to keep it green without herbicides and watering. I do neither, nor do I use a fertilizer. Gradually I have over seeded with clover and grass mix which contains red fescue, and I have also left the native fescues and grasses to do their thing. My lawn is not homogeneous. I also planted some thymes and creeping thyme on the borders of my beds and driveway areas, and they really took off. We just ensure that we mow on a regular bi-weekly basis, not too short and we leave the grass cuttings down on the lawn to fertilize. I will hand weed the large weeds (anything prickly) but leave everything else to be cleaned up by the mower. Call me a lazy gardener, but it works!

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 09/12/2019

    All the flowers & shrubs are wonderful but my, my, that limestone is amazing!

    1. annegad 09/12/2019

      Thank you!

  3. User avater
    simplesue 09/12/2019

    I've never heard of an Alvar until now. You've made it a nice feature of your garden instead of an obstacle. I really like all that limestone amongst the plants and pond- really amazing! This is one of the most inviting front gardens I've seen, with tons of interest and curb appeal. Really a gorgeous job you did on this garden.

    1. annegad 09/12/2019

      Thank you so much. Yes, it took me awhile to go with the flow of the natural environment here. Lots of trial and error, but things are much simpler now that I let nature guide me.

  4. btucker9675 09/12/2019

    I hadn't heard of an Alvar either and find it quite lovely. Your garden is a work of art and nature! Have always loved Queen Anne's lace and was happy to see it in your photos. It must take people quite a while to amble up to your front door with all of that beauty to walk through. Wonderful!

    1. annegad 09/12/2019

      Thank you so much for your comment! I also love Queen Anne's Lace, although most people consider it a weed. Same thing applies to Goldenrod around here...but I have also incorporated it into my borders, it attracts bees and other pollinators.

  5. sheila_schultz 09/12/2019

    Gardening with the natural elements when living in a harsh climate is definitely the way to go and you have done it so beautifully! Alvar is a new term for me as well, it is stunning. Everything you have planted and designed highlights the beauty of the natural stone. Your gardens are exquisite, Anne. Bravo!

    1. annegad 09/12/2019

      I really appreciate your comment. Thank you so much!

  6. carolineyoungwilliams 09/12/2019

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful garden Anne. I especially like your choice of flowers and color combinations. I am looking forward to re-vamping my flower beds centered around the things that are native to our area. Thank you. Keep up the good work.

  7. user-7537887 09/20/2019

    beautiful bushes are looked around the road.
    atari breakout

  8. User avater
    RonaldTague 10/08/2019

    I love beauty

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