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Create harmony between home and outdoors

One of the biggest landscaping challenges is the quest to create harmony between a home and a naturalized outdoor space. Frank Lloyd Wright became famous because of his natural gift to do just that.

The challenge is even bigger at the cottage, where there’s a need to manipulate the space around a cottage so it works for the owners – but usually, a very strong desire to keep things natural and rugged. Instead of trying to maintain large green lawns and manicured gardens, take a page from Mother Nature and let her do the work for you. Cottage life is about balance between your needs and the natural world around you. Remember that when you are making changes and always seek that sense of harmony.

Here are my tips and tricks to making a man-made space look completely naturalized.

1. Plant selection can make or break the look of a naturalized garden

Take a good look around your cottage grounds. What types of plants and trees do you see? This is your plant list. Whenever you introduce new species or varieties into a space where they don’t naturally occur, they become noticeable. And they can stand out in a negative way. In northern climates, try working with hemlocks, birches, ferns, ivies. Native species are not only hardier; they always look like they belong. I also try to save as many plants that are already growing in the space as possible – this is known as pre-landscaping. Some experts have no issue with transplanting specimens from the surrounding forest, but personally, I prefer to leave natural plantings alone.

2. Use large and small rocks to create impact points 

While a true forest full of trees and plants has its place, I prefer the look of the Canadian Shield, with mossy outcroppings and mysterious caves. When designing for a cottage, I always incorporate large stones to create points of visual impact. Here’s the trick to getting this right: you have to bury a part of the stone, sort of like an iceberg. (You want the stone to look like it’s coming out of the earth instead of being plunked down on top of it.) I also like to add smaller stones and boulders around a larger one to really play up the idea that the stone grouping is part of something bigger under the soil. Plant mosses and ivies around your stones so that over time, they are covered in green. Also, consider using large boulders as retaining walls instead of man-made options.

3. Leave the stumps and branches where they fall in a naturalized space 

I have neighbours who are constantly trying to clean the brush and leaves from their forest spaces. Once you start, it’s a never-ending job. Instead, let nature do all of the design work for you. Keep your decks and patios clear, but let the leaves collect at the base of the tree. That decomposing mulch is fantastic for new growth and tender plants like trilliums and jack-in-the-pulpits.

4. Create spaces where you can enjoy the nature around you

I am a huge fan of the raised deck surrounded by the forest or beside a lake. Not only will plants still find a way to grow underneath, the installation allows you to work overtop of rocks or down hillside slopes. I also find that a deck is the best way to avoid doing damage to the trees and their roots.