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Cottage Landscaping with Carson Arthur

As a new generation of cottagers takes charge, cottage landscape trends are leaning towards the simple and sustainable.

“It’s about lifestyle and usable space – bigger decks and patios,” says outdoor landscaping expert Carson Arthur. “You’re not seeing people clean out all the bush,” he says, adding that big lawns are also a thing of the past and less money is being invested into creating labyrinths of walkways. Instead, Arthur is seeing more of what he calls land-shaping: working gently with the available landscape and not over-grooming. At least part of the reason is because today’s next-generation cottagers typically are not big green thumbs.

“Gen Xers don’t think of themselves as gardeners. They’re not interested in digging things up and transplanting,” Arthur points out. “They are more environmentally conscious, but their version of environmentally friendly is choosing products that don’t have an impact on the environment.”

This means today’s cottagers are using natural stone and simple wood constructions to smooth out the access from the car to the cottage and the cottage to the water. “In many case, cottage buyers are not purchasing for whole-summer occupancy; they’re thinking of a few weekends, and then they’re renting it out,” he says. Another reason why low maintenance is the order of the day.

“The shift has been from ‘make it perfect’ to ‘make it manageable’,” says Jacki Kennedy-Hart, President of Water’s Edge Landscaping, who has spent 25 years managing waterfront estate cottages near Bala, Ontario. “That’s shifted the way we design landscape and the type of planting that we do. The trend now is to very low-maintenance planting and to less colour, more texture and less concern about winter interest. The shift has been to masses, drifts of different types of plants; they might bloom, they might be groundcovers or shrubs. There’s a lot of concern about erosion control.”

An edible feast for the eyes

“We use probably 60% native plants,” says Kennedy-Hart. She recommends Eco-Lawn, a native grass seed mix. “It’s a lovely seed that we have learned how to get established so you don’t have to mow it. We use it to create a place where kids and dogs can go and play.”

She is also responding to demand for edible landscape elements. “Where ten years ago we planted 2,500 to 2,800 flats of flowers in the three weeks after Victoria Day (Canada’s equivalent to Memorial Day), now we tend to plant half that, and 20% is edible,” she says.

“There’s a shift from geraniums in a barrel to an obelisk with cherry tomatoes, and a lot of herbs in hanging baskets or containers at front doors. Herbs like oregano can be used for ground cover, and people are starting to use lavender a lot more. Daylily varieties that bloom all season are popular, plus you can eat the buds!”

Apart from the charm of harvesting your dinner from the deck, native edibles also support beneficial birds and insects. Kennedy-Hart suggests substituting apples trees or elderberry bushes for a clump of birch or a lilac, and fragrant sumac instead of spirea. It’s all part of working with, rather than against, the beautiful natural landscape that lured you to cottage country in the first place!