Create a Graceful Street-side Garden

Forget plain and boring hedges. These homeowners have created a beautiful garden border filled with ornamental grasses, flowering plants and expansive groundcovers

Credit: Andrea Sirois

‘Goldsturm’ is an easy way to add warmth to your garden

A street-side composition of green and gold grasses, groundcovers, trees and shrubs keeps on giving and giving

Gardening on a street frontage of 40 metres (132 ft.) requires a well-thought-out plan. “Our neighbours have cedar hedges,” says the owner of one such Vancouver property, “but that would have made our yard shadier and a lot darker.”

The homeowner’s solution is a bank of ornamental grasses and spreading groundcovers held in check by an undulating river of green that seeps to the edge of the uncurbed road.

The design, created and carried out by well-known Vancouver garden designer Nenagh McCutcheon, includes a mix of evergreen and deciduous plants to provide colour and interest throughout the year.

The Many Seasons of Grass

Another consideration was hardiness. All the choices had to survive the worst of a Vancouver winter.

“What’s nice about grasses is that they have different seasons – green in spring, gold in the fall,” the owner says. “And I love the sound they make as they sway in the wind.”

The owner singles out Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Stricta’ as a particular favourite for its glowing golden blades that “just keep giving and giving.”

For the most part, flowering plants are kept to a palette of cool colours allowing the greys, greens, golds and russets of the grasses to dominate. The pink and white of low-growing Mexican daisies are complemented by wands of Gaura, whose fragile flowers hover over their companions like clouds of little moths. Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ contributes another, sturdier silhouette.

In late summer, as the border mellows and the grasses move toward autumn hues, clumps of ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckias add warm colour to the composition.

Not just a pretty face, the bank also includes edible plants. Blueberry bushes have been a feature from the beginning, and there is always space for overflow from the large vegetable garden in the backyard. The informal planting and exuberance of the larger grasses mean that these additions are not readily visible. A small group of companion marigolds reveal where excess tomato plants found a sunny space.

Maintenance is the biggest problem, as the grasses require cutting down every year and the tough stems are both challenging to cut and difficult to compost. Groundcovers have been a boon, especially the Mexican daisies that have proven both an easy and effective choice to fill space among larger plants, along with mat-forming alpine speedwell. Euphorbias and hydrangeas are other favourites, as well as a magnificent paperbark maple that crowns the top of the bank.

Beautiful as it is, the garden may not remain the same for long. “We’re constantly moving things,” the owner confides. “Gardens are all about the planting.”

Climate Zone Guide

The following plants are hardy to the zone number indicated: 1. Veronica allioni (alpine speedwell) – zone 2 • 2. Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican daisy) – zone 7 • 3. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ (maiden grass) – zone 7 • 4. Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ (coneflower) – zone 3 • 5. Helictotrichon sempervirens (blue oat grass) – zone 4 • 6. Pennisetum orientale (fountain grass) – zone 7 • 7. Gaura lindheimeri – zone 5 • 8. Tagetes ‘Orange Gem’ (marigold) – annual • 9. Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Stricta’ – zone 6 • 10. Carex tenuiculmis (New Zealand hair sedge) – zone 6 • 11. Lavatera ‘Barnsley’ – zone 6 • 12. Acer griseum (paperbark maple) – zone 5 • 13. Magnolia grandiflora ‘Blanchard’ (evergreen magnolia) – zone 6 • 14. Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) – zone 4

Read more on Climate zones here.

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.