This time last year, a new home on the corner of Centre and Simcoe Streets was surrounded end-to-end by dirt.
This Saturday, the property will be featured on the Niagara-on-the-Lake Horticultural Society Garden Tour, which features the most beautiful gardens in town.
Cindy Grant, committee chair of the annual event, said two years ago, when the house next door to 210 Centre Street was featured on the tour, “this was just a vacant lot, and looked a bit scrubby. Now look at it. It’s beautiful.”
Once their home was completed last summer, Steve Cohen and Joe Carlino wanted a “porch garden” that would compliment the wrap-around outdoor living space on two sides of the house.
What they have accomplished in a short time is a home and garden which blend in so completely with the neighbourhood they look as if they have been there for decades.
“We have people asking us if we renovated the house,” said Cohen. “When we tell them it’s a new build, they say it looks like it’s been here forever.”
They had a garden designer look after the large plantings, and Carlino took charge from there. He considers himself “a planter, not a gardener,” but he had an idea what he wanted, which was to fill in the remaining space to have it look well-established and full.
“It was great to be able to begin with a blank slate, but it was also scary,” he said.
Cohen calls it a “social” garden. They can sit on their porch and chat with people as they walk by — little will grow any higher than the top of the porch rail — but at the same time there is enough greenery to provide privacy. While there is texture and variety in the shrubs and perennials, and some white hydrangeas, there is not a lot of colour. There are few annuals in the garden, which requires little maintenance.
“What I love is lots of bushes and shrubs and trees that flower. I’m not so big on flowers. The idea is that it’s doing something all year round.” said Carlino.
“Outside of being a town of gardens and homes, this is a town of sidewalks. That’s one of the reasons we chose Niagara-on-the-Lake,” said Cohen.
It’s also a town of dogs. Cohen and Carlino love taking Torch, their Bernedoodle, out for walks, which is as guaranteed to start a conversation with neighbours as sitting on the porch.
Some of the plants in the garden have been salvaged from building sites, and others from a friend who was replanting, said Cohen. They like the idea of a “rescue garden” program, and would like to see one established in town. With all the new construction going on and landscaping being trampled and torn out, a rescue program would ensure plant material is reused when possible, says Cohen.
The Centre Street location was one of the last to be signed up for this year’s tour, and when the homeowners agreed, Carlino was a little nervous about what the garden would look like after its first winter.
“When Cindy came to ask if we’d be on the tour, it was cold and wet, and nothing was budding. We weren’t sure what had made it over the winter. Then all of a sudden everything was budding.”
They needn’t have worried — they managed to earn this season’s first Garden of the Week award in the Town-sponsored contest, which is now in its fourth week.
Grant says the horticultural society looks for different gardens each year, and also avoids those featured on the Shaw Garden Tour, which is earlier in the season.
With the horticulture society fundraising event now in its 28th year, it can be difficult to find new gardens to feature, especially if they focus on the Old Town, Grant said, so she was delighted to have the Centre Street newcomers on board.
“Finding this was really serendipity. And it’s looking fabulous.”
Every year there’s a bit of a debate about expanding the tour to the villages, where there are some beautiful gardens. “But people like to park and walk, exploring gardens in the Old Town. They don’t want to drive any distance,” said Grant.
Although this year everything is a little late with the cold, wet spring, and homeowners on the tour are worried about their gardens not being perfect, “most of our tour visitors are gardeners themselves,” says Grant. “They’re not looking for perfection. They’re looking for ideas. They like to see what others are doing.”
This year there are eight Old Town gardens to explore, plus some bonus features, such as the new Voices of Freedom Park; a partnership with St. Mark’s Church and its Cherry Festival the same day, offering a discounted lunch for garden tour visitors; and Niagara College featuring a pollinator garden at the Niagara Historical Society and Museum on Castlereigh Street.
Mori Gardens is the showcase sponsor. Those who have purchased tickets online can stop and pick up their brochures and wristbands at Mori’s the day of the tour, which is Saturday, July 6 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The garden centre is offering a discount coupon for tour visitors.