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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in Ontario parks (1)


Garden Workhorses in Public Spaces

Image: wikipedia

For the last 35 years, my family and I have been driving regularly back and forth along an inter-provincial highway, which connects Montreal and Toronto. Running parallel to the St Lawrence Seaway and the north shore of Lake Ontario, the route is scenically unmemorable as the surrounding land is flat and windswept.

Image: Government of Ontario.Only when we drive through the rocky crags surrounding Kingston, Ontario is there any relief from the monotonous landscape. It takes about six hours to reach our destination; that includes stops at some of the six service areas located at convenient intervals.

The attractiveness, that ought to give our eyes much-needed relief from the dull road, may be found in the mini landscapes that surround the rest area buildings. Unlike impressively landscaped American interstate stops, Ontario counterparts are austere. Here one will find ample parking for inter provincial freight trucks, a gas station, and a service building housing a fast food court and rest rooms. Close to the building are small patches of perfunctory landscape plants that decorate the entrance ways. Otherwise, open fields of nothingness surrounds the traveler on all sides.

Spreading Yew ground cover. Image: oregonstate.eduWhen I first began to make these boring, but family-essential trips, the mini landscapes were covered with low, spreading, evergreen shrubs, expected to withstand the severe winter winds that swept across the flatlands. Eventually, most of the plants became unsightly. They would suffer from winter burn, snowmelt toxicity, or die prematurely.

Hemerocallis Stella d'Oro. Image: donnen.comOver time, the unsuccessful evergreens ground cover was replaced by Hemerocallis Stella d’Oro, which became the standard go-to plant for parking lot landscapes all over North America. [I am told that in warmer growing zones, red Knock Out Roses are also used].

Image: kingstonist.comThat kind of knee-jerk landscaping came to an end last year when the Ontario government demolished all of the olds service building and replaced them with modern facilities. Gone are the evergreens, and the Stella d’Oro day lilies.

Image: greenhousegrower.comIn their places, the parks department officials planted mini groves of medium-height ornamental grasses, along with native species of violet pink Echinacea purpurea and golden yellow Rudbeckia.

Echinacea purpure. Image: gardenpharmacy.usWhile none of these plants is my favorite perennial, I am not opposed to using them. In the right setting, they can be very attractive. Actually, they look quite striking against the ultra-modern architecture of the new service buildings.

Rudbeckia. Image: fitchburgcemetery.comFinally, we have many flowers to enjoy on our trip! However, what remains disappointing is the fact that the identical assortment of plants repeats itself at every location along the way. It’s not welcoming or relaxing to find identical architecture and same fast food restaurants at each of the six stops – a situation that exacerbates the severe ennui and eye fatigue generated by the flatlands. It would be more restful and rejuvenating, for drivers arriving at recurring rest areas, if they could see a variety of landscape treatments. One might correctly presume that it is more expensive to give them such a luxury, compared to repeating a standard landscape design at every stop.