PHOTOGRAPHY: BRANDON BARRÉ
STYLING: LISA AIKEN
Since founding Terra Firma Design in 2001, Toronto interior/exterior designer Lisa Aiken has made a name for herself creating terraces that bring the comforts of indoors outdoors. They extend the short Canadian gardening season and turn even small spaces into lush green gardens. The use of full-grown plants in containers – from spring bulbs to evergreens – is key to her winning formula, including in her own private garden.
Every year, she transforms the 1,260-square-foot terracotta patio behind her two-storey, west-end Toronto home into a new and different garden space. She does it by selecting from among hundreds of differently shaped and sized containers and filling them with full-grown flowering annuals, ferns, tropical plants, herbs, trailing vines and shrubs.
In Lisa’s garden, there’s no waiting for the good weather to come and for plants to grow. Her garden kickstarts with vigour in the spring and then heads full-bloom right into summer. “Don’t wait,” she says. “It’s May. Let’s make it look fabulous right off.”
When she bought the house 32 years ago, she recalls, “it had one Christmas tree in the backyard and an old rickety fence.” Reinventing the garden – over and over again – has been an ongoing source of pleasure for her. One year, it was a blue-hydrangea-themed garden, another year, a French country garden all in white (complete with a vintage dining table from France), and still another year a semi-tropical oasis.
Last year, she brought in close to 25 foxtail ferns (Asparagus densiflorus). “People went, ‘oh wow, what’s this?’ ” She says the semi-evergreen fern-like perennial with long, upright, plume stems that hold soft, needle-like leaves and develop red ornamental berries in the autumn, is one of her favourite plants.
Of course, Lisa admits, she has help – her Terra Firma staff – and two large office spaces (hers and her husband’s) for storing some of the tropical plants throughout the winter. But even if you can’t create a container garden like hers, she says, adding a few containers can inject colour, height and depth to a garden. For example, hostas are very hardy; a collection planted in pots can look glorious in a shady spot in the garden.
Lisa says that over the years, her tastes have changed. Since she is an interior/exterior designer, she is tuned in to which colours are in fashion and which are out. Before buying any plants, she says, the first decision she makes is to choose the season’s palette and what fabrics she will use to brighten both her house (throw pillows, etc.) and garden (table cloths, cushion coverings). She changes these accent colours every year.
Then and only then does she decide how to fill out the three distinct spaces in her garden. There’s a covered section right outside the French doors of the house; a transitional section with a winding path; and a lounge/dining area at the back of the garden where a pergola is located. Lisa says she’s lucky that her garden is drenched in sunshine.
There are borders around the long and narrow yard’s perimeter that are planted with perennials, flowering shrubs (wisteria and a Siberian pea-shrub) and climbing roses to provide a green and flowering backdrop for the potted plants.
“This is my own space; it’s not a display place,” she says. “I fill it with what I like.” Over the years, she says, what she likes has included rosemary, cascading petunias, bougainvillea, Annabelle hydrangeas, PeeGee hydrangeas, Boston ferns, banana trees, fiddle leaf fig trees, Eugenia standard, sunflowers, mums, peace lily (Spathiphyllum), and the list goes on.
As for her garden this year, her theme is “Veuve Clicquot.” She says she loves the pinky orange shade of Veuve Clicquot champagne and that she will be on the hunt for plants and flowers that will highlight and complement that colour choice. Cheers, she says, to summer. •
Terra Firma Design