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Moving – the big investment

The existing garden

The existing garden. Live in the space without change for at least a few months.

In 2013, the Bank of Montreal went on record stating that almost 50 per cent of Canadians would be moving in the next five years. Officially, I’ve joined that half of the population.

Carson Arthur

Carson Arthur

We sold the cottage and bought a farm! Now I use that term very loosely as it doesn’t have a barn (but it will one day). What it does have is 6.5 acres of opportunity. I purchased this farm as my retirement home, with lots of areas where I can start the gardens that I dream about.

Officially the farm is quickly replacing the cottage as the second home for a lot of Canadians instead of the cottage. With property taxes in cottage country constantly on the rise and the lack of availability of privacy, Canadians have been going rural for the last few years. My cottage was a great property, but I couldn’t really afford to have the open space that I really wanted and still have some distance from my neighbours. So we made the leap and sold it, choosing instead to buy in the Prince Edward County area. We gave up pristine lakes for fields full of grapes and I couldn’t be happier.

big-move-carsonChoosing to do this however comes with baggage in the form of the landscaping decisions that the former homeowner made. It’s pretty tough to go into a backyard and rip everything out so that it meets my vision of a perfect backyard space. So how do you find the balance? How do you make a space work for your needs without feeling guilty about removing the plants that are already growing in spots they shouldn’t be?

The hard reality is; you can’t. As a designer, I try very hard to work with what I’ve been given in each space. I try to save the best of what is already there. I have had to remove trees though and I still can list all of them because I really do feel guilty about it. If like me, you are on the move and will be dealing with someone else’s landscaping choices, try sticking to the following

1. Live in the space for at least a few months. This will give you a better appreciation of some of the decisions that were made. Maybe the large evergreens are a perfect wind-block for the winter winds. You may not know unless you live through it to know.
2. Transplant when you can. Saving plants and shrubs isn’t as hard as you think and can save you lots of money in the long run. Just make sure you do the research as to when the best time to transplant each variety. Believe it or not…all plants are not the same.
3. If you have to remove something and can’t save it, replace it! If you have to remove a tree, plant a new one. It’s a question of finding balance. If you are removing a tree that cleans the air that we breathe and lowers ambient temperatures with shade, then find a new spot an start over!
4. Lose the image of what you think your backyard has to look like and look for opportunities that are already there. Too often homeowners have a vision that they’ve seen online or in a magazine and want to force their own yards into that mold. Instead, work with a good designer to make the most of what may already be there!

Ultimately, this is your home. No one should judge you on the decisions that you make for your outdoor spaces. You do however; have to live with those choices, so take some time to think about them so that you know you made the right ones. Your outdoor space needs to meet your needs, not the needs of the previous owner.

-Landscape designer Carson Arthur is host of HGTV’s new Home to Win show. He is also the outdoor expert with City TV’s Cityline and wrote the sell-out book Garden Designs for Outdoor Living in 2015. More at
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