Back and Side Yards


I have taken several pictures of my backyard, but the Kodak program on my camera is not recognized by my MAC computer, so I will have to send the pictures from my IPad separately. The back yard & side yards face 5 other properties, so I am looking for hedges or bushes that will afford some privacy. I would also like to get some ideas on plantings.
This garden is very shady in the summer because of 6 mature trees: two 70 year old black walnut, one 50 year old elm, 1 honey locust (70 yrs) and there are two 75 year old birches in the front yard. There is a lot of moss in the side yard.
There are swamp cedars surrounding the back yard on 2 sides, and forsythia bushes on the 3rd side. The cedars are not doing well.
Any and all suggestions are welcome.
Please let me know how to send the pictures from my IPad, which seems Cloud based.

Barbara Falby


You have what must be very lovely tree specimens in your garden!  We will try our best to give you some ideas without the benefit of photographs.

Since your black walnut trees are mature, you will likely already be well aware of the plants that are affected by juglone, the chemical produced by black walnut trees that affects the growth of sensitive plants, and is found in the nut hulls, leaves, stems and roots.  Symptoms include wilting and yellowing of leaves and often eventual death of affected plants.  The Toronto Master Gardeners has a guide which provides lists of plants which are affected by juglone, and those that should thrive in proximity to your trees:

When you are considering plants to choose for your shady garden, this guide may help:

Hedging can be a challenge in a shady garden.  Here is a guide that offers suggestions of evergreen hedges, some of which are suitable for shade:   If you are considering a deciduous hedge,  one option would be Fagus sylvatica, the European or common beech, which will grow in shade conditions and which retains its leaves over the winter, helping to preserve privacy.   Here is another of our guides, which looks at ornamental shrubs, some of which are suitable for hedging and for shade.

Keep in mind that, whatever hedging material you opt for, because they are planted in close proximity, hedge plants compete with each other for soil nutrients.  It is important to plant at the correct spacing for the hedge plant you have chosen.  Adding organic material at the time of planting and at regular annual intervals thereafter will help your hedge to thrive, as will keeping your new hedge well-watered for its first couple of years.

Soil amendment may also help your aging swamp cedars to return to vigour. It is also possible that they could use some pruning for light and air circulation.  Pruning an old and established cedar hedge is a task to approach judiciously so that you do not inadvertently find yourself with large gaps that cannot be filled in.  Toronto garden writer Mark Cullen has some articles and youtube videos accessible online that describe how to go about this.  If you don’t feel confident, and want to save your cedar hedge, it may be advisable to ask an arborist for advice.

You don’t say whether your forsythias are overgrown, but they are shrubs that respond well to pruning.  Here is a Toronto Master Gardener response to a previous inquiry about keeping this shrub healthy and shapely:

In terms of ideas for planting, you might look at the Landscape Ontario website, which offers a list of landscape designers whose work you can look at on their websites.  They are mapped, so you can look for companies or designers who are close to home: .  This website also offers lists of garden maintenance firms, which may be helpful to you if you feel you could use some help.  Many of the larger nurseries also offer plans and templates, and your local library’s gardening section – especially local writers such as Frankie Flowers, Mark Cullen, Marjorie Harris, to name a few – is also a good source of ideas, as is a walk around your own neighbourhood.

Finally, although you don’t say that you want to remove the moss that is in your side yard, here is some information on how to get rid of it:

This is a lot of reading, but I hope that it will give you a start on thinking about hedging materials, plants and where to find ideas for plantings.