Beginner Gardener


We recently moved from a condo to a house with a front and back lawn and deck. I would like to grow a beautiful garden but I dont know anything about gardening. Where do I start? Is it too late in the season to grow a garden? Any resources for really beginner gardeners?


Congratulations on your new home and your interest in creating gardens around it. The beginner garden is a topic previously addressed on the Toronto Master Gardener website. This website has many Gardening Guides and published answers in the ASK categories about specific plants.

It’s not too late to start gardening now and continue into fall. Some trees, shrubs and bulbs are best planted in cooler fall weather. Creating a satisfying garden may take a few seasons, but the evolution of a garden is a constant. That’s part of the joy of working with plants that thrive and change.

You should take some time to think about what is already there in the front and back lawns. For instance, are there already some flower borders?  lots of sunny grass?  big trees making shady areas?  will children and/or dogs be playing there?  do you envision having dinner parties/BBQs there?  and so forth.  You also should ask yourself how much work you want to undertake:  do you want a low maintenance garden?  to easy gradually into growing things?  have your own vegetable garden?   Budget is naturally another consideration.  If your house is brand new and in a new development, it would probably be wise to find out what kind of soil you have.  Plants care about soil, sun, and water.

The Toronto Botanical Garden, at the corner of Leslie Ave and Lawrence East (777 Lawrence East) is open to the public, and has an extensive library of books on all kinds of lawn and garden topics.  Check out their website at  They also sponsor a program of short lectures and seminars. Walking through their gardens is an education in itself. Many plants are labelled and you could get an “app” on your phone to help identify plants.

If you are shopping for books, look at: Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening in Canada; Best Garden Plants for Ontario; Lois Hole’s Perennial Favourites; Lois Hole’s Favourite Trees & Shrubs; Lorraine Roberts A Recipe for Continuous Bloom. All these books suggest plants suitable for our Canadian climate. Since native plants are hardy, low maintenance and support pollinators, this book will also help you choose suitable plants: Lorraine Johnson’s book 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens. TMG Gardening Guide to native plants for shade:

TMG Guide to pollinator plants:

It’s important to know what plant hardiness zone you live in. A motto in the gardening world is “The right plant in the right place”. Using plants geared to your winter/summer temperatures will ensure success in your garden. Below is a link for Canadian zones, plant suggestions and maps of various temperatures.

Are you thinking of trees and shrubs, perennial plants that return year after year, containers around a patio, or raised vegetable beds?  Many people find it useful to think in terms of activities or “rooms” when they are considering how to design their outdoor spaces. Gardeners are increasingly interested in planting native species, and plants that attract pollinators, for instance.

A walk around your neighbourhood can give you a good idea of what others with similar front and back gardens are doing, and also, importantly, what plants thrive in your local micro-climate and soil conditions.  If you see a fantastic garden that appeals to you, do ask about it when you see the homeowner – gardeners are always happy to talk about their passion!

Do check the websites of large local garden centres – there are often downloadable landscape plans available for inspiration – these are helpful in giving you a sense of size and scale, both in terms of your own garden space and the spacing and mature size of plants.   If you think you could use some professional landscaping help, Landscape Ontario offers a comprehensive list of professionals.

Below is a link to a Toronto Master Gardener Guide on containers for your deck.

Container Gardening: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide

After your initial reading, research and looking at plants, just dive in. Possibly start with some hardy perennials that will come back in the spring. Containers with flowering annuals on your deck this year would be lovely. Perhaps a small showcase tree (Japanese Maple) or shrub with remarkable foliage or colour to anchor a particular area. There is so much selection in the plant world that it is easy to become overwhelmed. Start simply and build your garden. The reward of greeting your plants in the spring or walking through the fragrance of blooming flowers will urge you to continue.

Best of luck with your exciting new garden.