Idea for plants along fence?


Hi! I am wondering if you had any suggestions for what to plant on a narrow strip of ground (~14 inches wide) between my fence and the sidewalk. I live in Leslieville and this patch is north-facing. Thanks!


Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners.

Your strip of property would be ideal space for planting a mixed perennial border.

Choosing perennials for one’s garden can be daunting–the options are limitless. Knowing your growing conditions–type of soil, sun exposure, climate, etc.–will help to narrow the choices of plants, especially if you are looking for tried and true  ‘low-maintenance’ plants. ‘The right plant in the right place’ will keep plant care to a minimum. Therefore it is important that one determine soil conditions, light patterns, available moisture, prevailing winds and temperature ranges before making plant choices. One must consider the mature sizes of the plants. What colours do you prefer?  Most perennials bloom for a specific time during the growing season; many perennials have interesting foliage. Do you want plants that spread or stay in clumps? What plant combinations do you prefer? Knowing the habits of the plants will help you make choices.

When selecting perennials the flower colour , growing conditions and height are all important factors, however one should also focus on foliage. Although, foliage might seem boring when compared to flowers, it is one of the most important features of the plant. Most perennials will flower for a period of 3-4 weeks leaving the foliage for the remainder of the season. A variety of plant shapes and sizes—tall and narrow, wide and spreading, dense and loose—contrast with each other and add visual interest year-round.

A successful garden starts form the ground up. Improving poor soil is a must, you should add at least 20cm of good organic matter or triple mix.

Spring is an excellent time to be planning your flower bed. The first and most important thing to do is ensure that you have good soil. If you haven’t ammended the soil already adding some topsoil and compost to the bed will go a long way to success.

If you are looking at planning a mixed border of perennials you should think about including ¼ of your perennials which flower in the spring, ½ that flower in the summer, and ¼ of them to flower in the fall. Leaf texture is another factor that you should consider. I am assuming that your north facing bed receives 2-4 hour of sun per day. As a result you should select plants that do best in partial shade-shade.

The following list is from one of our archived posts. It contains a list of easy to grow perennials that will do well in full sun to partial shade:

Plant Bloomtime Height Exposure
Columbine May 30-75cm Sun/partial shade
Bleeding Heart May 25-30cm Partial shade
Lupine June 60-120cm Sun/partial shade
Daylily June 30-90ccm Sun/partial shade
Astilbe July 30-120cm Partial shade
Purple coneflower August 60-150cm Sun/partial shade
Black-eyed Susan August 60-90cm Sun/partial shade
Sedum August 30cm Sun/partial shade

Note: the height is the height at time of flowering.

For more suggestions on flowers you may want to grow, may I suggest that you also refer to the following Toronto Master Gardener Guidebooks:

  1. Pollinator Garden: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide.
  2. Drought Tolerant Perennials: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide.
  3. Perennials for Shade in Dry or Moist Areas
  4. Long blooming Perennials
  5.  There are lots of resources available that can provide inspiration. Looking at photos and plans of different gardens can give you ideas for your garden. Landscape Ontario has some garden designs online, as well as a comprehensive list of garden designers whose websites provide inspiration:

Covering the ground around your plants with a layer of mulch will help conserve moisture, prevent erosion, slow weed growth, moderate temperature, prevent crusting of the soil surface, and protect against soil compaction. Organic mulches are ideal because they insulate the soil, reduce evaporation of water and, add nutrients to the soil as they break down.  You can use different products for mulching which include compost, manure, bark mulch, leaf litter, straw and other materials.

Make sure to keep your perennials well watered for the first couple of weeks after planting. Then water when the soil below the surface feels dry to the touch. Don’t keep the soil soggy, which can cause rotting.