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Oversized boulders and logs make small gardens weighty in 2015's hottest gardening trends

From super-blooming exotics to the Alice in Wonderland effect of oversized objects in tiny outdoor spaces, this year's hottest gardening trends are full of surprises. Paige Magarrey tapped top experts in the field to scout Canada Blooms (on through to the end of this weekend) for their favourites:


High formalism is out, says Sheree Rasmussen, co-owner of Inside and Out Garden Design, who saw several examples of a looser, more natural approach in the show's installations. "Varied plantings of flowering shrubs and perennials seemed to replace the minimalist, monocultural modernism that was prevalent in the past several years," says Rasmussen, noting that even the more "geometric" garden plans "were cut through with naturalized waterways or planting areas." Take Vaughan Landscaping's Tic Tac Toe installation, for example. Built on a grid that playfully echoes a game board, stream-like water features and teeming, almost unruly arrangements of florals create a lush effect. Rasmussen welcomes the shift. As she puts it, "it allows the garden to become more of a refuge for nature than a refuge from nature."


Florist Sarah Nixon of My Luscious Backyard scouted the show for a hot new bloom as headturning as it was hardy. She found it in the medinilla magnifica, otherwise known as the Philippine orchid, a three-metre-tall plant with large leaves and hanging clusters of pink flowers. While it is better suited to the indoors in Canada, it doesn't need much water and can flower for up to six months – likely the reason this Southeast Asian plant is popping up in more greenhouses in North America. "It's fresh to my eye," says Nixon, who isn't easily surprised (she uses more than 100 varieties of flowers in her own designs, which she cultivates in residential yards across Toronto). "It's quite stunning – and very unusual-looking."


Green walls have become a key feature in home design, in both indoor and outdoor rooms, but not everyone has the space (or architectural drive) to erect or maintain a verdant nine metre- high planting. Luckily, says Christopher Wong of Young Urban Farmers, the show included several striking takes that are better suited to small spaces – for instance, a "living-wall screen that provides privacy." Those looking to start even smaller can take a page from Niagara Falls florist Louis Damm of Floral Dimensions. He offered workshop participants an opportunity to make their own succulent wall feature out of a wooden frame, mesh and low-maintenance succulents and sedums.


Nixon couldn't help but mention the Bienenstock Playforest, developed with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, that showcased the global trend of natural playgrounds – which use local vegetation and naturally occuring water features to engage children in their natural surroundings. Bienenstock's design, inspired by iconic elements of national parks, included an enormous climbing system made of an upside-down tree and a 'mud kitchen.' "It was covered in kids," says Nixon. While Nixon immediately saw how the ideas could be adapted to improve public playgrounds in Canada, the basics are easy to bring home, she says: eschew basic slides and swing sets for more imaginative natural fixtures such as raw tree stumps and multi-tiered gardens built for clamouring.


Despite the conventional rules of scale and proportion, Rasmussen saw several examples of oversized elements – think tall stone walls and heavy logs and boulders – adding drama to diminutive plots. "One's imagination needs to do some hard work to visualize these features in the typical small multi-use garden that most city dwellers have to work with," she says. "Still, there is a takeaway here. One, two or three large boulders can change the scale of a small garden, introducing an element of stability, weight and timelessness to an otherwise continually changing planting area."