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The Ultimate Summer Home Landscape

Imagine escaping to a fully loaded, five-star retreat in cottage country. The ultimate summer home combines clever landscape design with the latest technology to extend luxurious outdoor living from spring into fall.

Discerning property owners want low maintenance, sophisticated surroundings that complement their prized natural setting. Landscapers are delivering with elegant sheltered spaces, appropriate plantings, and every creature comfort.

Design and Materials

“If you have a house in Muskoka with great huge chunks of limestone and gigantic round boulders everywhere, with scruffy trees and shrubs,” says Arthur Skolnik of Shibui Landscaping, “some people could very well argue that the best type of landscaping is one that continues that feeling.”

One of the challenging aspects of design, however, is building something with contrast, Skolnik adds. “If you have a backdrop of granite and beaten up scotch pines juxtaposed with an Indiana stone patio, a wall of blue glass, and a stainless steel water feature, the contrast against a forest of changing colours in fall can be extraordinary.”


Skolnik suggests the design may depend upon whether the property owner is seeking ‘the wild’ of nature or to simply ‘put miles between themselves and a stressful job.’

Besides choice cedar, flagstone, and plants, Skolnik says glass is an extremely under-used element in the garden. “I love backlit Plexiglas at night, it’s luscious, sumptuous, beautiful,” he says. Skolnik has used crushed glass, bottom lighted, in place of garden mulch. He’s also a fan of stainless steel and the organic feel of ‘rusty’ Cortens steel.

Skolnik asks clients to consider a number of garden destinations, away from the main structure, with pathways bordered by plantings or fragrant flowers. Stone stairs can meander, with little channels cut into the steps directing flowing water. Focal points such as a mariner’s compass can be created with wet-laid stone.

Extending the Season

Do you wish summer was six months long? One solution by Richard Sierpinski, iLandscape, is extending a roof over the deck to create an open yet sheltered outdoor space. “We sometimes construct a roof system which can be folded off, similar to what you see at resorts down south,” says Sierpinski.


The sheltered wall is a good spot for a flat screen TV over a fireplace, while the open sections can host sliding mosquito screens. Sierpinski says a 12-foot area can be enclosed with half a dozen screened panels, allowing full air movement and the option of stacking the panels off to the side.

Custom gas, propane, and wood burning fireplaces are very popular. Commercial grade patio heaters, stand alone or wall mounted infrareds, hold off the chill of summer’s end, permitting cottage owners to enjoy their landscape investment for a few extra months each year.


More and more, landscapers are tasked with coordinating the automation of various aspects of the landscape, especially for seasonal properties. Many devices can be controlled via remote or from the client’s iPad:

  • Zoned lighting systems
  • Zoned sound systems
  • Fireplace and heaters
  • Pool equipment
  • Security systems
  • Awnings and curtains
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Barbeque burners and lids

Spectacular Outdoor Kitchens

That’s right, remote controlled barbeques! Joanne and Rick Bloye own Outdoor Luxury, where consumers and contractors shop for outdoor kitchens and must-have accessories. Joanne says a remote controlled lid is an expensive but popular feature that offers additional control during cooking.


Besides a lighted stainless steel grill, another favourite feature is an infrared burner. Joanne says they’ve been around for about 27 years, but today’s sear station can reach about 1800 degrees within five minutes. The burner is able to sear the outside of the meat, thus caramelizing it and locking in juices so that it imparts all of the flavour of charcoal without the downtime or hassle. The options, she says are endless. Here are some other outdoor kitchen must-haves:

  • Built in grill heads – hello custom kitchen, goodbye clumsy cart with wheels
  • Double side burners – for sautéing and boiling, and the end of indoor cooking
  • Warming drawers – for entertaining (or warming towels and robes!)
  • Outdoor beer towers – the real thing, restaurant quality
  • Outdoor stainless steel refrigerators – winter proof, with icemakers and a handy lock
  • Drop in coolers
  • Double sink cocktail stations
  • Riser bars and speed rails
  • Roll out trash containers
  • Inserts for custom fire pits

The Bloyes recommend purchasing only commercial grade equipment. “Pricing for a high caliber built-in grill head ranges in the thousands,” says Joanne, “so we found the need to develop our own line of equipment with many of the desired options for, easily, $3,000 less.”


Investing in quality and convenience doesn’t stop at the outdoor kitchen. Choosing the right trees and shrubs will ensure property owners have more leisure time with friends and family. Larry Parr, of Sheridan Nurseries, offers a few recommendations to ensure plants will thrive and require as little attention as possible.  On a beautiful summer’s day, who wouldn’t rather run a frosty blender than a noisy chainsaw?

Planting – In the Zone

“The number one consideration is to determine what the zone is as it may limit your choices,” says Parr, “What you can have in the city might be different than what you can have further north.”


Parr advises that Ontario zones range from 0 to 6 with 0 being the coldest climate. “It’s the minimum temperature over the winter that makes a difference. You need a hardier plant to survive,” he says.

“Most evergreens will not pose a problem;” says Parr, “some of the unusual things that you don’t see that often might not work out.” These plants may be too tender for cottage country:

  • Holly
  • Japanese Maple
  • Magnolia
  • Flowering dogwood
  • Rhododendron

People looking beyond run-of-the-mill may opt for a Japanese Black Pine, or a Vanderwolf pine, with its interesting bluish colour. “The most popular shrub right now,” Parr says, “is the hydrangea, with a million different varieties and new ones coming out each year. Shrub roses are pretty hardy and don’t require any winter protection,” he adds. They tend to be more resistant to insects and disease. Parr suggests these hardy trees and shrubs for more northern climates:

  • Gingko tree
  • Honey locus tree
  • Linden tree
  • Burning bush
  • Black beauty or black lace elder
  • Spirea

Part-Time Maintenance

Most shrubs require some light pruning. ”Low-maintenance,” Parr says, “doesn’t mean no maintenance. If fertilizing every two weeks isn’t possible a slow-release granular product will improve plant performance.

A sprinkler system is a great investment for vacation properties, ensuring plants receive regular water, especially during dry hot spells. Pots and hanging baskets can be incorporated into the system. Mulching will retain moisture, prevent weeds, and help insulate plants over the winter.

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