I am writing on behalf of Georges Vanier Catholic School Council. We are located in Kanata, Ontario. Our school is approximately 35 years old. The design is unique in that we have two lovely courtyards: one off the front foyer of the school and the other off the library.
We need expert advice about landscaping the courtyards to meet the needs of the school. We require something generally low-maintenance and almost no-maintenance during summer holidays. Please help!
The design of a courtyard garden at a school requires a few things that may not have occurred to you.
1. You will not only need plants that are low-maintenance, but plants that are as close to indestructible as possible. There will likely be foot traffic through the garden, possible vandalism (we’ll assume a minimum amount of this), and more than a few cigarette butts extinguished around the root zone of these plants over time.
2. The amount of exposure to sun the gardens receive needs to be considered.
3. Think about how the courtyards are to be used. Are they gathering places for students? Are they to be a visual delight to be viewed from the windows inside of the building? I will assume that you are looking for both.
I suggest that you consider plants that produce colour in the early part of the growing season (May and June) and in the late part (September and October), when school is in. For low-maintenance, I recommend perennial flowering plants. If a plant becomes damaged, it will have a chance to made a fresh start the following spring.
Perennials that are shade tolerant and early spring blooming – lily of the valley; pachysandra; spring flowering bulbs like daffodils, crocus, and tulips; tiarella; early flowering hosta; and heuchera (coral bells).
Perennials that are shade tolerant and late season blooming – echinachea, hardy asters, late season flowering hostas, late season astilbes, creeping jenny (lismachia – colour from the gold foliage), and rogersia.
Some attractive and almost indestructible flowering shrubs – staghorn sumac, p.g. hydgrangea, burning bush (euonymus alatus), peking cotoneaster, and tree of heaven.
I hope that you find this helpful. You will find more information on this topic on my website, www.markcullen.com, under "low maintenance plants".