Blue Castle Garden – Year 1

Jan 19, 2020 | Construct

In 2005, Blue Castle Garden sparked to life. Even though there wasn’t a plant in the ground yet, this year laid the critical foundation everything that was to come.

Many of the accomplishments this year related to the garden involved long-term planning. While not visible until years later, they had a profound impact on Blue Castle Garden and the beautiful results I was able to achieve. 


Selected a Lot with Flat Grade and Back Alley Access

The first and most critical design decision for Blue Castle Garden was selecting the right lot. I knew I couldn’t afford the engineering or material costs associated with creating a complex retaining wall system so selecting a flat lot to avoid this was essential.

Many homes in my city back on to green spaces and thus do not have back alley access. As lovely as looking out over a park can be, I knew back alley access was essential for constructing the garden I dreamed of.   

The grade for homes along my street is gradual, with just enough slope to ensure adequate rain water drainage during thunderstorms.

Chose a House Design Suitable for Future Garden

After seeing some of the challenges my parents faced with problematic mature trees in the homes I grew up in, I wanted to start my own gardening journey with a completely blank slate – an empty lot with only soil and a house. 

In Canada’s cold climate, attached garages are extremely popular. While I could afford one, I didn’t want to reduce my tiny lot any further with a large concrete driveway. I figured scraping ice off my windshield for the rest of my life was worth it for the garden I could create with the extra space. 

That decided, I selected a small “starter” home with ample windows out onto the front and back yard. I picked as classic an exterior style as possible and removed easily dated details to help the house age gracefully.

My house foundation just after it was poured. You don’t get more blank slate than this!

Picked House Colors and Finishes to Suit Garden

In new neighbourhoods, there are architectural controls to ensure houses next to each other are not identical but varied. When I went to select my house colors, my home was one of the first on the street to be purchased, leaving many color options open.

This was a critical stage because I had to quickly decide if my garden structure colors were going to be warm (brown) or cool (grey) as it would impact the color of the house. Since I absolutely love how green plants look against grey fences, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. 

These were the final house color and finishes I selected for the exterior. They would harmonize perfectly with my future grey fence and slate pergola.   

Enlarged Windows for Increased Light and Improved Garden Views

One of the few items I spent additional money on was enlarging windows. The house design was already quite bright, but our winters are very dark and houseplants can struggle to get through if they don’t have sufficient light.

I also knew the window backing on to the garden was a critical view from the house, especially during the winter months when otherwise it is impossible to view the garden back yard without leaving unsightly tracks in the snow.

Thankfully it was possible to enlarge the most important windows without any structural issues. Since our climate is so cold, I spent additional money improving the R value of all windows in the house to cut down on heat loss.

This window was enlarged 50% from what originally came with the house, not only improving the garden views but also reducing the amount of boring blank space on the back of the house.

Selected Low-Maintenance House Materials

At the time I selected my home, wooden front porches along the entire front of the houses were extremely popular. As gracious and welcoming as these are, in our dry and harsh climate the wood maintenance can become a nightmare, especially on horizontal surfaces.

As much as it pained me at the time, I chose a house with concrete steps. What came to surprise me in years to come was how lovely these steps can look when flanked with pots filled with beautiful flowers. I’ve never regretted this decision.

Not as lovely as a wood porch, but a whole lot less work. To date this concrete step has required zero maintenance.

Supervised House Construction

My friends and coworkers encouraged me to visit my home frequently while it was being built to catch any construction errors before they became permanent. My builder was extremely good so there was very little to catch.

What visiting every few days did accomplish was to teach me how houses in Canada are constructed. It was fascinating to see the blueprints for my home come to life before my eyes.

A house really does start to feel like home when you’ve watched it be built from the ground up. At these stages the house was being framed and insulated.


Catching Construction Errors in Time

While I had very few construction issues, the ones I did find I almost didn’t catch in time. The astonishing speed at which certain trades complete their part of a home can mean that visiting every 2-3 days isn’t frequent enough.

In the end there were only a couple minor errors I didn’t catch in time and nothing a renovation in years to come can’t correct.

A common error were electrical switches in illogical locations which the electricians were more than happy to fix.

House and Garden Decision Fatigue

At the time my house was being constructed, my industry was in the middle of a boom which necessitated long work hours. To make life even more interesting, I also changed companies right after the house purchase papers were signed. These demands left little time and energy for making house and garden decisions.

And there were a lot of decisions to make, from insulation thickness to light switches for Christmas lights. Knowing I would be living there for the rest of my life also increased the pressure to make the right one. All choices eventually got made, but often just in the nick of time.

Even the bar pattern in these windows was a decision that had to be made.

Visualizing Blue Castle Garden

From the time I was a little girl I had always longed for the time when I would own my own beautiful garden filled with all my favorite flowers. It can be hard to see that same vision in your mind’s eye when you look out on a blank lot filled with construction debris.

Thankfully I have a lot of imagination and though it took some time, I did begin to see what was possible in this space. As the house took shape, the garden of my dreams did as well. Surprisingly there was a lot of planning done for Blue Castle garden before I even moved in.  

The view out the back window didn’t look anything like what Blue Castle Garden would eventually become.  


House Building Process is Incredibly Fast

The process for purchasing and building a home in a new development is incredibly fast. The builder has detailed schedules milestones which they hit, rain, snow or shine.

From the time I signed my final paperwork to when I had the keys in my hands was only X months. Interestingly, it’s about the same time it takes to create a baby. This house very much felt like mine after it was done. 

This was my home after only X months of construction work and only X months after the foundation was poured.    

House Construction is Fascinating to Observe

I didn’t think watching the house being built would be as interesting and fun as it turned out to be. Perhaps this was due to my personal involvement but I think observing construction of any type, be it a house or a garden, can be fascinating.

The process of both observing my house being constructed and later working extensively on all aspects of my garden was a great boon to my career as a designer. I had a far better understanding of the challenges involved in construction.

I’m sure were great views of the stars from this second storey during this stage.

Construction Professionals are Super Friendly

Even though I work in the construction industry, my job rarely takes me out to site so it was a huge highlight to meet many of the wonderful construction professionals who built my house.  

Everyone I met was friendly and willing to answer any questions I had about the construction process, which was very kind of them. Their openness made me feel much more involved.

This was the typical response when I visited my home while it was under construction.


Year 1 was where it all began. In my wildest dreams I never visualized Blue Castle Garden growing up to be the beauty it ultimately became. My initial vision was far more modest, far more earthbound to the gardens I had been exposed to.

But, by the same token, I’m glad I couldn’t see ahead to all the bitter disappointments and years of crushing failure I would face in getting there. If you were to know about the pain in reaching your goal before you started, would you have the courage to ever begin that journey?

It’s a good thing for the existence of Blue Castle Garden that I was never given that choice.

This post is part of the Blue Castle Garden Timeline series.

About Jolene

About Jolene

I’m an avid gardener whose mission is to bring more beauty into the world. I believe that with the right information anyone can create their own beautiful, low-maintenance garden. When I’m not gardening you can find me exploring the Canadian Rockies. Learn more…


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