2019 will be a sabbatical year at A Cultivated Art Inc.

Over the past six years I have worked with hundreds of clients to help create yards and gardens that are both beautiful and functional. I have also endeavoured to design spaces that are as sustainable as possible and to continuously upgrade my knowledge and understanding of landscapes as functioning, living systems.

I feel that I’ve reached the limit of what I can accomplish when it comes to moving toward genuinely sustainable landscapes using conventional processes and materials (transporting products long distances, building with concrete, treated wood, plastics etc.) and that it is time for me to step back and develop a new library of materials and a new design process.

I’ll be splitting my time between researching materials and their sources, production and life-cycles and working to develop a design process and tools which incorporate ecosystem function and services at the core of every project.

I will also be revising my plant libraries and working on a better way to draft, model and present complex plant communities.

I’m not entirely going away, if you have questions about something I’ve already designed I’ll still be checking my emails and answering my phone, although the replies will be a bit less prompt than usual.

I’ll also be open to taking on a few new projects, ones where function and life cycle of the complete landscape is a core priority and where there is time for a slower design process that will lack some of the efficiencies that I have developed over the years but will have more space for new ideas and for looking at your site with a student mind, as we learn what it can become, and how to best communicate that, together.

I’ll be back in the spring of 2020, with a new website and an updated process and service model.



From 2017

I'm offering three free custom landscape designs

I'm working to bridge the gap between sustainability and mainstream expectations around the aesthetics of a landscaped space. To help with this I would like to find three partners in developing some examples of urban scale sustainable landscapes that incorporate aspects of permaculture, restorative soil ecology, native and productive plants and organic practices, while maintaining a degree of structure and order that is widely expected in urban gardens. There are, however, some criteria.

The spaces I'm looking for:

- Are privately owned, either a home or a business (not a publicly owned space, they have too many restrictions).
- Are a blank or mostly blank slate, either plain lawn area or an old or overgrown landscape with little worth salvaging.
- Have access to irrigation (i.e. A nearby tap and garden hose)
- Have between 300 to 600 sq. ft. of space for plants and paths
- Are within 5 km of Vanier (so I can drop by regularly)
- Have parking available (on street is fine)
- Are preferably visible from a public space such as a sidewalk or park

The three ecosystem types that I want to work on for this are:

A dry meadow. This will be made up of layered plantings with successive blooming seasons and structural interest that caries into the winter. The site should be in full sun and can have average to poor soil which many meadow plants are adapted to. Once mature, this garden should not require any irrigation, relying on our natural rainfall.

A moist meadow. This site can be in full sun or partial shade. It should either be naturally damp or have a downspout or other source of runoff nearby that can be directed into the space to create a rain garden. Plants for this type of condition generally prefer average to rich soil and the development of that will be part of the project.

An edible landscape.Different from a vegetable garden, this will be mostly made up of perennials, shrubs and small trees which produce a harvest of some sort. It will also include herbs, edible flowers and native plants which support pollinators and attract beneficial insects. The project will include developing a plan for building and maintain soil fertility to replace nutrients lost to harvest and plans for irrigating the less drought tolerant plants, ideally with collected rainwater.

What I need from you:

A fairly firm commitment that you will start on the work within the year. I understand that life sometimes happens, so there won't be a contract requiring this but my goal is to be involved in the creation of a garden, not just a plan.

The funds to implement the plan. If you are hands on and DIY, and open to using things like wood chips for paths then a budget of around $2,000 will likely cover the required plants and materials. If you prefer to have the preparation work done professionally and need an all season path, such as stone or interlock paves, then your budget will need to be higher.

The understanding that the space will evolve over time. My expectation is that, while the bulk of the planning will take place this year, we will remain in contact and I will be checking in on the garden to monitor the development and offer input fairly regularly over a three year period.

Permission to photograph and blog about your space. I may also ask to be able to show it to people, by appointment, or include it in garden tours.

Why am I offering my services for free on these three projects?

Because I’ll be experimenting on your yard, something that I avoid when working with paying clients. These gardens will push the envelope in layering and testing varieties and combinations of plants that I might not use in a paid project. Not everything will work out right away, that’s why a 3 year project, to allow for adjustments as things mature.

I want to develop examples, and to trouble shoot the details, of what a next level sustainable urban landscape can look like and how it can function. I'll ask for your involvement in monitoring inputs such as soil, stone, wood chips or other organic matter, plants, compost and labour as well as outputs such as any harvest or any materials that need to be removed from the site.

It won’t be instant, the first year will be about preparing the space, building the soil and establishing some of the permanent plants. There will likely be some annuals incorporated at this stage to help accelerate the composting of organic matter added to build the soil and to keep it full enough to discourage excessive weed establishment. Plans will be made to order and plant bare root trees and shrubs in the spring. Some short lived plants and re-seeding annuals will fade out over a few years, as the longer lived plants mature.

These will be interactive gardens. They will require your attention and weeding through the establishment phase and occasional thinning, pruning and dividing and adjustments to keep them at their best, similar in some ways to a conventional mixed perennial and shrub garden. Annually this will likely still be fewer hours than required to maintain a lawn in good condition, the work will be primarily in the spring and fall and watering as required during dry spells while things become established.

The edible garden will be the most time intensive of the three since you will be harvesting regularly, including digging some root vegetables. This garden will also require active soil building and, ideally, your kitchen scraps will be composted and added back to the soil to replace nutrients lost through harvest.

What I'll be providing:

I’ll develop a landscape plan, instructions for soil improvement, and a plant list and I will monitor the garden and provide guidance as things develop. The purchasing of plants and materials and providing labour, either your own or hired, us up to you. If you are hiring, I can help connect you with suitable companies. I can also help with the sourcing of less common plant varieties.

The Result:

My end goal is for you to have a yard that is beautiful enough that people admire it without having to know that it is also a sustainable space. I also want it to function as habitat, to provide food for pollinators, insects and birds and to filter water and air and to help moderate the urban heat island effect. I want ongoing inputs to be organic, minimal and, ideally, to be waste products, such as your kitchen scraps. For the edible landscape I want it to be highly productive, while still providing the services I've listed. I want it to be a space that functions around your life and invites you to engage and interact with the environment outside of your home. I also want it to be an example of what is possible when we expect more from our outdoor spaces.

If you think that you have the space like what I have described and and the resources that you can commit to creating a garden please contact me at sundaura@acultivatedart.com. If you can provide your address and a photograph of the space that would be helpful. The selection process will be entirely arbitrary I'm afraid, but I will let you know ASAP whether the space is what I have in mind and if I have further questions for you. I will also update this page as spaces are selected.

If you would like to develop a landscape like I have described but your yard doesn't meet the criteria I've outlined, I do offer these design services professionally all over the Ottawa area and for all sizes and shapes of properties and I'd be happy to work with you as a client. I will need to charge for my time though, this is how I pay for my own yard and garden (and house, and car etc.).



From 2016

This city has a growing problem:

With the growing popularity of gardening, especially of edible gardens, and the waning popularity of lawns on our ever shrinking front yards, clashes between gardeners and bylaw officers are becoming ever more frequent.

There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of gardens, retaining walls, hedges, fences (high and low) and other landscape elements adjacent to sidewalks and on the city property in this city. If they were all looked at with the same requirements in mind as gardens which have made the news in recent months then there would be a mass removal of landscaping across this city.

Some examples of where bylaws have clashed with gardeners lately are:
Kanata Vegetable Garden
Feuding Neighbours
City Mowed Flower Garden

What we need now are clear guidelines regarding what is and isn't allowed.

There is very limited, and often conflicting, information available to homeowners about what they are allowed to do with the space between the end of their yard and the road or sidewalk. They are required to maintain that strip of property but if they deviate from the traditional lawn they quickly enter a minefield of sporadically enforced, poorly defined regulations. A few elements, like corner sight triangles, are clearly explained if people look for the information. However most elements are left to the discretion of the enforcement officer, leaving homeowners in the precarious position of having to follow laws that they can't even look up.

Even direct inquiries, prior to work being undertaken don't result in clear and accurate information.

An example of this is my inquiry to the city of Ottawa about a front yard garden in 2013:

“I'm trying to find information on the city’s policy regarding gardening and landscaping on the strip of property owned by the city at the front of residential properties.

I am familiar with the corner sight triangle restrictions, the fencing bylaw, the prohibition on accessory buildings in front yards and the requirements of the property standards bylaw. I am also aware that plantings and other obstructions are to be kept away from fire hydrants and other services and that any changes to driveway dimensions need to be approved by the city. Beyond this though I haven't been able to find a stated policy on whether the strip of land between a residential property and a city street or sidewalk is allowed to be planted by the homeowner.  If you can let me know if there is a bylaw or policy relating to this it would be very helpful.”

The reply I received:

“Subject: RE: Request for Information Ref:(__9LZ860)(1) 2013-025121

Good afternoon,

Thank you for contacting the City of Ottawa. There is no bylaw or policy in place.  If a resident chooses to beautify the city portion of the property and it is damaged due to city staff having to access that portion of the property, the city would not be responsible to restore it.”

Based on that it would seem that there aren't any restrictions.

However the “Road Cut Permit” page on the city website specifies that you require a permit in any care where you are making “a surface or subsurface cut in any part of a highway made by any means, including excavation, reconstruction, cutting, overlaying, crack sealing, braking, boring, jacking or tunnelling operations”. As the easement is legally considered a portion of the road many landscapers are told that they need to have such a permit for any work, even garden installation, that they complete in that area. Technically that would apply to homeowners as well. This is a permit with an approximate cost of $417.00.

Structures are not allowed on easements, but the term 'structure' doesn't seem to have been defined. It seems to be applied to concrete curbing, river stone piled up to prevent erosion at the edge of a garden, a wood frame around a garden, a driftwood edge etc. But retaining walls at the edges of properties, on the road allowance, exist all over this city.

Property Standards bylaws require property owners to cut grass and weeds along road allowances but beyond that they don't specify what is allowed.

Residents have every right to be exasperated, and I feel for staff who are put in the position of having to enforce unclear and out of date guidelines when called out for a complaint about something that passes the common sense evaluation of safety but fails to conform to the strictest interpretation of the regulations. I also suspect that, given the lack of clear guidelines, they are required to make the most extreme rulings to prevent the city from having given the appearance of having approved the feature they are examining and then potentially opening the city up to a lawsuit if someone ever does trip and fall.

Rather than continuing to deal with arbitrary and inconsistent enforcement, as has happened in the past with other unclear bylaws before they were reviewed and updated (the pool enclosure by-law comes to mind) I think that it is high time for a thorough review of the requirements, practical and safety considerations and the changing perception of what a front yard is and can be and for clear guidelines to be created, both for the sake of residents and for the sake of those who need to enforce those guidelines.

As a starting point I would ask that people share their concerns about the current state of affairs with their councilors offices, media, and their community.

Green spaces are critical to our society, our health, our environment and they are becoming much more than a monoculture front lawn with a maple tree. Let's work on bringing our bylaws in line with the evolution of the front yard.



The Veggie Garden Project

From Seed to (Hopefully) Harvest in 2013

Update, June 13, 2013

Happily, most of the seedlings seem to be recovering well from their extended stay in the small pots indoors, the tomato plants especially are doing well. They have all doubled or tripled in size since they were planted out and have developed a nice, deep green to their leaves. Some of the squash have picked up well, although a couple didn’t make it, they were just too pot bound to adapt to their new conditions.

Seedlings Established in the Garden

The plants I seeded directly into the garden a few weeks back are still coming along, a few would prefer a bit more sun but are growing, if somewhat slowly. I’ve been able to start picking the coriander and the tops from the onions. The lettuce seedlings are starting to look like lettuce and the partially shaded location will actually be helpful for them come the hotter part of the summer since they will be somewhat less inclined to bolt if they aren’t in the sun all day.

The potatoes have finally made an appearance in both the front and the back. They took their time, only showing up in the last couple of days. Potatoes are pretty reliable, and relatively fast growing though so I’ll likely be able to dig a few small potatoes in about 6-8 weeks.

Vegetable Garden in a Pot

The planter I started back on May 19th with the cherry tomato is also growing well. The tomato is blooming and will likely start to set fruit soon and I’ve already started to pick the basil.

Tucking a few last plants, June 8, 2013

I picked up a few vegetable plants at the Parkdale Market today including two hot peppers, one of which has purple leaves and fruit, and an Asian eggplant. They were tucked into the place of honour for heat loving plants, the front garden. Once the deck and shed construction is done in the back there will be hot sunny locations available for vegetables in the backyard but for this season they are in the front.

Vegetable Garden in a Pot

I also picked up a chive plant and a tray of pickling cucumbers. I suspect I’ll be giving more cucumbers and tomatoes away than my partner and I actually eat but for me much of the fun is in growing them.

At the other end of the heat tolerant spectrum are the leeks I picked up. They came as a tray of seedlings and needed to be teased apart and planted individually in the garden. They won’t be ready to harvest until the cold weather hits this fall and can even be mulched with lots of leaves to extend their harvest to early winter. Hmmmm, potato and leek soup for thanksgiving perhaps….

Planting Out Part 2, May 31, 2013

The ongoing threat of frost finally ended this week so was able to plant out my seedlings. These included the tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and various squash that I started indoors. Because the cold weather lasted so long the plants had become somewhat pot bound and the tomato plants were getting leggy. Tomato plants are one of the few varieties of plants which do well if their stems are buried during transplanting since they can grow new roots along their stems.

I also planted some seed potatoes that I had cut up a couple of days ago to give the cuts some time to callous. This is supposed to reduce the chance of soil borne diseases from getting into the cuts and infecting the plants. They went into the mound that I mentioned in the May 19th post and a few extras were tucked into a patch of poor soil in the front yard (more leftovers from the foundation work).

Planting Potatoes

Planting Out, Part 1, May 19, 2013

Even though it is still to cool for planting heat loving vegetables like peppers, eggplant and tomatoes directly into the garden I’ve gone ahead and put together the planter I talked about on the Rogers Daytime garden segment this week. The black pot will tend to hold heat and it is being tucked right up next to the shouts side of my house so it will be protected from the cool nights we are still having. If there is another serious threat of frost I can also tuck it into the garage for the night, something I can’t do with the veggies in the garden.

Vegetable Garden in a Pot

In addition to the Sweet 1000 cherry tomato I planted a single romaine lettuce, a ‘Perpetual Pesto’ basil and a few peas. The basil is variegated and is an excellent variety if you only have room for one plant because it isn’t prone to going to seed and will produce all summer. A red leaf lettuce would have been more decorative, but I prefer the taste and texture of romaine so I opted for the less showy option.

For the soil I used a mix of potting soil and black earth. When growing veggies in pots you need to have excellent drainage, and garden soil will compact and won’t allow the movement of water and air that roots need to be healthy. You can mix some finished compost into the potting soil to add nutrients or use an organic fertilizer, either a slow release granular that you add at the start or a liquid one when you water. Since I didn’t have any granular fertilizer on hand I’ll be using a liquid one later on.

Because cherry tomatoes are such vigorous, vining plants I included an obelisk in the pot as a support for it as it grows. A traditional tomato cage would also be fine, but since this will be right at the front of my house I opted for the more ornamental option.

Still Waiting for Spring.... May 18, 2013

I added some more peas to the garden today. Because peas only produce for a limited time planting small patches of them with a couple of weeks between each seeding will spread ad out the harvest. I pre-soaked the seeds and, since I didn’t have a chance to get them in the garden for a few days I drained the water from the bowls and tucked them into a plastic bag to keep them moist rather than waterlogged. The roots had already begun to grow when I got them in the ground. The leaves will likely show up in about a week.

My partner trimmed the cedar hedge in our front yard and I trimmed all of the dead wood out of the bottom of the weeping mulberry in the front yard. This left me with a mix of green and dry material which I decided to compost rather than bag as yard waste. I chopped the branches into 4-6” sections and mixed the materials together into a small heap and covered them with about 4” of the mineral (i.e. very poor) soil that was left over from some foundation excavation at my home last fall. I’ll use the mound for growing potatoes this summer and by fall there should be a good blend of organic matter and soil that I can use for growing plants which are less tolerant of unusual conditions. I’ll also have fresh potatoes for the grill.

Building your soil with whatevery you have on hand

Compost and yard waste heaps can be used for growing a wide range of veggies including cucumbers, summer or winter squash, pumpkins, even tomatoes if the compost is about half finished. Make sure that the plants have a good sized patch of soil to get started in, and that you don’t have any big layers of dry material that the roots won’t be able to make it through and by the end of the season the roots of the plants and all of the microorganisms, fungi and worms will break down the compost for use the next year.

Preparing the New Digs, May 5, 2013

I had a chance to start preparing my new veggie gardens this weekend. Since the entire yard will be subject to renovations this year (replacing the deck, installing a patio, building a greenhouse/shed) I'm placing the garden in the area where it is the least likely to be trampled, rather than the spot that will get the most sunlight. With this in mind I'm reserving the brightest area for fruiting plants like the tomatoes and planting the slightly more shade tolerant varieties in the spots which will only have 4-5 hours of direct sun each day. These include lettuce, snap and snow peas, radishes, carrots and onions.

Preparing the soil

Since my existing soil is fairly poor (apparently this area was once a brick yard and from the amount of shale in the soil I'm inclined to believe that) I'm screening the soil for the veggie beds to get the larger stones out and I've dug down and burred my slightly fragrant collection of compost which has been collecting since November in my bin. In future years I'll set aside leaves or other dry material to add to the compost to make sure that it retains the right balance of nitrogen and carbon, but it was added to the yard in late November and I didn't have a chance to collect any leaves for it. This year I've mixed in some soil and burred the compost a few inches down. Now that it is in the ground the microorganisms, roots and worms will quickly finish the process that the freezing and thawing started, creating a nice rich layer of nutrients for the vegetables.

Getting Ready to Move Out, May 3, 2013

Hardening Off Vegetable Seedlings

It is important to start slowly exposing seedlings to the elements once the weather has warmed. Even when grown with supplemental light they will be sensitive to bright sun so keep them in the shade the first few times they are out. Bring them in when the weather drops below 10C to keep the growth from slowing too much.

Let There be (More) Light, April 19, 2013

Since starting seedlings will be something that I'll be doing each year a set of grow lights seemed to be a good investment. I selected a fairly inexpensive set of lights from Lee Valley Tools and my partner went to work in his basement workshop to build me this great stand and tray. We'll line it with a piece of pond liner to prevent spills but for now we'll just keep the plants in seedling trays.

If you aren't lucky enough to have access to a workshop (and a handyman) the lights can also simply be hung from wires using the clips which some with the lights.

So far there are some squash and lettuce starting to sprout, along with the basil and tomatoes which had an extra week head start.

Planting the seeds, April 12, 2013

Self Watering Planting Tray

The very first batch of seeds were started last Saturday, April 6th, and included three varieties of tomatoes, an Asian kale and Thai basil. I started them in the self watering seed starting tray (from Lee Valley Tools). I've been impressed with how consistently the capillary mat and reservoir have kept the soil moist and I'll definitely use this tray again in the future, especially when starting small seeds that are especially vulnerable to drying out during the germination phase. The basil and the kale have started to sprout and the tomatoes will likely appear in the next few days.

Potmaker and Newspaper Pots

The seeds I started today are in newspaper pots made with a pot maker. I'll be able to plant these pots right into the garden once the seedlings are ready to be moved outside. I've started a heritage variety of cantaloupe, bush zucchini, sunburst summer squash, two types of cucumbers, a speckled acorn squash and three types of lettuce. The lettuce will likely germinate in a day or two with the rest of the seeds sprouting over a week or so. I've planted two seeds per pot and will thin each to one once they have developed a set of true leaves and I can see which is the most vigorous.

Vegetable Seed Packages

The other item I tried today was a planting kit that came with the plant cells, the tray, a plastic dome for the tray and pelleted soil made from coir (milled coconut fibres). This is the first time I've tried a coir based soil and I'm not entirely satisfied with it so far. I followed the directions an poured the specified amount of water over the compressed soil pellets in the tray. They did swell up somewhat, but even an hour later they had not lost their pelleted shape and I ended up having to break them up with a fork. This took longer than it would have taken me to fill the tray with a potting soil and clean up any mess I made in the process. The soil level is also a bit low and I'll likely need to top it up before I can plant any seeds in this tray.

I made labels for all of the plants from a margarine container since I've found that these labels actually hold up longer that many of the purpose made ones from garden centres, which often become brittle when out in the sun. I wrote the plant names on the labels with a waterproof marker to keep the varieties straight since the amount of space that each will need in the garden is different. I planted four pots of each variety that I started today and if everything grows I'll likely give away some of the cucumber, squash and zucchinis seedlings to one of the local community gardens since my partner and I can only eat so much. Most households only need a couple of plants each of things like tomatoes, squash and cucumbers since the plants can be very productive and it is easy to end up with more zucchinis that you know what to do with.

Tray of Planted and Labeled Seeds

If you are starting your first vegetable garden this year my advice would be go smaller rather than larger, an intensely planted and carefully cared for garden will produce more than one that is too large and becomes difficult to manage later in the summer.

I'll post again when there are some seedlings to show and when the soil had warmed enough to start some cool weather plants like snow peas, spinach and lettuce right in the garden.

Happy Gardening!


Sundaura Alford


Monarch on Rudbeckia

Polinators in the garden


Red Currant

Red currant fruit


Calendula Bloom

Calendula flowers are edible


Oak Leaf Lettuce

Beautifully luscious lettuce


Monarda Bloom

Monarda for pollinators and tea


Variegated Thyme

Thyme for bees and the kitchen


Serviceberry in bloom

Serviceberry flowers to be followed by fruit


Strawberry in a Hanging Basket

A strawberry plant spending
this summer in a hanging basket


Coriander Seedling

A Coriander seedling nearly large enough
to start picking leaves off of


Carrot Seedling

A Very Tiny Carrot


Leaf Lettuce Seedlings

Leaf Lettuce Seedlings


Red Lettuce Seeds

New potato plants


Snow pea plant almost ready to bloom

A Snow Pea almost ready to bloom


Mellon plant is a paper pot

Remove the top of paper pots
before planting so that they don't
wick moisture away from the roots


A Sprouted Snow Pea

A sprouted pea, ready for planting


The first things in the garden

Planting Onions, Lettuce and Carrots


Brandywine Tomato Seedlings

Brandywine Tomato Seedlings


Thai Basil Seedlings

Thai Basil Seedlings


First Basil Seedling

The First Sprout !


Red Lettuce Seeds

Dark Brown Lettuce Seeds From
Red Leaf Lettuce Variety


Yellow Lettuce Seeds

Nearly White Lettuce Seeds From
Yelow Leaf Variety


Cucumber Seeds

Cucumber Seeds


Dry Coir Pellets Wet Coir Pellets Fluffed Coir Pellets

Coir Pelets which didn't expand well


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