Evolution of a garden area

It is okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to change your mind. If you can afford it, call in a pro. Or, like us, make your progress in baby steps, with a lot of head scratching and shuffling things around in between!

Over 20 years, as our tree canopy grew, I lost most of my flower garden, forcing me (my husband) to either cut down trees or (me) adapt to shade gardening. For the most part, I did the latter. The vast majority of my back yard is covered by a tree canopy of evergreens, conifers, and deciduous trees. On the positive side, many of my hydrangeas thrive. On the downside, my sun-loving perennials and annuals did not.

I am still developing a deep shade garden, trying to add more texture, depth and sculpture each year. This area is often 20 degrees cooler in the high heat of July and August.

Years ago, we converted a sunny dog area, which was free from any vegetation into a raised bed area. That made sense. My husband decided he wanted to grow vegetables and we built six raised beds constructed out of concrete blocks. Functionally, it worked, but after the second year, the blocks shifted, the weeds found their way in, as did the groundhogs. Next year we had a haphazard chicken wire fence to protect treasured veggies from being consumed, but that addition prevented us from easily weeding.

This is the second year of the raised bed gardens. Trust me when I say, it did not look this good in 2018! To the left of this picture is our garage, and a makeshift octagonal path from garage door to yard.

In short, the area became a food-producing eyesore. All viewable from my living room window. I hated it and I wanted it all out. After years of nagging, and a compromise to consider growing some veggies in elevated trugs, I won my way and we tore out and sold off the concrete blocks. If we had built the raised beds correctly, they would still be where they are. But that’s another story!

By now I had really begun to pay attention to the lectures and workshops provided by Cooperative Extension. Extension agents, Master Gardeners, authors like our own UD professor Doug Tallamy, all emphasized the importance of developing areas for pollinators.

This side area area gets full sun. To the left of the above picture you can see two remaining raised beds which were removed in 2019. All this block was removed and the good soil contained inside was spread to the right of the paths.

As we took down the concrete blocks, we spread the garden soil for the future pollinator garden

Before we took down the raised beds, we experimented with a more permanent path leading from the side garage door into the main back yard. In the top left, two sections of split rail remained where a compost bin used to be. I was starting to experiment with pollinator plants.

My first attempt was to plant perennials along the two split rail sections, where we had a compost bin. We then expanded this to where the raised beds used to be located. 2020 and 2021.

We ditched the idea of the tightly fitted stone pathway, and moved them to the side, seen below on the right. This created a mulched foot path, but very unstable edging, a nightmare for navigating a hose. This area has no underground irrigation.

Spreading the garden soil in this area provided a good spot for sun-loving perennials. I envision a tall water feature in the center someday!

We decided we did not like the stones on the side of the path. They moved and I could not move the hose around easily. I began to research stone and gravel paths.

Looking west from back yard to side yard. We didn’t have enough stone to edge the path from the garage to the main back yard, and it was not the look I was going for. We added an arbor to help differentiate the main back yard from the pollinator garden. We did something similar to mark off the shade garden.
We moved the mulch and debris out of the path area and purchased edging material.
I added black plastic landscape paper as a weed barrier. We then bought a pallet of large flag stone (from Grizzly’s) and placed them in the pathway.

These stones were heavy! Both my husband and I are officially “seniors” and I keep forgetting I am not 30 or 40! Three days later my right hand was almost totally immobilized. We knew how to bend our knees to lift heavy stones, but I did not pay attention to my hands. I should have worn hand braces. I did afterwards! It took me a month for my right hand to heal.

Pathway leading to our new arbor and entrance into the main back yard and pond.
We added several bags of pea gravel. I was hoping for river rock colors in grays, reds and blues, but everything sold in our area were very jagged, and the smoother river rock were larger pebbles. So we went with the sand-colored rounded pea gravel.

We do not have an irrigation system on our property. Dragging a hose around is not fun! The green tripod, which a friend sold to me – an extra one she bought from Lowes, was a godsend. I’ve since bought another. I got rid of my heavy hoses and bought two of those lightweight, collapsible types to hook up to the tripod. Most, not all of the new plants in this area are native.

The path after a fresh rain.
We stopped the path at the arbor. Notice the new fence? I am training native honeysuckle vine “Major Wheeler” on the arbor.
Before and after

We also decided to take down our 21-year old split rail fence. It was coming down on its own anyway.

We took some of the extra pieces of stone we had lying around and put a temporary path in from the gate to the garden. We plan to develop this further.
An established path from the gate to the main pathway is our goal for 2023.
For now, these smaller stones from the pallet delivery give us an idea where to connect the two paths. I am looking forward to selecting native ground covers for this area.

The area behind the bench (pictured above) still needs rehabilitating. We planted a redbud tree, not quite large enough to cast some shade over the bench. Behind it, a very sunny spot will be an area devoted to milkweed and taller native plants.

To balance out the back yard, we added a second matching arbor as an entrance to the shade garden. In between the two arbors is our pond. As you see, we are still doing stonework!
We reduced the size of our pond in half.
A teak Lutyens bench rests on a patio which used to be a larger pond. We cut the pond in half, back filled it and laid stone on top.

In the past two years, we redefined our large back yard into separate areas. Our pond, which we downsized, is the centerpiece of our no-mow, no-lawn back yard. Facing the pond to the right is our evolving deep shade garden, with a tent-type gazebo. To the left, our sunny pollinator garden. It is a rustic and wild-life friendly oasis. In the future, we plan to thin out some non-native trees and plant some red oaks and other native trees.

Among other things, my goal with this garden is to eliminate plastic and resin and stick to stone, wood and ceramic objects – natural as possible elements to contribute to a serene environment for humans and critters alike.

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Twenty-Twenty

A Great Year for Gardening and Grandmothering

I’m not going too far out on a limb to say that 2020 has been a horrible year so far. Sickly, stressful, polarizing and divisive. Since March 13, 2020 I have worked from home and also had an opportunity to take temporary custody of my only grandchild, Hugo, who lives in NYC with his parents. There, at the epicenter of the pandemic, his parents felt their six and a half year old son might enjoy an extended visit in the southern Delaware countryside with “MiMa.” Both of us did our daily work virtually, and the extra time together concentrated on an outdoor classroom that included birdwatching and feeding, planting vegetables, planting and dividing flowers and learning about insects and pollinators. It was 11-weeks of that silver lining you hear so much about!

My grandson got a kick out of learning about the birds, recognizing the songs and in this case, rat-a-tat-tat of a red-bellied woodpecker
One of our favorite getaways was to go to Best’s Ace Hardware in Lewes and get some birdseed and some toys! Hugo can identify cardinal songs now, and he knows they prefer safflower seeds the most!

Working from home afforded me some extra time to water in the mornings, spend lunch time weeding, and when we were allowed to, visit some garden centers wearing masks.

My hydrangeas (currently 63 and counting) did not get the news 2020 was off to a poor start. I started seeing early indications that this would be a bumper year for hydrangeas. The best ever in my memory.

In my ever-shadier woodland backyard setting, I have lost the opportunity to flower garden. But this year, my husband and I took out three of our five concrete block raised beds (they worked but were unsightly) and used the area to create a pollinator garden. It is still a work in progress.

We added an arbor to differentiate the woodland garden from the pollinator garden. I’ve ordered two “Major Wheeler” native honeysuckles to flank each side. They will arrive in the fall. The arbor adds a nice touch I think! Photo processed through the Brushstroke app.
I moved this sign to the entrance of the arbor!
Another view of the new pollinator garden. My husband laughs at me when I lean back on the lounge and put the hose on. We don’t have irrigation, one of the big mistakes we made when we built this house. Soaker hoses are in the future! We left two sections of a split rail fence that we had to separate a dog run (I used to have a Great Dane) and I like the way it frames the space.

In the pollinator garden is an assortment of natives and non-natives. Echinacea, nepta (catmint) garden phlox “jeana”, various beebalm, senna, coreopsis, gaillardia, pink and purple Veronica speedwell, salvias, Shasta daisies, fennel, milkweed, butterfly weed (Asclepias), yarrow, false sea thrift (armería), stokesia, lavender, rosemary, cornflower, pokeweed, h.paniculata “Bobo”, solidago “Wichita Mountains”, drumstick alliums, and others.

Watering place for pollinators, filled with glass beads so they won’t get too wet!
A gazing ball is a nod to my childhood. A neighbor had one of these, and as a little girl, I thought it was magical. I might relocate this, however, just a few feet forward.
Drumstick alliums shifting from green to dark magenta. I saw these in the Maine Botanical Garden and wanted to add them to my garden! Bees love them!
On the other side of the yard I started Clematis “Jackmanii” The trellis comes from Lewes, at a little antique shop across from the blacksmith shop.
H. Macrophylla “Mariesii” this variety was variegated. It has experienced “revision” which means it has reverted back to mostly solid colored leaves. I think this is the result of too much sun. It is a temperamental bloomer, about 15 years old, this year it went bonkers!
Stoke’s Aster or Stokesia
H. Quercifolia or oakleaf “Syke’s Dwarf”
I wish I knew the name of this beauty, bought around 2005. Not knowing what I know now about Hydrangeas, I planted this in the front of my house with a southern exposure. It bloomed these glorious blue Lacecaps, but it minded the heat something awful. I watered twice a day. Thankfully, other trees in the front yard have matured and have provided afternoon sun relief.
Beebalm in the front yard. Powdery mildew is always an issue. Hoping to add wild bergamot to replace as it is native and less susceptible. Still, the pollinators enjoy the stand that is spreading each year.
This lovely was an unmarked Walmart rescue for $6.99. It’s second year in this spot, facing East, it has about a dozen blooms on it this year! I wish I knew the cultivar of this macrophylla!
This was our original pond that we built the first year we moved in. Last year however, we cut it in half.
I always wanted a “Lutyens” bench and a special place for it. It sits under a large red maple where we can enjoy the waterfall and watch the frogs. We kept koi for many years but had to resort to unsightly nets to keep them safe. All they did was catch falling leaves and the whole thing looked like a big mess. So we found the koi a new home and simplified the water feature.
Blue Herons still come by and visit, hoping for a Koi buffet. We spotted this beauty and her balancing act atop a hot tub privacy fence.
Another view of the Walmart rescue. In the back yard we don’t grow grass. No mowing, no fertilizing, no weed killing. Weed pulling yes! I am trying to establish a moss carpet. Tree and leaf droppings keep the floor mostly vegetative free. I would prefer to dress the ground with pine straw however. This is a bit too rustic for my taste.
Shasta daisies next to a cobalt blue birdbath filled with sedums and succulents. The succulents overwinter quite nicely.
I overwintered most of my pots in the garage. The spikes, geraniums, and lantana all overwintered! I only had to add the alyssum!
H. Arborescens “Incrediball” enjoy their third summer. I haven’t pruned these yet, I think I might do that next March to encourage bigger blossoms.
Another part of the shade garden. The Zen Den is at least 10 to 15 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the property. The Buddha honors respect for life, and all sentient beings. As a backyard wildlife habitat, insects, snakes, rabbits, possums, turtles, frogs, have all found a home here. I still swat mosquitoes though!
Enjoy your gardens! Bee Safe!

Maine’s Botanical Garden

Drumstick Allium, Maine Botanical Gardens

Near Boothbay on Maine’s mid-coast is the fabulous Maine Botanical Garden. Having been to the town of Boothbay in 2017, which resulted in a day of extended shopping, my husband wasn’t too keen to return to the town in our 2019 visit. And while he loves our garden, I don’t place him in the garden tourist aficionado category. Nevertheless, I convinced him to accompany me on my first visit to this famed garden. We traveled down a lot of curvy roads to get there.

He loved it. He didn’t stop talking about it. It will be on our must-see list next time we visit, which we hope to do in 2022.

All Tangled up!

Beside my addiction to gardening and taking photos of what I and other people grow, I am also enthralled with mobile device photography apps!

I found this nifty little number called Tangledfx (effects) and it’s the best $2 I have ever spent. I have been disappointed with many photo apps, but not this one.

Behold my original lacecap  hydrangea taken in my backyard, which looks lovely on its own

Then I tried one of TangledFX’s  filters, I think this is called Swirl. Kind of has a Van Gogh effect:

This one renders a stained glass look. It can be produced with white or black edges.


This one is a little more delicate than the Van Gogh (not the effect’s real name )

And this last sample I will show today is very ethereal. In the mood for a Fairy Garden? Waiting for Tinkerbell!


There are about 16 “presets” with the app. They add varying degrees of fibers, strokes, swirls and outlines. Some will make your photographs look like a cartoon or an expensive woodcut.

My garden, my flower, my photo—I feel I can take a lot of the credit, but with some help from TangledFX, the potential for some amazing pictures emerge. I could see these made into logos, or if printed on high quality paper, framed as very nice gifts.

You’re bound to see some more examples. Like any obsession, well, one has to be obsessed!  Next to my Waterlogue app, this photo app has to be my all time favorite for botanicals. But it works pretty good on animals too:

Stones for the Sixties

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I saw these stones in my Facebook news feed and I just loved the idea! They are by artist Shenaz Bac and her Facebook page is is http://www.facebook.com/shenazbac.

I love the way they look and I think they would be an amazing addition to a George Harrison-themed garden.

Her work is quite intricate. Given the volume I think I will need, I may try to do something myself, perhaps with larger stones, and maybe take as inspiration from some of the items directly linked to George- his hand painted home Kinfauns, his colorful Mini Cooper and his Fender Stratocaster, ca. Magical Mystery Tour.

I have some shady areas where I haven’t been too successful growing anything with vivid color. Adding various sizes and colors of some Sixties stones might be just the answer!

Sussex County Delaware Master Gardeners’ Open House

It is a great honor to be asked to take photos of one of my favorite annual events, the Sussex County (Delaware) Master Gardener Open House. Their beautiful demonstration garden just happens to be located directly in back of my office and I even have a window so I can look out!

20130713-195554.jpgThe garden has many interesting niches and surprising little things peeking out of corners and unusual places. The demonstration garden is actually open all year long, and the public is welcome to stroll through the clearly marked plantings any time of the day, but a few times a year, the Master Gardeners have planned events, which allow the public to not only tour the garden, but have informal, friendly chats with Master Gardeners.

Enjoying a summer slurpee
Enjoying a summer slurpee

Like most gardeners I know, the Master Gardeners are a generous and humble lot. This is their passion and they love to share it. Not everyone is an expert in everything. Each Master Gardener brings his or her own talent to the table…or raised bed. Some are into veggies, others native Delware plants, children’s gardens, hostas, hydrangeas, garden photography. You name it! We have someone who knows their garden subject matter. Together, it all homogenizes into a poetry of color, nutrition, affection for all things fora and fauna. In Delaware, Master Gardeners are selected, trained and supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University. Delaware has a lot to be proud of with these tireless and talented volunteers. What a treasure we have!

Here’s a photo set of pictures taken today at their premiere annual event.

2013 Open House

Stunning garden path

This is the most gorgeous walkway I have ever seen. I saw it in my Facebook Newsfeed, posted by the Raw for Beauty page. It has a Sixties feel, don’t you think? Yet, it looks contemporary too! It’s a work of art!

I have to figure out a way to get this done! Love the colors, the floral bursts and spirals. It probably would cost a fortune, but I am going to try begin to collect and stow away materials that could be used later. Definitely worth getting some estimates for having it done. Simply stunning! Any landscapers out there need website or social media services? I am willing to barter!

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George Harrison’s memorial garden in the UK

The Beatle I admire the most was George Harrison, and my affection for him grew when I learned he was an avid gardener. Olivia Harrison recently posted news of a contemplative garden created in his honor. This is a permanent garden, unlike the one that appeared at the Chelsea Garden Show in 2008, which was also spectacular! And here is another link about the Chelsea tribute garden! And this page has some great videos: http://georgeharrison.com/garden/exhibit/

I particularly love this free- form bench.
I particularly love this free- form bench.source: bhaktivedantamanor.co.uk

This new garden is a meditative garden, according to the media release on George Harrison’s website Do you see the engraving on the left side of the bench? It says, “Now I’m so happy I found you” from his beautiful song on the White Album, Long, Long, Long.

The website describes how the garden was created and provides a diagram of the planning and planting. It looks as though they recycled the Pavilion from the Chelsea garden into this new one. His son Dhani once said in an interview that his father would get lost in his gardening, so intense was his concentration that it would get dark and dinner cold, because George was so focused at the task at hand. I can relate to that. I can’t tell you how many times I put something in the stove or oven, and then ran out to do a little weeding or pruning, only to get carried away and come back to a burnt pizza or soup!

It is a long-term goal of mine to add features, colors, and flowers inspired by George’s music, lyrics, and favorite garden practices. I hope and have suggested that the Harrison estate or The Material World Foundation might put together a pictorial garden book, or even produce a line of garden products inspired by George, his favorite flowers, art, by his lyrics, colors of the 60s and 70s – the proceeds could help promote horticulture in areas or communities where a little color, beauty and contemplation is needed. Hey if Martha Stewart can sell spades and garden art, I think it would be great to have inspiration from a man and gardener who really felt the passion for digging in the dirt and adding beauty and life to our lives!