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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