Another New Garden Revealed


Readers may remember when I revealed the front garden at my new rowhouse, complaining at the time that I couldn’t plant anything in the back garden until construction was done.  Well, after seven months of workers and inspectors and three-jurisdiction permit purgatory, my life is at last quiet.  And here’s where I spend hours a day – on this 11 x 17-foot screened-in porch.  A bug-free place to work and read and nap, with my three indoor cats.  Heaven.

With the porch done, it was time to install the flagstone patio and walkway.  What’s left for me to do is to plant more plants, and to make enough concrete pavers to form a path to the storage shed door.   A DIY job right up my alley (no skill required).

Plant suggestions?
Above you see the largest area that needs filling in.  At the back of this section, along the property line, I planted a ‘Shasta’ doublefile viburnum, which you have to imagine at 15 or so feet tall, and a ‘Ghost’ Weigela, which has yellow-green foliage and will soon be 5 x 5.  In front of it are three ‘Morning Light’ Miscanthus from my old garden, and then bare mulch awaiting maybe swaths of a couple of perennials.  The space gets about four hours of sun.

Above you see the 3 Abelia species that I planted in April and have seen sprout up with impressive speed.  Go, Abelia!  I’d never grown them before and had always loved their smell.  To their right is a Fothergilla, another plant I’d never grown before, and I must say it’s taking its sweet time growing.

Above is the view from the sidewalk at the bottom of the yard, where I planted three Cryptomerias to provide screening.  They’re gorgeous, soft to the touch, and grow surprisingly fast.   To cover some of the shed I’ve planted a crossvine and a climbing hydrangea.

Here’s another somewhat empty and definitely problematic space – between the porch and the neighbor’s privacy screen.  On the left are some of the ‘Blue Billow’ lacecrap hydrangeas I found on sale for 15 bucks each, and on the right, some of the ‘Blue Maid’ hollies that are supposed to screen the screen.   I’m looking for someplace to hide the garden hose – maybe one of those round terra cotta holders?

 Problems, failures so far

  • Some of my new plants are dying!   Yes, the ‘Blue Maid’ hollies are infected with some fungal disease or other (according to the garden center diagnosticians) and you know how that goes – those fungicides are much better at prevention than cure.  So of the seven hollies I bought in April that are super-important for providing screening, one is gone and another is done for.  Damn.
  • Speaking of screening, as I sit on my porch my primary view is of the back-neighbor’s storage area.  So I’m wishing I’d spent more and bought Cryptomerias already tall enough to accomplish that job.  (Patience is something I could use more of in this department.)  I checked the “before” photo of the garden and noticed that a large burning bush did a splendid job of hiding the storage area, but I hated it and it had to go.  So this is a case of things getting worse before they slowly get better.
  • Finally (for now), the “soil” here is crappy – hard-packed clay.  My original plan to hire someone to amend it with compost was itself amended by the reality of the humongous amount of compost involved – almost a thousand bucks worth in bags, since there’s noplace to dump a truckload.  Instead, I paid a worker just to remove the existing shrubs – that burning bush, and a bunch of misshapen azaleas.  Soil amendment will have to come plant by plant, as I mix compost into each planting hole.  Plus, I’m counting on earthworms to turn the nice organic mulch I’m using into decent topsoil, eventually.  Maybe in time for the next gardener here.

Good news on the mulch front, at least.  There’s a huge pile of the stuff just blocks away, free for the taking.  My trusty Honda CRV gets called into action regularly for the hauling of mulch and is conveniently pre-dirtied, as my unwitting passengers can attest.

Click here to see a (really bad) drawing of the garden in plan. [pdf]


  1. I want to see some more pictures of your front garden, how is it doing? I love the in progress pics.

    Your screened in porch looks fantastic! I think you need some oriental lilies for fragrance and height. And something frothy like maybe russian sage?

  2. There is nothing like a screened porch – with or without a perfect view. Lilies are a great idea – especially since you won’t have deer eating them just when they are about to bloom.

  3. I like your phrase, “conveniently pre-dirtied.” I need to remember that for my car.

    The porch is awesome.–Lucky you!

    Wish I could suggest some plants, but what grows in Texas most likely won’t grow where you are.

    Just how do you make your concrete pavers?

  4. A couple suggestions:
    Shed: you planted one too many vines, if you research the size of each and contemplate their competitive visual “busy-ness” when mature. = 1 vine to relocate.

    Nook garden by neighbor’s privacy fence:
    1. Consider this a contemplative/zen garden viewed from porch and bluestone terrace.
    2. FEATURE the fence. It has great texture. Don’t hide it behind (unhappy) hollies.
    3. FEATURE the “floor”, too, to enhance the “floor to ceiling” view off your porch (and terrace). Consider a symmetric or Escher-esque (i.e. starts symmetric then “loses” its pattern) checkerboard of bluestone 1′ squares starting off your new bluestone terrace into the space. You played with lawn alternatives at your former home. Play here, too. Really low moss-like Sedums work well in mine. Any ground cover that matches the conditions should be considered. I got this idea from a Kyoto teahouse garden, done in moss.
    4. I suggested clearing out much of the large shrub “clutter”, but you still need some vertical interest for “contemplation”. Statue/sculpture/found art are hardscape ideas. Also Spodiopogon sibiricus is a spectacular vertical grass for partial shade with great fall color in addition to grass’s usual selling points.
    5. Create an “end” to the privacy fence to suggest that YOU installed it in your design. Extend it another “section” (with a more trellis-look?) and “host” the “extra vine” from your shed. OR plant a shrub feature (maybe one of the extra Blue Billows, though maybe not tall enough) that “says end”.

    I like that you share the progress and ask for comments! Feel free to email me if you want some checkerboard garden photos. . . Kate

  5. how lucky to have both a screened porch and a garden shed!
    I suggest you toss the invasive exotic Miscanthus from your old garden and put in native Muhly Grass instead.
    With the Cryptomeria, did you get a dwarf form? If not, you will have to move the birdbath and stand back.
    best wishes on your new garden!

  6. Laura, here’s a post I wrote about paver-making:

    And gardengeri, the ‘Morning Light’ Miscanthus isn’t invasive – they bloom too late to be. Most of the varieties that are sold by independent garden centers are late-bloomers, not the invasive species.

    The Cryptomeria are full-size but don’t worry – they’re planted at the very back of the garden along the sidewalk, intended to eventually (though asap!) hide the back neighbor’s storage area.

  7. I totally agree with Kate’s comments about loosening up your harshly rectangular patio by adding some more flagstones, and leaving openings (if not the full-blown checkerboard idea since your flagstones are randomly sized).
    You also might consider reconfiguring the variegated liriope that flanks your pathway so that it appear as a naturalistic drift that the path crosses through.
    In addition to evergreen shrubs, you might consider adding tall Meadow Rue, Thalictrum rochebrunianum, which might flourish with some limited sun.
    In the heart of the open spaces, have you considered a drift of Astilbe to add some early summer color with nice foliage all season (if you have moist enough conditions)? Maybe the groundcover form, Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’ would work as a quick growing filler between other perennials.

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