Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Forgotten Garden

My garden is like a patchwork quilt. When I first started gardening about 15 years ago, I jumped into it  rather blindly. We had a large shady backyard with a few big trees and plenty of shrubs but not much landscaping and nothing you would call a garden. I loved the natural look of it but craved some color.  One day, on impulse, I went to a garden center and bought quite a few beautiful, expensive plants. I had no gardening experience and could not get anyone to help me so I followed a couple of gardening guides and just bought what I liked. How hard could it be, I thought? You dig some holes in the ground and put some plants in the dirt. Hah!

That first year was sort of a hit-or-miss disaster. Gardening is a lot of work!  And a garden needs sun, something that was lacking in my backyard. By the next year only a few of the plants came back and some others had taken over the garden. I learned as I went along though. Every year I got a little better at it. Reminds me of  my quilting journey . . . .

Eventually, I got some good advice and had fun playing with plants and watching my garden mature and change over the years. I tried a lot of different plants to see what worked best. After a time, where there was once nothing but dirt and grass, my back yard was transformed into a more or less restful haven.

But it was still mostly green. The hostas have clearly overtaken the patio garden this year. They should have been divided in the spring - a couple of springs ago, actually - but I didn't get around to it.

I yearned for a cottage garden, though. There is little sun in the back and the only full sun spots are in the front. So a few years ago I convinced my husband to have a picket fence built near the front door and then he put in a small patio and dug out some beds so I could do some planting along it. I went out and bought some more of those expensive plants. And I got a bench for Mother's Day that year.

My sort of  homemade "cottagey" garden. A work in progress.

Today the shrub roses are going crazy, the Peony is getting ready to bloom and pretty soon there will be another burst of color from the Phlox. Not bad. If I manage to get in some annuals, I say we'll call the front finished for now.

One of my favorite spots . . .

This book has been on my shelf for a little while. Hmmm  . . . time to finally read it, I think.

I haven't done much in the garden for a couple of years, mostly because I was sick or recovering from surgery at prime gardening time and couldn't bend or lift or else it was because I was having trouble with my knee, whatever. Excuses, excuses. And for two years I simply did not have the energy to take care of a garden. But this year I'm all better and so excited to get back to it. Because it's been neglected a bit there's a lot of work to be done.

The back is a little wild and crazy and overgrown right now.

The yard has good bones though and there's plenty of space to work with -

Lots of room for dogs to play. But no color. I want to plant a shade garden all along the fence. I think it has lots of potential. Give me some tips on what to plant, all you shade gardeners out there.

So much work to do here it's pathetic.

I'll be dividing some of the  plants that are already in the garden and moving things around, playing with scraps so to speak. Last week I bought a bunch of perennials from a sale through a local garden club. They were very cheap and all so pretty. I like to experiment with plants and every time I buy expensive plants at a garden center, they flop or don't come back the next year. These are cuttings of established plants from local gardens in this area and I've done this before so I know they will do well in my garden too. As I was loading the plants into my car I had to laugh. I felt like I was making a quilt from scraps instead of going out and buying new fabric LOL. Something I'm very good at. We'll see if my scrap theory works in the garden.

I bought a Bleeding Heart. Again. I love these so much but have not had luck with them in the past. Third time is a charm maybe? Right after I put it in the ground, a little black dog on a mission to capture a chipmunk ran across it and broke a few stems. Arrgh!

My own mission will be to buy some Hollyhocks and Foxglove this year to put near my picket fence.

Hollyhocks from a few years ago.

This summer I'll be a regular at the Chicago Botanic Gardens near me, snapping photos, searching for inspiration -

The beautiful English Walled Garden at the Chicago Botanic Gardens

Wish me luck in getting my garden back into shape. My sewing space also needs sprucing up but never mind that. One thing at a time. For now, I think I have my work cut out for me.


  1. Lovely garden :o)
    Beautiful pictures ... and I love ...(o) the little ...
    log cabin quilt !

  2. Thanks Kathy for the wonderful tour of your PEACEFUL HOME! I feel relaxed and loved! ♥♥♥

  3. I am a quilter, I follow you and also gardening is my love. Reading is right up there with them . Just a note the book is wonderful finished it about three months ago. Be careful where you put the foxglove as it is poison to animals and children. Your yard is looking terrific and I know you will have fun doing the shaded back yard. Blessings, Brook

  4. I love the look of a shade garden. You can add color with some Astilbe and some Japanese Painted Fern. I put those under a big maple and they are growing happily in my Colorado clay. I also have a variety of hosta in many shades of green. Have fun! Pick what you like, not what the design book says.

  5. I love this garden, beautiful!! groet, Diny

  6. A big curvy row of billowy hydrangeas against a fence can't be beat IMHO. They can make a great backdrop for other plants, too.

    I enjoyed The Forgotten Garden - don't let it languish any longer!

    Love your scrap quilt:gardening analogy.

  7. My shade garden has many different hostas; many ferns, you can get yellows,greens and red ferns; and hellebores.
    You can divide hostas in the Autumn when they are dying down. Just dig them out and put a spade through the middle.
    Bev in sunny Britain.

  8. Try English violas - lovely pastel colors and a long bloom time. We live in Northern Wisconsin with typically very cold winters...though this past one was milder. But the violas wintered over and are blooming very well now. They can handle shade.

    The Forgotten Garden is a must - betting you will enjoy it.

  9. Your little "cottage" garden is charming. I love that look. As far as the back yard goes, you are really stuck with plants that need mostly shade. Your hostas look nice.

  10. such a lovely garden! Bleeding hearts are one of my favorite plants.

  11. Do finish The Forgotten Garden. It's a wonderful book. I'm just now reading The House at Riverton and enjoying it. Your picket fence is lovely as are the plantings around it. As for your shade garden, there are many plants that thrive in shade: Lily of the Valley, Bleeding Heart in white, lots of different types of violets, Trilliums. If you have a small amount of dappled shade, you can even plant lettuce. It loves a cool spot.

  12. OH lovely !
    As in English Garden, it's Beautifull, and The Quilt is marvellous!
    I'm French, and I just discovert your blog
    (escuse me for my english!)
    A Good Day

  13. Love your garden, Kathy. I too have hostas, astilbe, bleeding heart (in white)also a beautiful pink clematis that seems to survive the cold, wet and clay of my English garden. Jenny

  14. I have lots of shade like you and I have planted lots of wild flowers which, while the bloom season is short, certain types do well in shade. I've also had good luck with day lilies if you have any sun at all in the back. I have some that are in shade almost all day and they are still doing well. There are different varieties that bloom from early spring to late fall. Many shades of yellow to red.

  15. I would suggest reading about shade gardens. I have a very good book called 'Step by Step Sucessful Shade Gardens' put out by Better Homes and Gardens (1995) with many good suggestions. It's hard for me to suggest plants as I'm in California but I like coleus a lot and it's a good contrast with green plants. A lot of the other suggestions so far are good also. I think ferns would look great in the shade. Maybe you need a focal point in back, too, maybe even with some garden art or sculpture or a swing of some kind. My friend who is a terrific gardener has helped me so much, so if you have such a friend, ask her to help you. Good luck!

  16. Thank you all for the wonderful comments and suggestions! I have plenty of violets, daylilies, geraniums, sedum, Coral Bells, Columbine, and even Phlox will grow near the patio since it gets some sun during the day. Hmmm, hydrangeas can live here too? I will try that. I also always rely on impatiens plants to fill in more color in the other spots.

    I know about the Foxglove and other poisonous plants and plan to keep those in the front garden where the dogs do not roam.

  17. I wish you good luck with your garden!!!you can use "hortensias"(hydrangeas)for your shade garden,it's very easy looking after these plants because it is a hardy plant and there are a lot of colors,purple,pink,blue,white... if you want to plant in a sunny place you could buy smells delicious!!!! sorry with my forgotten english,I'm spanish, my best wishes for you.Ana

  18. I'm sorry because I don't know the name in english but in spanish is "ADELFA" it's very dangerous for animals,because it has got poison,and sometimes dogs plays with this flowers or eat it,or drink water with's a beautiful plant with flowers,and it smells good, I think you musn't use poisonous plants(although it was beautifull)you will be living calm with your puppies...I Hope you understand me.Ana

  19. Your gardening journey sounds familiar! I've grown to love gardening, but I started out knowing nothing about plants, killing things along the way ;-) I'm still learning and I love to see the flowers each year come back to greet me. I have a bleeding heart that is just huge, so I guess that's what I'd recommend. I can't tell you why mine is happy, but it sure is pretty to look at.

  20. I love your little cottage garden! I love flowers, but was not born with a green thumb! I think my perennial garden is going to require a complete overhaul. As for the Forgotten Garden - You MUST read it! Kate Morton is my new favorite author. Her newest book, the Distant Hours, is captivating, and her best yet; she has a new one due out in November.

  21. As you may remember I just moved to the"big sky" country of Mt where today it is 48 degrees with rain forcast for the whole weekend! Looking at your garden made me a little homesick for ILL. My sister promises it will get warm before winter sets in again lol. I love your holyhocks and I brought some seeds with me to plant if it ever warms up.

  22. Love love love the picket fence! and bleeding hearts (the pink ones) have always been on my favorites list too. Such fun!

  23. Awesome! You have just read Kate Morton's book. I can not put down. I have slowly towards the end.
    A beautiful Quilted!

  24. Lovely garden! You already have a lot of my favorites: helebores, bleeding hearts, coral belles, phlox, hostas... I favor the chartreus one's. I also love Annabelle hydrangeas for their ability to lighten darker corners with their billowy blooms, and oak leaf hydrangeas with their huge blossoms and grand leaves that turn red in the fall, climbing hydrangea has lace cap type leaves. I also grow ancathus: it's structural leaves are in greek sculpture as well as William Morris designs... Its blossom stalk is stately and graphic. It is also known as bear breaches. Tradescantia (spiderwort) gives nice color at treelines. If it weren't so hot, I'd go out & work in my yard right now! Good luck & hope your holiday is a good one, b

  25. Astilbe works well !!! Coral Bells seem to be food for the bunnies in my yard and never last.
    Hydrangeas yess!!! Pee Gee are great and turn into a huge shrub . . . beautiful for drying just have to give them a year or so. They do need at least a little sun. Ivy-- oh my I love it's look and has done quite well -- I have a lot of shade too.
    Diane in Naperville

  26. Hi....don't wait.....I LOVED The Forgotten Garden....just discovered it about two weeks ago at the library...Kate Morton's writing is a matter of fact as I got to the end and as mysteries were unfolding I hurried to finish just so I could start reading it again from the beginning to find the "clues" I now reading more of Kate Morton...
    Oh, also, your yard looks very pretty and well worth your hard work...
    I quilt as well and had avoided the "addiction" for many years....not anymore...
    Enjoy your flowers, the book and the summertime...


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