Saturday, December 19, 2009

Garden Evolution -- 2007-2009

My garden is just over 2 years old. And yet in that time I've amazed myself (easy to do) at how lush the plants have become. So, here's a post with twenty some pics tracing the garden from July 2007--when my wife helped me spread 20 yards of mulch in 90 degree heat--to just this past August and September.

FALL 2007

I didn't know how best to organize these photos, so we'll go from year to year. Many of the pics were taken from near the same position to highlight the evolution. As always, click to expand (especially with those of mostly just mulch).

I've never had a garden before, but I grew up with a gardener--one who gardened by a "do it and see what happens" creed. So I just threw myself into it. In 2007 and 2008 it wasn't uncommon for me to be outside for 8 hours, even in the middle of the afternoon, sweating like a Robin Williams.

My idea for the main garden, above, was a combination of whatever native plant I happened to come across and like, as well as prairie / meadow flowers and grasses. So I just started plopping stuff in, creating scattered repetition, mixing heights and textures, hoping form would follow function. Or function would follow form? I felt blind out there the first year.

A view back toward the side garden and main gate. Though I didn't have a real plan, it was always my intention to make that side garden along the house as low maintenance as possible. To me, this meant varied shrubs, as well as ideas of what a Japanese garden might look like or work like (though mine doesn't look like one). Since this area is on the east side of the house, plants get half sun, and the soil stays damp.

Side garden

Those Amsonia hubrichtii by the deck were dug up from my old place. I had a very small porch garden were these plants never took off. Wait till you see them in 2009. (FYI the woman who bought my place tore up every last flower of my mini garden. For shame. She left the two arborvitae, though.)

FALL 2008

In the spring of 2008 we added the disappearing fountain--which took 7 hours to install. Ridiculous.

Side garden

I added a dry stream bed--which isn't dry when the rain chain is rainy.

See that obelisk way out in the middle with a morning glory on it? Well, it's out there. And it's copper. I built it. Viva Trellis Craft by Roger Beebe.

MAY 2009

I added a real bona fide bridge over the 6" deep stream bed. That stream was a real hazard during heavy rain (sarcasm).

Here's the main garden about the time I graduated with my Ph.D. Most of my plantings were at first just native perennials to the midwest and plains, with some native to other parts of the country. In 2008 I started adding shrubs so that 1) there'd theoretically be less maintenance and 2) there'd theoretically be winter interest. So far, the only winter interest comes from rabbits who eat the shrubs and make me buy new ones in the spring.

I also have 5 butterfly bushes, but in 2009 the insects mostly left them alone, as opposed to 2008. In 2009 the native perennials came into full vigor and were devoured instead--by bees, butterflies, and a massive plague of grasshoppers. (Did you need another reason to go native? Insects REALLY DO FAVOR NATIVE PLANTS). The trick with a perennial garden is to be patient, I've come to learn. Many perennials--like eupatorium--will soon grow to the gerth of shrubs and be just as interesting in every season, even in winter with the grasses. Maybe shrubs are silly indulgences.


Just look at that native sweet autumn clematis, c. virginiana, in its 2nd full season. And the smell was luscious--like roses (better than roses)--permeating the entire garden.

Entrance to the garden / side garden. That one person chair against the fence is my favorite place to sit, until the neighbor's dog finds me, or one of his toys is lobbed over the fence.

Just beyond the arbor.

From the deck.

There are several eupatoriums and ironweeds along the fence that grow to 6' high or more and act like shrubs, as well as provide a second privacy screen. By the arbor you can see one of 5 trees in the garden, a clump river birch. There is also a regular and weeping bald cypress, and two crabapples elsewhere.

Look at those Amsonia hubrichtii now.

In the forground bordering the yard are three shrubs that I hope will become a mixed hedge from this viewpoint, and from within the garden provide a nice strong background. There's also a 'Coralburst' crabapple on a stick to the right that I got at Home Depot for $60. Sometimes you can go to hell and redeam a lost soul, particularly when it's on sale for half off.

Above: 2009 -- Below: 2008



Link here to see the garden 300% more lush in mid summer of 2010--all on its 3rd birthday, and my X birthday.

I don't use chemicals. This spring I spread 4 yards of city compost about 1-2" deep most everywhere. This fall I put down 2 yards of mulch in sunny areas. I do sprinkle a little bit of slow release all purpose fertilizer in the spring, but I maybe don't really need it. I am pretty anal about researching plants before I buy them so I know if it will work, and where it should go. Parts of my garden stay very wet, and others get very dry. I'm doing ok I suppose.

That's my garden. About 1,500-2,000 square feet in the back. There are another X feet of foundation beds along the back of the house, and 500 feet out front I never show because it's boring and I can't figure it out (and if that piques your interest, stop it).
If you want to know what anything is in the pics, let me know. A link to my end of 2008 season plant list is on the right somewhere toward the top.
And some of my favorite nurseries, online or in person:

Ambergate Gardens
Prairie Moon Nursery
Prairie Nursery

I'm afraid I might get bored this year and just start digging random holes in the yard. Lawn circles. Aliens. Insane assylum. Plant catalogs. Straight jacket. Join the A-Team. Follow? The garden doesn't need to be bigger, and we won't be here but a few more years anyway, I figure. This is my trial garden for a future acreage. Still--leave it better than you found it, and hope the next owners will also pay it forward.
Have a Merry Christmas from all of us one people here at The Deep Middle, a certified 501c nonprofit on this 1/4 acre lot looking for plant donations.


Noelle Johnson said...

Wow. Isn't it amazing the transformation that a garden goes through over time? I use before and after photos for clients to show them that although their new plantings look small and sparse, that they will grow quickly into beautiful sized plants. Your garden is just beautiful.

Victoria Summerley said...

Great post! No, seriously, I found it really quite moving. It's a real lesson in how patience makes a good garden - and how your patience is rewarded more quickly than you might think. It looks gorgeous.
I'd be tempted to dig holes in the lawn too. How about a winding ribbon of planting through it, like a kind of echo of how you have a winding path through the back garden?

Anonymous said...

They are all trial gardens, Benjamin, that never changes for a garden can never be finished. You have done so much, and it shows. The plantings have favored you by growing so robustly and the design is great, really. That is how we all start out, plopping aimlessly the moving them to make it better. I am still doing that. Your Japanese garden is of high interest to me. The bridge is a key element, as is the disappearing fountain. Even if you go the circles in the lawn route, they will eventually connect to form a flowing lovely garden too. It just happens that way. We do appreciate the time it took to put this post together. We hope your holidays are the best ever! :-)

James Golden said...

With a perennial garden, three years seems to do it. The transformation is amazing in your before and after photos. Too bad you have to leave all that plant material when you move on. On come, show us the front.

Benjamin Vogt said...

AZPL--It's ertainly hard when you start out to be patient and think ahead, especially when it comes to plant spacing. I feel I've been ok with that, but in the wild, do plants get perfectly spaced? So I'm cramming in liatris and whatever wherever I can now!
Victoria--Told you I'd been working on this post! Glad you found it moving. Maybe I'll film myself digging holes in the lawn, and market it as an indie project.
Frances--ALL are trial gardens? In the last three years I've only moved, maybe, 10 plants at most. Don't know about the Japanese garden, but I'm determined for it to be shrubby, colorful, and have many vaied heights and textures in all seasons.
James--Well, I'll think about posting pics of out front. Ack. I thought for sure the back garden would take 4-5 years to start looking decent, but I always see the glass half empty, so....

our friend Ben said...

Way to go, Benjamin! Quite a transformation. And, like you, I can't resist sweet autumn clematis. But, er, bees eat plants? Say what?!!

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

Well, from not having a garden previously to this is quite something.

I reckon you've made some really good plant choices and combinations. It works.

One of the nicer 1,500-2,000 square feet on the web right now.

Also, congratulations on having your poem published recently.


Benjamin Vogt said...

OFB--Oh come on now. You know what I meant. Insects partaking of plants intheir own ways, some in destructive ways.
Rob--One of the nicer 1500-2000 foot gardens huh? Well, we here at TDM will be sending you a complimentary gift basket for your brown nosing which includes sponge candy, mint and caramel centered candy, various native plant seeds, and books of poems we like. Enjoy.

Barry said...

What a wonderful post. I am always intrigued to learn more about people, and a tour of the garden is perhaps the best way. What a wonderful journey you have captured. With so much room.... oh I only wish I had as much..... If I may be so bold.... what has the creation of this garden taught you about yourself? Perhaps above anything else, this is why I garden - to see what I can learn about being so intuitively in touch with nature. Happy holidays to you and yours my friend.

Randy Emmitt said...


Looks like you have a good handle on making your garden the best garden in the area. I was intrigued with your autumn clematis it is growing in leaps and bounds!

Insects not so great this year, not to worry as some years are boom for say butterflies, then the next year is bust it happens like that.

Town Mouse said...

Amazing! I'm so impressed the garden looks great! Don't worry, you'll find something to do. Maybe another fountain?

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Hi Ben,
I love your gardens and covered porch! I am planning to dig a lot of plants out and do some rearranging as early in spring as I can. Offhand, I know I will have extra comfrey, white blooming eupatoriums, cleomes, moonflowers, and some octopus bellflower that looks to be spready. They aren't all natives, but grow well here. I know I am forgetting some. I also give away starts of plants if I know someone who wants them.

Have a great Christmas!

James Golden said...

You're "it." Tagged at

Benjamin Vogt said...

Teza--It's taught me that I have a much shorter fuse than I ever knew. But I bet that's not what you were looking for? I planned and planted the garden while I was working on my garden / envionrmental memoir, so if anything, it taught me about the great need for mental and physical balance which I struggle to have. The garden is a place where I dump my greatest pains and joins. It is a garden of good and evil. It is the outward manifestation of my yin and yang, and in the opposition, an echo of divine intent and promise.
Randy--Actually, this was an insect boom town this year. They flocked to the native plants and ignored the alien butterfly bushes. The birds love the bushes though for their cover! Grasshoppers and rabbits, those are my mortal enemies....
TM--Ah,a nother fountain. I like the cut of your jib.
Sue--I love our covered porch, so happy we have one! Sometime I imagine it's a Japanese pagoda. Thank you for your plant offer! I might take you up on it. The catalogs will soon be coming and making me us all anxious!
James--It? Ok, I might just take you up on your tag--post holidays though. Cheers.

Susan Tomlinson said...

Beautiful, Benjamin. A place to sit and have a glass of wine on summer evenings.

Now to start on the front yard...

2 Green Acres said...

Wonderful post. Very inspirational....

Anonymous said...

That is impressive.

Gail said...

Benjamin, Your garden evolution is spectacular...I hope you solve the bunny issues. Could you please refresh my memory about your fantastic copper bird feeder? Who is the artist? gail

Gail said...

PS I've looked over your plant list~~very impressive. I have Hypericum and penstemon X (P calycosus) that I am more then willing to share with you next spring.
I think the snow cover will keep them alive in your garden. Both are Cedar Glade plants and can take the extremes nature throws at them. gail

Benjamin Vogt said...

Gail--Thanks for the offer! I usually have trouble keeping the snow around, but mulched well late this fall. We'll see. The bird feeder is copper, brass, and iron, done by Joe Papendick. He has a website, and sells on Etsy and some other place. You can spend anywhere from $100 to $300 on those feeders, and he has some cool flower vases he's started doing. I'd like to have another feeder by him some day!

Chloe m said...

fascinating transformation! I have great respect for anyone who has the patience for this. Well worth the effort! I hope you have a Happy New Year. thanks for commenting on my blog.

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

Oi fella

You got the address to send that goody bag to?

I second what anonymous said.


Pomona Belvedere said...

I'm also impressed at the transformation - particularly like the miniature streambed, and the copper obelisk with Heavenly Blue morning glories - how Venutian is that?

A thought about your Japanese garden: since your climate is much harsher than Japan's, maybe it makes sense to take that aesthetic as a starting point, but adapt it to fit your own landscape. To me it seems that the most valuable thing about Japanese design is how it is an act of appreciation for the existing landscape, rather than an attempt to turn it into something else.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Rosey--Happy New Year to you as well!
Rob--I'm sending it addressed to "France." You'll get it.
PB--With -30 windchills coming up this week, it is most certainly a harsher climate. But I am certainly going more with the aesthetic, as you suggest, than actually trying to emulate the design. I'm attempting to mimic, in a smaller form, the distant tree line in my small side garden, and to keep the colors and textures contrasting without too many flowers, and the hardscape working to create spaces of repose for the eye--as well as that winding stone path which jerks you left and right a bit (and I consider my covered deck a pagoda, even if attached to the house). We'll see how it matures this year, and what damage the rabbit has done to the young shrubs. Thanks for stopping by! I needed to talk shop in the -15 temps.

Rebecca @ In The Garden said...

Terrific post!! It's great to see the progress in time lapse, what a difference. Love the walkway and variety of plants. :)

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scottweberpdx said...

Wow...that is AMAZING! Seriously, love the plant choices. I just planted some Amsonias this spring after seeing them last fall in a display garden and falling in love with them...I'm trying to be patient with them...I know they take a few years to really settle in...seeing yours strengthens my resolve to leave them where they are and give them room. Love your Tiger Eye Sumac...mine has really struggled this year, but seems to finally be putting on some new growth (for the first few months this summer, all new growth shriveled and died as soon as it appeared). I love your prairie plant combos. I'm sorta the same as you...I keep finding more and more spots to convert to gardens...we have such a small plot though, I'm afraid of the day I start digging up neighbor's yards.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Scott--My amsonia took 2 years years to look nice, but right now each one is a thick clump, say 2-3' tall and wide. The fall color, here anyway, is an outstandingly bright yellow. I have a post on fall color pics on my blog somewhere from last fall. My 'Tiger Eyes' sumac is looking VERY bad right now--80% defoliation after incredible growth of many feet this spring. My only guess is it got too hot hot and dry (1 month an counting of no rain, temps in 90s, dewpoints in 70s). I hope it won't defoliate completely, but it's well on it's way to being bald, which stinks because the fall color is bright orange and red and yellow. Now, let us all go dig up our neighbor's lawns and plant away.

Shyrlene said...

Benjamin - I know you've had this link (your garden evolution) up for sometime, but I just love it. This inspires me more than you can know. Patience is not always my virtue. It's encouraging to know that a year or two down the road, my gardens will have some 'maturity' to them, as your's have.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Shyrlene--I'm so glad it inspires you! Yippee! :) I have this linked on my sidebar, so I've always intended it to be an ongoing link--even thinking of adding 2010 pics to it (if you've looked at my blog this summer, you can see how huge everythign is compared to 2009, which blows me outta the water). Right plant, right place, little bit of compost, there you go.

Kathy said...

Amazing transformation! I love the prairie meadow feel. I can only hope my garden grows up big and bold and beautiful like yours. Love that dry stream bed, and love the rain chain. That, too, is on my wish list to hang from our new back enclosed porch. I'll have to come back and visit when I have more time!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Kathy--right plant, right place. (right native plant). And a sprinkle of free city compost. Gardening is soooooo easy, yet no one believes me. :)

Blackash said...

This series of images reminds me of my Mum and Aunty Chris and how each time she moves to creates the most amazing garden space. Thanks for sharing a time line of your garden photos