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.
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.
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.
LATE SUMMER / EARLY FALL 2009
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.
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
JULY 2010 (UPDATE)
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:
Prairie Moon 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.