I’m writing this on the last day of the year, thinking ahead to my plans for my very first in-the-ground garden. I’ve had stars in my eyes for the possibilities here from the very beginning, filling my garden notebook with ideas, plants I want to grow, and inspirations from other gardens.
As always, I follow along with Monty Don – and really, attempt to take his advice to heart and into action. In December, he suggests photographing your garden. This gives you a real sense of its shape and format at its most bare. Before the snow, but after the leaves have fallen. Many gardens can and do look great in Spring and at the height of Summer. But building plans for the shape of the garden, and how it holds its own during cold weather, can give your garden beauty year-round.
So indulge me these rather bare and sad photos of our garden, here at the end of December, with my thoughts and plans for the first season of gardening ahead of me. My endeavor in the years ahead is to create a space that does look great year-round.
The backyard will primarily be a space for Joey and our big dog, Radar. Our biggest endeavor will be clearing the ivy and adding a fence, followed by a playhouse/swingset. The box balls in front of the basement steps will be replaced with a raised bed for vegetables. This is the brightest area of our outdoors, with southern exposure and not shaded by trees, so it should be ideal for growing food. We are considering adding a small greenhouse to the right of the raised bed, but I still need to do more research to ensure it will be getting enough sun and warmth.
The backyard has a beautiful crab apple tree that the robins adore, but it needs a big haircut. There are a few trees that have been killed by the ivy, that need to be removed. Once the fence is up, we will then add some fast-growing cypress or spruce to fill in areas for privacy.
To the left of the stairs and veg bed is our back patio. There are some general cleaning and updates I’d like to make here, like power washing the concrete and cleaning the gutters and downspouts to make things fresher. The screen door needs an update, as it will randomly lock you out on occasion. The fence will separate the back yard from the side yard here at this back end of the garage.
The outdoor rug and the patio set (currently in storage) were left for us by the previous owners. Eventually, we will replace them with some pieces that will better match our needs and style. Until then, we will stick with what we have been given.
This area will be ideal for growing herbs that might spread a bit too much if planted in the ground, in this sunny, sheltered area here right by the kitchen door. I am picturing a lot of terracotta pots arranged along all the walls, or varying heights and sizes. Planted with rosemary, basil, oregano, mint, and other herbs. Along with a few plants that (hopefully) help to deter our big mosquito population: marigolds, lavender, citronella grass, and bee balm.
The side garden is where I really hope to make the most changes in terms of plantings. This is a triangular strip that runs from a narrow set of beds by the garage, towards the front, past a weeping cherry tree, to a wide lawn in the front. We *should* get the longest period of sunlight in this area (after the back veg bed), and it’s a bit sheltered and protected. I plan to move plants away from the foundation and add drainage. Then move the roses from around the property into this area, along with some lavender, sage, dahlias, cosmos, and poppies. We inherited quite a few roses, and many of them are struggling. I’m planning to give them all some attention for a season to see how they look with care. The grapevines that are currently growing up the trellises will be replaced with clematis, climbing jasmine, cathedral bells, or maybe even sweet peas. There is a lot I will need to evaluate and possibly move from this area, and I plan on widening the bed shown on the left considerably. The path is far too narrow, and I’d love to rework that eventually when we complete some other hardscaping projects.
In the front of the house, I’m faced with possibly the most difficult aspect of the garden. This area is north-facing and shaded by the house. I had hoped to create a front yard inspired by Dan Pearson or Piet Oudoulf, but I worry that this may not be possible due to the light quality here.
My first endeavor will be to remove the topiary silver spruce, as well as some of the creeping juniper. Near the foundation, I will again dig a trench and add gravel for drainage. The half-assed rock and boulder display will be moved and updated.
I’m still gathering plans for what I will add, but I am certain I want to add a lilac bush, more hydrangeas, and evergreens with some height. Ideally, I can create a shape around the porch and steps that will hold through the winter. And then, of course, I have the window boxes to update throughout the year as well.
I am so incredibly excited for this project, filling my notebook daily with ideas for how I want develop the garden. Adhering to my plans to make this sustainably. In this first year, I plan to mostly get acquainted with the soil, the light, and experiment a bit with how things react to my care.
My goals have changed in scale, from working on quarterly or annual outcomes to looking ahead by five, ten or twenty years. Gardening, as in motherhood, requires a long view, effort without reward, and the patience to experience the unfolding. Wish me luck!