Marty's Garden, mid-May, 2019


How time flies! Three years ago we officially moved from our New Jersey residence to our new home here in Pennsylvania. We closed on the house in mid-April and made a few trips back and forth with potted plants from my old garden. These plants were put in the garage of our new home until we were officially in residence and I could find new spots for them. The pond was in the planning stages and my fish were temporarily put in tanks at a vet until their new pond was built. The Spouse and I unpacked box after box and turned this house into a home. The pond was completed by early July; the fish came home, liked it very much, spawned and multiplied. Two trees were planted and the garden now was mine, to do with it as I saw fit. Frankly, it was a bit intimidating to carve new gardens out of sea of mud. This is what our lot looked like on May 24, 2016, when Google Earth took this shot.

My blank slate in May 2016

  Although I had a plan, not everything worked out as I saw it in my mind’s eye. The one large existing tree on the property, a silver maple, was in poor shape after all the building and it never regained its former glory. This past fall it was taken down and I used most of the wood to line my paths. Suddenly that corner of the yard is in full sun and all the shade loving plants from my former garden were now complaining.


Two curly willows, grown from cuttings a year or two before we moved are now growing into nice specimens. Once more I have created shade in the garden! The output from the sump pump is right at the willows’ feet and a small river rock stream meanders to the end of the garden. Under the willows and around the river rock astilbes and heucheras flourish with a sprinkling of columbines and primroses (from the grocery store). A clump of Louisiana irises intersects the river rock and happily grows its roots in permanently damp soil. In the corner Japanese dappled shade willow (aka Hakuro Nishiki) also appreciates the wet corner. This spring I gave all five of these willows a very short haircut and the new growth is already a foot tall. By summer’s end you won’t be able to see the fence through the thicket of willow branches.

























The retaining wall behind the pond divides my garden in an upper part (pond, bridge, waterfall and surrounding garden and patio) and a lower part. After walking many times around this back end of the garden a plan slowly started to develop. First a row of Arborvitae was put at the back fence. By now they have grown a good two feet and bulked up. Give it a few more years and I won’t be able to see my fence, or the white vinyl privacy fence the neighbors behind us put up. Where the wall curves towards the house, I built two large beds; one hugging the fence and one hugging the outcropping of the wall. The bed hugging the wall is a raingarden as rain from the roof is redirected to another river rock stream. The Japanese and Siberian irises planted in this bed prefer damp conditions and they are perfectly happy here. Around the edges I planted hostas as well as two different hydrangeas, one of which was a cutting from my old garden. The crowning glory in this bed is a Chionanthus virginicus or American Fringe tree, which is perfectly at home in a rain garden. When in bloom its fragrance adds another dimension to the garden and beckons bees from far and wide.



With all the shrubs and trees in place in the garden I have started to augment the beds at their feet. The pulmonaria (lungwort) formerly growing in the shade of the silver maple are now in full sun.  I dug most of them up and planted them in the shade of the shrubs. Interplanted with heucheras (Dale’s strain) they make a handsome addition to these beds. A few of my Japanese painted ferns, also originally planted in the maple tree’s shade, have been dug up and put behind the Vitex multi-trunked shrub. They will grow into impressive clumps and its blueish-grey foliage will compliment the Vitex blue blooms. I have also relocated the Solomon Seal to the bed with the Vitex where it can romp around with abandon before there is a need for me to restrain it, or so I hope.


In three years I went from a sea of bare earth with nothing but heavy, heavy clay soils to gardens on both sides of the house and in the back. During those years I dug and amended the soil every time I added plants to the garden. I made compost from garden “waste” and used it, amending the soil. I mulched heavily, which also amended the soil as the mulch broke down. While I still garden in clay soil, the top 5 to 6 inches of soil have much improved and the worm activity is amazing. These worms create airspaces as they dig through the soil, while also amending the soil with what is politely known as “castings” or worm poop. Now my plants are reaping the rewards while we get to enjoy the garden as the weather improves.


Meanwhile I am thinking of plans to add gardens to the front yard while removing some grass. Well, you didn’t expect me to rest on my laurels now that most of the heavy lifting in the back yard has been done, I mean, really!