Thursday, 21 March 2013

Blood, Sweat & Tears: The Making of a Shade Garden

I thought I would share the project that kicked off my gardening season last March. I had been working on design plans all winter for our own property, and redoing the side yard took priority as I knew I wanted to move some mature plants early in the spring. Our side yard is actually a good size, and you can see in one of my first posts about my lovely twisted sisters that it is also rather bare with a slope of approximately three feet. The previous homeowner had used this area for a daycare and had 12 yards of sand dumped in for the kids to play on. Not so good for lawn or garden, but with perseverance and a great deal of compost I have slowly been able to improve the growing conditions.

Even though the grass now grows, this portion of our property is hardly used as it is completely visible to the neighbour who frightens the kids and the dog. Perhaps I'll enlighten you more in another post, but I'll be be charitable today and spare everyone the ongoing saga of the fight for privacy from said scary neighbour.

I planned the new shade garden to consist of two tiers to address the slope. Each tier measure 8' wide by 24' long. As our property sits perched on fractured limestone, the first order of business was to search for the ever prevalent rock that plagues my gardening enjoyment. This first find proved to be a challenge. Barely sticking out of the soil, I had no idea what I was about to get myself into...a battle with a three foot triangle of limestone that did not want to go quietly.

There is nothing like a pair of steel-toed boots to make a girl feel like superwoman! Armed with a shovel and a pry bar, and a weak knowledge of basic physics, I started off feeling rather invincible. Two hours later, exhausted, and utterly annoyed I called in back-up. My son Jo was 13 in that photo, and had sprung up to 6'2" over the course of the winter. His new found strength came in handy though he enjoyed gloating a little too much that he was finally stronger than his mother. (In my defence I do believe the rock was still wet, and therefore heavy, from the spring thaw...I can normally do this on my own.)

Triumph! With Jo's help (he's still in his pajamas!) the rock was shimmied over to take the corner position of the first tier. To finish off, stone was unearthed from this garden area and other various locations, and after four days of digging, lugging, preparing base, and levelling I was ready to start prepping the soil...and have a very long nap.

Lots of compost went into the beds as well as five yards of Gro-Max which is a fantastic product I order from my local supplier. The garden filled in with a lovely mixture of textures and my favourite vibrant hues of green from emerald to chartreuse...perennials include hostas, ferns, brunnera 'Jack Frost', heucheras, polemonium (Jacob's Ladder), Alchemilla mollis, (Lady's Mantle)hydrangea 'Annabelle'. I added two clipped yews for vertical accent and two Japanese maples which my wonderful, thrifty husband had bought for me at an end-of-year blowout sale for only $8.00 each.

Here are some photos of the finished product as it started to fill out in May and June:

Upper tier

My elegant $8 japanese maple looking pretty in the morning sun

A hedge of Annabelle hydrangea back the lower tier

Though it looks like fall this photo was taken at the beginning of July - the effect of the drought can be seen with falling leaves littering the curved pathway between the garden and the house. Two large rain barrels sit to the right of this picture which helped keep everyone alive.

I am so looking forward to seeing this garden spring back to life over the next two months. Until next time I wish you sunshine, warm days, peace and joy!


  1. What a beautiful garden! It doesn't look new in the pictures at all but as if it had been there a while. Very impressive! :o)