Today’s photos are from Melissa Will in Ontario. Melissa says, “This was my garden in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. When we moved there it a typical small, suburban lot with grass and a few shrubs. One day I saw a friend’s garden with massive delphiniums and that changed everything. I had to start my own garden.
The yard was small (under 1/10 of an acre including the house) and I just started digging up grass and putting in plants. As you can see from the 7th photo, the soil was very hard clay, and my budget was very low ($100 a year). I could not bring myself to spend money on amending the soil so I stubbornly persisted in buying plants and watching them struggle.
The good news is, if you let enough plants die, they become compost! I laugh now but it was a big learning curve to understand that the health of the soil really is the key to a healthy garden. My composted manure budget amped up over time, and after about four years there was a big turning point. The perennials began to flourish and the garden I had envisioned started to become a reality.
The narrow front yard was shared with our non-gardening neighbor and he graciously accepted my relentless love of plants as I systematically dug up every bit of grass I could. Taking advantage of the full sun in the front yard, I added tiered raised beds to grow vegetables and herbs amid the perennials, and also placed dwarf fruit trees and various berries throughout the garden. The diversity of the plantings seemed to confuse the pests and my one and only struggle was with red lily beetles who loved my Asiatic lilies as much as I did.
As a young gardener I naively accepted the donation of free plants, many of them becoming invasive nuisances, impossible to remove from the clay soil. These included mint, lemon balm, bishop’s weed, trumpet vine, obedient plant, and raspberries, which at least offered me some sweet compensation.
As you can see from the photos, I am incapable of saying no to flowers and like to plant them closely together to deter the weeds. Daisies in particular loved the soil and became the focal point in each bed. I also indulged in a many other cottage garden favourites including coneflowers, bee balm, lavender, sedums, cosmos, dahlias, day lilies, Asiatic lilies, bleeding hearts, hostas, clematis, and more. Those much-desired delphiniums became the stars of the narrow side garden. Unaware of their preferred growing conditions, I planted them in full shade and apparently they didn’t know the rules either because some years they reached up to eight feet in height.
Just over a year ago, after ten years of working on the garden, we had to move for work purposes. I admit I really miss that garden but try and cheer myself up by thinking of all of the invasive plants I left behind. I’m starting over now with another bare lot with a whole new challenge: extremely sandy soil. Older and wiser, I focus on improving the soil before plants are added, and I’ve got almost one hundred delphinium seedlings started, ready to transform things once again.
I write a daily garden blog at Empress of Dirt. Come by and say hello and see what I’m working on now.”
Amazing, Melissa! I can’t believe that yard was almost bare 10 years ago! I can’t imagine how much you miss it, but starting over must have it’s own joys. Thanks so much for sharing these photos and your story with us!
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