Garden Photo of the Day

A Garden in 40 Shades of Green

A transplant from the Emerald Isle shares his first American garden

Emmanuel Touhey sent us these photos of his garden in Burke, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.

This is my first real American garden. Born and raised in Ireland, I moved to the Virginia suburbs three years ago with my young family. Having always lived in the city, I never really had much green space to play with. Needless to say, there have been many mistakes along the way. I quickly learned about the importance of “right plant, right place” and that you have to embrace the space you have. A rose garden will not flourish in the shade—and the visiting deer, who dined on the occasional bloom, only reinforced that point.

This garden is all about the green. It sits against a woodland backdrop that is stripped bare in winter and is then completely shaded over in summer. It’s filled with plants of wildlife, including the aforementioned deer, owls, hawks, woodpeckers, cardinals, frogs, turtles, snakes, and foxes.

Room with a view. The porch is a wonderful vantage point to sit and watch and listen without intruding on or disturbing nature any time of the day or night. It is the perfect room with a view.


Winter desert landscape. The garden is stripped bare in winter and becomes a barren brown landscape. The structure of the plants reveal themselves in the cold winter light or when snow crusts the naked branches.


Hope springs eternal. In spring and summer, the garden transforms into a mass of lush green. I joke with my friends that there are 40 shades of green in my Irish-American garden.


Lights, camera, action. Light, color, and texture are important in this garden. A variety of grasses blend nicely with the creeping speedwell (Veronica repens, Zones 6–9), which in spring is a beautiful carpet of tiny blue flowers among the daffodils in the foreground, and among the elephant ears (Alocasia) and creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia, Zones 4–8) in the background.


Fun with foliage. There are two varieties of elephant ears (Alocasia) in the garden, one darker than the other. I love the large leaves, which have a hint of black in their coloring. Black and green go so well together, with the black bringing out the richness of the foliage, especially against the lighter green ferns and golden yellow creeping Jenny underneath. The combination is especially magical after a rainfall.


Dancing in the wind. Grasses are perhaps the best plants to show off in the dappled sunlight, and none more so than this purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, Zones 8–11 or as an annual). In summer, it just dances and sways in the gentle breeze.


Pops of color. The blades of iris and the pops of orange and red from the nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus, annual) against the blue pot sit in the one hot spot in the garden. Pots are a great way to add color and interest to a garden. All my pots are blue, which help tie the whole space together. I call this area my “little cottage garden.” It bakes in the afternoon and evening sun in summertime.


Cottage garden. The “cottage garden” is also another great vantage point to view most of the garden and watch the bees and butterflies feast on the buddleia (Buddleia davidii, Zones 5–11). I have several bushes in this small area. I love, too, the frothy white flowers of the garlic chives (Allium tuberosum, Zones 4–8), which bloom freely at this time of year and complement the space nicely. The bees love to feast on them as well.


Thriller, filler, spiller. I always strive to make the space and plant combinations interesting. The grassy spikes (Dracaena indivisa, annual), oregano (Oreganum vulgare, Zones 5–9) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris, Zone 5–9) have a central casting role in this spot, with backup from the elephant ears and a wave of golden creeping Jenny washing over the pathway beneath. It gives the space a sense of movement and excitement.


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View Comments


  1. paiya 09/26/2018

    Emmanuel, your garden is so lush and tranquil that I could sit and relax in it all day

    1. netouhey 11/01/2018

      Thank you. This has been a wonderful experience. We gardeners get so busy in our gardens that we often forget to just sit awhile and take it in. It’s important to just sit and observe. You can learn a lot that way about lighting, plants, colors, textures, and so forth.

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    meander_michaele 09/26/2018

    Your pictures show that you have been a quick learner and very adept adapter on gardening successfully in your new VA living situation. I love your mostly green on green approach and letting the different textures, leaf shapes, and variations in color keep things interesting. The 2 contrasting photos showing the differences between the winter and spring/summer scenes are amazing...I couldn't resist going back and forth to take in the dramatic transformation.

    1. netouhey 11/01/2018

      Thank you. When I took those pictures I was stunned by the contrast. You won’t believe all the mistakes I made—and still make. But I try to learn from each one. The key now is for me to develop and maintain seasonal interest throughout the long winter months. Gardening gives me such joy and always has from when I was a little boy in Ireland picking daffodils, bluebells, and tulips for decorating the windowsills in our home. It was a job I loved doing first thing in the morning before going off to school.

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    treasuresmom 09/26/2018

    Love that you did what many of us should do & that is to take a pic of how our gardens look in winter & in summer. It really reveals a lot, I have to say. Thanks for sharing.

    1. netouhey 11/01/2018

      Thank you. Our gardens a living, breathing places, always changing. There’s beauty in that change, whatever the season, and I look forward to each one with anticipation and an opportunity to learn something new about the trees, shrubs, and plants that make up the landscape. If I’ve learned one thing in the past year, it’s that they all matter. It’s not just about the flowers. The surrounding trees and shrubs give the garden structure and anchor the garden in place and help the various plants and flowers to bloom and shine in their beds. It’s not unlike a horticultural play with several acts where something exciting and important happens that helps tell a more complete story over the course of the seasons.

  4. Sunshine111 09/26/2018

    Good morning Emmanuel. It was lovely to see your 40 shades of green, I particularly liked the combination with the elephant ear the ferns and the creeping Jenny??

    1. netouhey 11/01/2018

      Thank you. There’s a story behind the Creeping Jenny. I had it growing in the urns, which were originally at the front of the house, which is south-facing. The poor things were fried there, so I moved them to the back garden, which is more shaded. I then bought a different species and tried it in the ground and, voila! It just took off. While I have to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t totally take over, it dies add a layer of interest when mixed with other plants and foliage, while also serving as a bright ground cover in what is essentially a shade garden.

  5. ancientgardener 09/26/2018

    You've done wonders with a shady area and given me some ideas. I've always been scared of Creeping Jenny, but you have used it freely and to advantage. Maybe I'll let mine out of the pot next year. :) Love your ferns. They add so much to every shady location.

    1. netouhey 11/01/2018

      Thank you. Yes give it a try, but be sure to keep an eye on it’s as it will spread. But it’s easy to pull up and replant elsewhere. It goes well with almost anything in a pot or in the ground.

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    pattyeckels 09/26/2018

    Thank you for letting us see your harden in the winter. I always wondered what everyones gardens looked like in the winter. Great job!

    1. netouhey 11/01/2018

      Thank you. I think it’s important for us gardeners to share our experiences. It’s the best way to learn and to allow ourselves to be inspired by what others do. I always watch what others do and try things out in my own garden. Just the other day, I bought some grass seeds to try out in the spring. I’m excited to see how that works out.

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