Garden Photo of the Day

An Undisciplined Garden

A garden wild and beautiful

My name is Cheryl Henley. I have been gardening in the heavy, rocky, clay soils of the Wasatch Mountain foothills at about 4000 feet for 30 years. My husband and I live on the eastern side of the range, so days are shorter even on the longest summer days as the sun plummets behind the mountains. But the beautiful mountains and clean air, as well as the little creek running in front of our house, make the short-season and short-day challenges so worth it. I love taking garden photos, so I have way too many, but thought I would send some of last spring in anticipation of the next season to come.

Every year as the snow starts to melt I announce to my husband that this year the garden will be disciplined for sure! But alas, the borders and beds remain jumbled like the wild hawthorns and oaks growing all around them (so much shade), pretty but invasive plants try to take over, and some plants just can’t take the dry air, intense sunlight, and Zone 5 cold. Also, I neglect the “lawn” and keep working to eliminate grass completely. And dandelions abound, early food for bees.

crocuses in snowSome years snow doesn’t melt until May, but last year it started to clear early in late March, and crocuses (Crocus sieberi ‘Tricolor’ Zones 3–9) made their brave entrance.

Tete-a-Tete’ daffodilsHappily speading Scilla siberica (Zones 2–8) pop up through native gambel oak (Quercus gambelii, Zones 4–8) leaves around a more intentional group of ‘Tete-a-Tete’ daffodils. Peach-leaved campanulas (Campanula persicifolia, Zones 3–7) are also coming up. They spread like a ground cover with tall stems of blue and white bellflowers later in the spring.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’Hellebores carry on their show in the narrow shady garden behind the house. Behind them loom masses of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Zones 3–7) started from three small plants. Beyond the ‘Jack Frost’ are some hyacinths and epimediums. Some dandelion leaves embarrass us from the right photo edge.

PrimrosesPrimroses do pretty well and don’t seem to mind the clay.

yellow tulipsNew yellow tulips came up in early May for their debut season.

MuscariNo discipline here, just a candy-colored celebration of tulips and Muscari between the apple trees. They will be followed by some ferns, hostas, epimediums, and low cotoneaster.

Darts Gold ninebarkOne of my favorite shrubs, Darts Gold ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius, Zones 3–7), lights things up with some daffodils and ‘Princess Irene’ tulips.

apple blossomsThe purity of apple blossoms—it’s easy to tell they are in the rose family.

yellow tulipsThe new yellow tulips evolved into this glowing warmth as they opened. Amazing!

dead nettleLovely wiry epimediums (probably Epimedium × warylense ‘Orange Queen’, Zones 5–8) slowly spread. This silvery dead nettle (Lamiastrum galeobdolon ‘Herman’s Pride’, Zones 4–9) stays in a polite clump with nice yellow flowers.

SnowdropsSnowdrops (Galanthus) by our oldest homemade rustic bench.


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View Comments


  1. nwphillygardener 03/10/2020

    That last photo shows how a unique rustic bench can add so much more garden magic than common commercially produced ones. And the bull frog sculpture is a great companion. It looks, however that the white blooming bulb shown is not Galanthus (aka snowdrops) but Leucojum, aka Summer Snowflake, which arrives later in the spring.

  2. garden1953 03/10/2020

    I love your garden style! And your gardens are gorgeous. Looks like a very happy place for birds and insects. You are my kind of gardener!!

  3. User avater
    user-7007816 03/10/2020

    I like what you have done in a tough environment. Your garden seems to fit into the setting. Lovely.

  4. Chris_N 03/10/2020

    Disciplined gardens are overrated. Your garden is lovely and so inviting. A piece of an idealized wilderness.

  5. User avater
    treasuresmom 03/10/2020

    Love it all. I am a huge fan of all things spring bulbs!

  6. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/10/2020

    Your garden is a song of celebration to Mother Nature's life force...plants spread in an opportunistic way and create beauty on their terms. It's great that you have so many "happy campers" that thrive in your heavy clay soil and give your beds carpets of beautiful color. The photo of the crocus buds bursting up through the melting snow is beyond gorgeous.

  7. cheryl_c 03/10/2020

    Cheryl, congratulations on a job well done! Not only your great gardens, but your fabulous photography. I especially love your Dart's Gold ninebark, and the whole composition of that photo, but, like nwphillygardener, I think that rustic bench really steals the show. What a sense of permanence it gives your garden. Thanks for sharing, and send some more pictures!

  8. arboretum 03/10/2020

    good piece, but plse. save us all a google trip and tell us WHERE are the Wasatch mountains? thx much!

  9. User avater
    simplesue 03/10/2020

    Your garden is gorgeous!

  10. wittyone 03/10/2020

    Oh, isn't early spring the most wonderful time of year?

    Something new coming up every day. I just finished "walking the estate" (ha) and I found new things up since yesterday. You have a lot of the same plants that I do but a good bit farther along. Most of mine are just now poking their noses out of the ground.

    Undisciplined gardens (unlike children) are the best kind. I think plants know a lot more about where they want to live and thrive than most gardeners are willing to acknowledge.

    You're doing a great job with your undisciplined child.

  11. btucker9675 03/10/2020

    Who need discipline with a garden this beautiful!!! Your success in clay gives me hope that one day my garden here in NC will also be beautiful.

  12. Cenepk10 03/10/2020

    Really gorgeous collection. Love them all !!!!

  13. Cenepk10 03/10/2020

    Really also loved that rustic bench....

  14. janeeliz 03/10/2020

    Your wild garden is charming! Lovely photography, too. Aaah spring!

  15. User avater
    AnnaMartinez 03/11/2020

    I like this post!

  16. User avater
    AnnaMartinez 03/11/2020

    That's Great! I Really Like This Post

  17. calliopegirl 03/11/2020

    Loved every picture. Keep doing what you are doing, it is perfect. The picture with the apple trees is a dream. I too am thinking of a Dart's Gold Ninebark. I have a Diablo and love it.

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