Garden Photo of the Day

Barbara’s Shady Circular Garden in New York

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Barbara Nuffer

Today’s photos are from Barbara Nuffer’s shady garden in upstate New York. She says,

“When I designed my circular, stone-edged bed in the shade I modified the normal design to be able to accommodate moisture- loving plants. I did not want to be a slave to watering as I am basically lazy, or more accurately, overextended in the garden!

This garden is a raised bed. The shape is a 20-foot-diameter circle with a gravel path at ground level leading to a fountain in the center of the circle, and continuing to a bench. The outer perimeter of the garden is a 2-foot-tall stone wall. The interior wall is pressure treated 1 x 6s cut into 3-foot lengths and sunk into the ground 12 inches. Since portions of this wall are curved, we used metal strapping nailed to the back of the pieces of wood to hold it in place. They are slanted slightly back towards the bed. The shape is really pretty in winter as the sun sets behind it. A natural stream is down the hill behind the garden so you hear running water as a backdrop.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Barbara Nuffer

“We lined the bed with black plastic with some drainage holes punched in it. My soil mixture included 6 cubic foot bags of coarse texture vermiculite. We mixed this with potting soil that contained lots of peat. This was suitable because I was planning to use acid-loving plants. We also mixed in two parts of topsoil. The proportions were one part vermiculite to one part potting soil to two parts topsoil. The bed was well moistened and mulched with finely ground cedar bark.

The central water feature is an old mill stone set on a cedar stump, dripping water into a black whisky tub liner set into the ground.

The garden is edged with primroses, Aquilegia canadensis, and brunnera. The final section of path beyond the fountain leading to a garden bench is edged with Japanese painted fern. Many different astilbes, cimcifuga, Jacob’s ladder, native and European ginger, jeffersonia, pulmonaria, woodland phlox, and Lobelia siphilitica provide continuing color and structure. A collection of blue, pink, yellow, and white violets rounds out the outer perimeter of the bed and have spilled out to form a ground cover around the garden. The color scheme is white (both in flower color and foliage variegation), pink, and blue. I also have chionodoxa, snowdrops, and ‘Thalia’ daffodils for early interest and color. I recommend that you be adventurous in creating soil conditions to suit special plants. And labor saving methods are always popular. This technique has been very successful for me.

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Barbara Nuffer

“We have been here since 1974 and have a small Cape Cod from the 1930s that we have added on to. We live on a dirt road and are set back about 100 yards on a hillside facing southeast. We have a 7-foot-tall deer fence around the gardens, as the deer are relentless. Of course the rabbits and woodchucks can come and go.

I am a Biologist and worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for 32 years and recently retired. I still write for The Conservationist magazine (published by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) and have done numerous wildflower articles, using my photographs. I am a Cornell Master Gardener for Rensselaer County and have been doing this for over 15 years. I have done garden design and maintenance for many gardens in my area. My garden includes several perennial gardens, water gardens, an unheated greenhouse for growing vegetables.”

Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Barbara Nuffer

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View Comments


  1. PeonyFan 04/04/2013

    Thanks for sharing your garden with FG readers, Barbara. It looks spectacular! I especially love the mossy look of the fountain. And the combination of the blue phlox and red columbine is stunning. I also appreciate your listing the plants that you grow in this particular garden (sometimes these middle-aged eyes can't identify the plants just from the photos).

  2. user-1020932 04/04/2013

    beautiful, calm and restful but after all the work building that i would need a hammock instead of a bench. sorry, i don't believe the basically lazy description/ over extended i can relate but lazy, , never .

  3. user-1020932 04/04/2013

    reading this again and the description of the soil preparation/creation is making me tired BUT it proves what i and others preach all the time about providing the proper conditions for plants to thrive and the end results of Barbaras garden shows that beautifully. so many people(but not FG readers! ) buy plants, chisel a hole in the earth, pop it in, give it a small drink upon planting and then wonder why it doesn't look like the photo tag . full , lush and thriving / again, beautiful work

  4. wGardens 04/04/2013

    Oh, my! This is beautiful! We MUST have more photos, please... would love to see what else you've done in your gardens. The birdbath is gorgeous. Also, thanks for sharing your soil prep info.

  5. Jay_Sifford 04/04/2013

    What a beautiful woodland garden! This type of garden really is closest to my heart. I can feel the stress disappearing when I look at the photos. Great job. I love the moss.

  6. grannieannie1 04/04/2013

    A beautiful example of what to do in heavy shade. And your explanations answered completely all my questions (Would every poster of pictures gave such complete explanations of methods and flower names!)

    The simplicity of the fountain is perfect for that setting and must be a delight to birds on a hot day.

    The whole garden proves: all it takes for an excellent garden is an Excellent Plan followed by Excellent Hard Work.

  7. CatChaletdesanges 04/04/2013


    I love your shade garden. Is that moss on the bird bath? Did it just grow over time or did you plant it there? How do you keep the deer out?

  8. bee1nine 04/04/2013

    Yes, the moss growing over the top of the water feature
    beckons me to touch! I'm loving the enchantment this garden
    bed brings. And I appreciate the given names of selected
    shade plants used!
    My praise's to you Barbara for all your painstaking and
    wonderful,knowledgeable work!!

  9. User avater
    meander_michaele 04/04/2013

    What a delightful retreat and thanks so much for the well expressed tutorial on what steps you took to achieve such the ideal growing conditions for those scrumptiously delicious looking plants. Love how everything is spilling over the edges and invites gentle touches as one walks the pathway. Your cimcifuga gives such a fun shooting star effect...I've never been successful at growing that plant and, after reading about your carefully well thought out soil prep, I humbly admit I probably deserved my failure.

  10. tractor1 04/04/2013

    Fantastic, Stupendous, Impressive!

    I see a lot of planning and laborious toil expended. The sum of all its parts equals simplicity in design. I love it all but for the last, a path of least resistance, the gravel was easy/cheap, the gravel doesn't match the naturescape. I'd remove the gravel and lay in a mosaic of flagstone, allowing spaces for the moss theme, just my opinion of course. I really abhor gravel in a garden, lends an unfinished appearance, and in the damp woods with shade and dropping leaves becomes unsightly and impossible to clean, to me gravel is a construction medium that should remain buried, ie. in concrete, septic field drainage. Where upstate NY, Barbara... thank you and more pictures please.

  11. pattyspencer 04/04/2013

    Just beautiful! Love the moss on the fountain - it helps to give your garden a very calm and peaceful look. I'd like more pictures as well.

  12. Quiltingmamma 04/04/2013

    Lovely, thanks for sharing. I love the moss on the water feature too.

  13. sheila_schultz 04/04/2013

    My first thought when I looked at your photos was that I needed to stroll quietly along your path and touch everything. Barbara, you have created a lush and dreamy garden space. Beautiful.

  14. GardenersWK 04/04/2013

    I love love love your shade garden! I am especially envious on the Woodland Phlox, and the the wild red columbines! I can't seem to grow those well! I will have to work on my soil! Thanks for the inspiration!

  15. user-1020932 04/04/2013

    rained out so i returned for another look and closer views of the plants. sadly, i don't have the conditions to grow many of those plants at home. i personally like gravel walkways, i like the feel and sound when i walk, raking it into pleasing designs and the unexpected volunteers that appear around the edges.

  16. Canthelpmyself 04/04/2013

    I love gravel. And it's not always cheap.

  17. BarbaraJN 04/04/2013

    Thank you for your feedback
    I appreciate your comments
    I love the crunch of the gravel and it also provides an excellent media for seeds to sprout from the plants in the garden, so I can fill it back in at the beginning of the season and keep it brimming
    Will share other garden areas as the season progresses
    Thanks for your interest!

  18. cwheat000 04/04/2013

    The abundance of phlox is wonderful. Aquilegia canadensis is one of my favs as well.

  19. ancientgardener 04/05/2013

    I love this shade garden. I have one much like it only it is very old and the edging is crumbling with age. Japanese Painted Ferns and Maidenhairs are two of my favs in that garden. Everything about yours in perfect. Instead of gravel I have squares of Medina Sandstone (native to our area) which were stacked behind a barn when we bought the property. I knew the moment I saw them I would find a use for them someday and several years later my husband helped me do the hardscaping for this shade garden. I appreciate your sharing your soil preparations because I really need to re-do areas of this garden in the spring and if I can scare up the energy I will try your mix. Now I am anxious to see your other gardens.

  20. ElveraH 04/05/2013

    You have touched upon two of my favorite garden components...anything blue and moss. You have certainly captured the heart of every gardener, truly inspirational. I wish I could just blink and have it all in my yard. Thank you for sharing it with us all.

  21. janeeliz 04/07/2013

    Your garden is utterly enchanting. I love your selection of plants-esp. the vari. brunnera with your lush blue phlox and graceful columbine. It's all very elegant. I look forward to seeing some more of your creations!

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