Garden Photo of the Day

Before and After in Shelley’s Garden

Learning to make a garden space work

bright colored flowers and foliage in the garden

Today we’re in Old Chatham, New York, visiting with Shelley Haefner.

I have been gardening for a little over 12 years now. At the beginning of my journey, I just purchased what I loved and planted it wherever I wanted to plant it without giving much thought to the shape of the garden, the soil, the sun, proper location, or the mature size of what I was planting. So it was no surprise when I found myself constantly moving things around, consistently feeling like something was off. There was something I just didn’t love about the shape of the garden either. Today, 12 years later, my yard has evolved into my dream space; it’s organically grown and is a habitat to birds, insects, and all things living. I experience so much joy (after years of frustration, trials, and failures) that I share my experiences, photos, and videos on a Facebook page called Guiding Green Thumbs. Not only am I able to connect with other gardeners, but I can share my knowledge and experiences with others who are just starting (or they may be well into their gardening journey and offering their advice to me). Garden transformations take time, and nothing is more worth the wait.

landscape before garden transformationThe garden 10 years ago: I kept expanding this area around the rock, adding plants I fell in love with or plants that were given to me. It started out as two shrubs around a giant rock. After 10 years, it’s finally found an amazing shape, purpose, and a colorful palette that I enjoy every moment during the growing season.

landscape after transformation, full of flowersTwo years into my transformation

the garden today, full of flowers and colorThe garden today is filled with many varieties of Echinacea (Zones 4–8), daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrids, Zones 3–9), Euphorbia, and Sedum. There are shrubs used as the backbone of the garden: ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius, Zones 2–8), Viburnum (Zones 5–9), Hydrangea (Zones 3–8), and St. John’s wort (Hypericum, Zones 3–8), to name a few. The garden has evolved from a rectangular plot to a kidney bean–shape that cradles into the landscape and sloping terrain nicely.

butterfly on purple coneflowersThis garden is now home to many gorgeous visitors. Echinacea purpurea (Zones 3–8) is a favorite for sure!

hedge of flowering shrubs in the gardenA hedge of ‘Little Quick Fire’ hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata ‘SMHPLQF’, Zones 3–8) lines a stone-step path at the end of the garden.

bright colored flowers and foliage in the gardenBright colors are repeated in this garden to make the biggest visual impact and attract pollinators. Echinacea ‘Baja Burgundy’ is a repeated standout in this garden. ‘Blue Fortune’ hyssop (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, Zones 5–9) provides a nice contrast of purple under the birdhouse. Lobelia cardinalis (Zones 3–9) is in the background, a favorite of hummingbirds.

garden in spring with some lighter colored flowersSummer is not the only time the garden looks colorful; there are plenty of Allium, tree peonies, and herbaceous peonies (Paeonia hybrids, Zones 3–8) to rev up the spring color!

bumblebees on small, bright purple flowersAnother huge pollinator favorite is Liatris (Zones 3–8).

bluebird on top of a small birdhouseWe are lucky enough to have Eastern bluebirds nest in our white birdhouse every year. They bring such a sweet melody when scouting the boxes in early March.


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View Comments


  1. starvnmarvn 04/07/2022

    Fantastic. What a transformation! Your creativity, sense of balance, & eye for color demonstrate exceptional talent. Love the coneflower variations too!!

    1. nyshade 04/07/2022

      Thank you!

  2. PattyLouise 04/07/2022

    Beautiful gardens! Love all of the color!

    1. nyshade 04/07/2022

      Thank you!

  3. gardendevas 04/07/2022

    What a beautiful and happy garden! I can see it is lovingly tended and greatly enjoyed. That tree peony! Do you know the variety? Also love seeing the fritillaries.

    1. nyshade 04/07/2022

      Thank you! The tree peony is called “Of Charming Age”. I purchased it from Cricket Hill Farm in Connecticut, they have gorgeous stuff!

    2. User avater
      simplesue 04/07/2022

      Like NYshade says- Cricket Hill Farms is great source for Tree Peonies, I bought my Tree Peony "island minister" from them, expected it to be fussy and fragile and it's tough and April freezes doesn't hurt it at all! Highly recommended!

      1. gardendevas 04/08/2022

        Great to know! I’ve been considering a tree peony, but have been hesitant here in wildly fluctuating zone five.

  4. User avater
    treasuresmom 04/07/2022

    Full of color & plenty to look at! Lovely!

  5. margotnavarre 04/07/2022

    Beautiful garden for you and great to see the Eastern bluebird enjoying your habitat also. Well done!

    1. nyshade 04/07/2022

      Thank you!

  6. wildthyme 04/07/2022

    Lovely transformation! I think I see a type of allium I planted last year (but haven't seen yet this year), a Nectaroscordum?

    1. nyshade 04/07/2022

      Yes! They are a hummingbird favorite!

  7. JohnsonofMillCreek 04/07/2022

    I loved seeing your gardening journey. You've created a beautiful spot that also gives back to our earth. I've been gardening for over 50 years, and there's something new to be learned every year--still learning! Enjoy your journey and thank you for sharing.

  8. User avater
    simplesue 04/07/2022

    Oh I do love hearing about the way a person's garden evolves, and seeing before photos, always interesting!
    You garden is just gorgeous and set against the natural woodland with no neighbors or need for fences- wow!
    Very impressive design and choice of plants!

    1. nyshade 04/07/2022

      Thank you, its been a fun journey!

  9. btucker9675 04/07/2022

    Your garden is spectacular - love the curved borders and all of the beautiful color. A+++

    1. nyshade 04/07/2022

      Thank you!

  10. user-6861263 04/07/2022

    I recognized your garden and your cute little dog from YouTube videos right away. Love your garden! Wish i had the space you have but you have created a gorgeous space. Absolutely love it!

    1. nyshade 04/07/2022

      Yes, Ziggy was a big part of the last decade of videos....Thanks for mentioning him! <3

  11. User avater
    musabasjoosue 04/07/2022

    Your sense of color and design makes your gardens shine. Thanks for the link to your Facebook page. I followed today and put your Open Day on my calendar. I hope to be able to visit in person.

    1. nyshade 04/07/2022

      Oh Awesome! Hope to see you!

  12. reginamelo 04/08/2022

    Shelley, your garden is absolutely gorgeous!!!

  13. reginamelo 04/08/2022

    Because good garden weather is something rare in CT, I've been feeling demotivated to keep caring for my garden, but after watching some of your YouTube videos I felt inspired to keep gardening again. Thank you!

  14. Maggieat11 04/11/2022

    Well done! Congratulations on your fabulous transformation. I'd love to see it in person.....! What a visual treat.🌱

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