Garden Photo of the Day

Beth’s garden in Iowa, Day 1

Front yard view from sidewalk. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek

Get ready to spend almost an entire week in one wonderful garden, folks. Beth Zakrasek sent in a boatload of photos a few weeks ago, and I was so excited when I saw them, but sorting through them for posting was a big job that I needed to find time to do. Well FINALLY I was able to do it last week, and the wait was worth it! 

Front yard view from the sidewalk, all shady beds under the ash tree, or northern exposure shade next to the house. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek

We’ll get a bit more of Beth’s story each day, but for today, she says, “My husband and two children moved from north Texas to Iowa 20 years ago when our son was 9 and our daughter was 4. I knew absolutely NOTHING about growing perennials and very little about annuals, and I had never gardened anywhere but Texas.

‘Honeybells’ hostas in bloom and whiskey barrel of impatiens, all in northern exposure shade of the house and the ash tree in the front yard. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek

“My husband and I had grown vegetable gardens very successfully back in Texas, but our new yard here in Iowa was mostly shade and I began my quest for learning to grow shady gardens! It has been so much fun and so fascinating to find such a diverse array of plants that thrive in partial shade/shade. I now have over 300 hostas of many types, each with a plant personality all its own.

Split-rail fence installed by my husband to create an outdoor room for the front yard, here picturing ‘Stella D’Oro’ daylilies and spirea in the foreground, the only plants in the front bed that receive any direct sun, and only for a few hours in the afternoon. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek

“My yard was total lawn and had NO PLANTS at all except the natural foliage you see on the hillside above the retaining wall, and the trees in the surrounding woods. I created and dug all the garden beds myself with a shovel and used a wheelbarrow to cart the lawn turf to my neighbor’s house where they were patching bare areas of their lawn. My husband and I laid the edging stones ourselves.

Front driveway corner bed, within protection of our deer fence. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek

“In the front yard, I wanted to create the feeling of an outdoor room, so my husband put in the little split-rail fence and I dug garden beds and planted! We love it and it is a cool, shady spot to sit and visit with neighbors in the front yard, since we do not have a front porch area for that.”

Front garden along walk to front door is all hostas and container annuals. Where the bleeding heart (next photo) blooms and grows through August. I then cut it back after it turns yellow and put a pot of New Guinea impatiens in its place, which are pretty until frost. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek

So cool, shady, and calming, Beth!

**Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll see other parts of the garden, and learn more about that deer fencing.***

My prized bleeding heart in its happy location: shady north exposure with a couple hours of direct mid-morning sun. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek
My favorite container combination I created last summer, hanging along the walk to our front door. I used 3 types of coleus and 5 types of trailing annuals. This grouping was very happy in this location of shade, with 2 hours of direct sun. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek
Corner bed beside driveway/garage, at the beginning of the west side yard–petunias are very happy here, as well as daylilies, phlox, huchera, lady’s mantle. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek
East side yard, within protection of our deer fence. These were the first garden beds I dug when we moved here 20 years ago! All morning sun and afternoon shade, I planted peonies, daylilies, spirea, astilbe, hostas, lady’s mantle, coneflowers, phlox, a Japanese maple, and several other things. They ALL do well in this area and I love to walk through this side yard on my way to the back. It is “the chatting zone” for my gardening neighbor and me! We talk through the fence about all things gardening. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek
Autumn–beginning of west side yard, ‘Fat Albert’ blue spruce newly planted a couple years ago in front of deer fence, and burning bush behind fence surrounded by spirea. Natural vegetation on the hillside of our property attracts incredible butterflies, hummingbirds, and many other birds. Except for clearing a pathway up the hill and through the woods, we leave this natural area alone; however, a few trees have fallen, etc. and we have been planting trees we would like to have, such as colorful maples, and plants that attract birds, such as hazelnut bushes which are also very beautiful and have lovely autumn color. We use the fallen trees as firewood in our woodburning stove fireplace in our family room. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek
Caladiums in a whiskey barrel, complete shade on the north side of house, beautiful all summer until frost. Photo/Illustration: Courtesy of Beth Zakrasek

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View Comments


  1. user-1020932 04/22/2013

    wow, beautifully lush and exuberant/ all the things i don't do well with here, hosta, bleeding heart and caladium. i lived in west texas once and your place is a BIG difference from Texas! your place is a true show stopper. i read about the deer fence but what do you do about slugs?

  2. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 04/22/2013

    Great garden in a challenging climate! I was born and raised in Iowa, and even though everywhere has experienced warming, the weather can be pretty severe. Looking forward to more pics!

  3. User avater
    meander_michaele 04/22/2013

    Sigh...such plentiful and beautiful hosta. Here's probably an impossible question, Beth, do you have a favorite variety. Shhh, you can tell us....we won't tell your lushly leafy children "which one mom loves best"!
    Was the soil you started out with particularly rich or did you do a lot of amending? I really admire the finished look your edging stones give your beds...certainly a of work but your effort is rewarded for ever after.
    I'll bet you love spring when you do your walk abouts and check for which hosta are breaking dormancy first.

  4. wGardens 04/22/2013

    Absolutely beautiful plantings and a lovely home! Looking forward to the photos for the rest of the week! Well done!

  5. trashywoman62 04/22/2013

    Wow, Beth, those are some amazing hostas! Puts my hosta ghetto to shame! I betcha you could get 75 babies easily out of one of those in the front!
    You have done a wonderful job of gardening in the shade. It appears so tranquil and relaxing but I don't see anyplace to sit and enjoy all your hard work! Can't wait to see more!

  6. charlotteA 04/22/2013

    This is truly one of the most beatiful gardens I've ever seen
    if not the most beautiful. I soooo appreciate the definitions of all the flowers, shrubs and trees. Wow!!

  7. GrnThum 04/22/2013

    Gorgeous gardens but I have one burning question. I see you have some deer fencing, so I assume you do have deer roaming in the area. How do you keep them from munching your hostas down to the ground in front of your lovely house? I've slowly been removing the hostas from my front garden just for this reason as they are extremely expensive gourmet deer food here in North Carolina. I spray stinky stuff every three weeks, but if hungry enough, the deer will eat them laced with repellant just as if it's not even there.

  8. tractor1 04/22/2013

    Wow, hosta heaven! That's quite the deer fence. Everything very neat. I assume the blue house in the picture with the split rail fence is a neighbor. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest.

    I didn't receive the GPOD email today? so finally I decided to enter through the main web site.

  9. wwross 04/22/2013

    That bleeding heart is quite amazing. I don't know how you do it. A question, though, what do you have in that area for when the bleeding heart fades as Spring and Summer progress? In my experience, they tend to die back severely during the year.

  10. pattyspencer 04/22/2013

    I didn't receive my email either Tractor1 - did the same thing - came in through Friday's email.

    Totally love the bleeding heart! Stunning plant

  11. schatzi 04/22/2013

    WOW!! You may not have known anything about gardening when you started, but you sure learned fast. Your place is exquisite. Thank you for the pictures. What inspiration!

  12. annek 04/22/2013

    I'm in love with your yard! It is charming, warm, inviting and beautifully designed. Wow, just WOW!

  13. tractor1 04/22/2013

    wwross: I just looked, my bleeding heart is already up about 8" and will attain about a 3' height and a 6' width. Mine flowers all summer and doesn't collapse until the first frost, and then creates a bare spot. But mine isn't in so conspicuous spot like the one in today's photo right in front by the garge door. Mine is in a hidden corner near where I place my hummingbird feeder at my rear deck. Bleeding heart is easy to move elsewhere, I'd place a small conifer by that garage door, would also provide winter interest. But perhaps it's an asset to have that spot bare in winter, makes it much easier to remove snow from that area where the driveway and walkway converge. And after studying the pictures they seem to have been taken at very different times, the spot where that bleeding heart is planted doesn't match that same area by the garage door in the bottom left photo... in the bleading heart photo the concrete walk looks very new compared with the concrete driveway... even the garage siding appears to be a different color from the rest of the house.

  14. tractor1 04/22/2013

    My bleeding heart in early spring 2011... I very often need to prune it back and of course the deer nibble what sticks through my fence:

    Now I can barely wait to see a whole week's worth of Beth's garden... I get the feeling the best is yet to come.

  15. MichelleGervais 04/22/2013

    Just wait til you see tomorrow's pics, ya'll. You have no idea what awaits you in the BACK yard!!

  16. Aarchman07030 04/22/2013

    Most impressive. And a welcome reminder that perpetual shade is no excuse for me not to have high standards--and even higher aspirations--for my back-yard, urban garden.

  17. Stoatley 04/22/2013

    Beth says in photo caption that her bleeding heart blooms and grows until August, when she cuts it back and replaces it with a big pot of New Guinea impatiens for the rest of the season.

  18. mlhronnie 04/22/2013

    Your yard is gorgeous!! Hostas are a favorite of mine...and I thought 35 was alot. Can't wait to see the rest.

  19. BethinIowa 04/23/2013

    Hi everyone! Beth in Iowa here :-)
    Sure is fun to see your lovely comments! I smiled with each and every one. How wonderful to "talk" with so many other gardeners all at once!
    A few responses and answers for you below:

  20. BethinIowa 04/23/2013

    for tractor1...I giggled with your astute observation of the differences in appearance of the same area in some of the photos. Yes, as I mentioned to Michelle when I sent all the photos (lots and lots, bless her heart having to sort through them), my photos are from many different times, seasons, and years. The bleeding heart is in a VERY happy location and is a truly magnificent plant. We replaced our small sidewalk a few years ago and created underground drainage from our roof gutters, going under the new walk. I was worried about my prized plant sitting there in the midst of contruction work, but it was unfazed and...a few root portions were moved around during all the work and ended up in the other flower bed, coming up happily amidst the hostas planted there. I dug them up and placed them in the backyard gardens where they are doing very well! I also gave some of the new sprouts to one of my piano student's moms who has loved that bleeding heart for years! As for the difference in color of our wood siding: the siding of our home is untreated redwood, so it weathers naturally and changes color and appearance through the years. WE LOVE IT! Regarding your suggestion, a good one, of a small conifer planted there instead, for winter interest: We live in a world of mountains of snow in winter, and as you said, the snow from the drive and walk must be shoveled somewhere! Yes, the bleeding heart is under about 2 or 3 feet of snow, as are all those hostas in the front. My winter interest is the split-rail fence and my redwood house!!! Everything else is white and sleeping soundly until spring.

  21. BethinIowa 04/23/2013

    Hi, tntreeman....West Texas, huh? Yeee-haaaa, I was born and raised in Lubbock and my mom still lives there on the family farm where my 5 siblings and I grew up. Yes, Iowa is a big difference from Texas when it comes to gardening. We lived in Plano (near Dallas) for 8 years before moving here. Now, as for slugs: when we first lived here, I had some real problems with them on hollyhocks and other plants I was trying out. I used the beer in a dish and also some slug bait, but I finally just decided to try finding plants that slugs don't like. As I began planting my first hostas, I had some slugs here and there, but over time I began to notice that they were fewer each summer. Now, I NEVER see slugs. I have tried to figure this out, but all I can come up with is that we do not use ANY pesticides on our property at all as of about 10 years ago. Zero. I have over 9 wren houses spread out over the property and they are all occupied every summer with wren families, which are fantastic insect eaters. We have garden snakes, frogs, toads...I have no idea if they eat slugs, but I do think that the absence of pesticides positively affects the beneficial creatures in our gardens. We also have NO grubworms now, but we had a terrible time with them in the first years we lived here. Truly, we have an amazing array of birds in our yard and I believe they have contributed to the reason that we do not need pesticides. Though the wooded areas around our property do bring the deer to dine in my gardens, they also bring many insect-eating birds.

  22. BethinIowa 04/23/2013

    Hi, meander1...How I love your reference to the lushly leafy children! Truly, our garden plants are like children, aren't they???! Well, just off the top of my head I would name Guacamole a favorite just for its yummy name and color, and also August Moon--again, I love its name! It is one of my favorites because it is a gorgeous golden green that just seems to glow. I also love Blue Angel--huge,deeply textured leaves, but it is a little finicky, it seems. I have lost a couple through the years and don't really know why, but the ones that have thrived are just magnificent. Another true favorite is the good ole Gold Standard. What a great plant and always plenty of them on sale at just about any gardening center at the end of the summer, which is when I always purchase hostas. It changes color quite dramatically depending on how much light it receives. I love the soft lavender blooms of the Lanceleaf, as well as the very finely pointed leaves and dark green color. Sum and Substance is incredible for its size and amazing leaves. It was a huge surprise when I saw how big that plant actually becomes!!! I will look at my garden plan/drawing and see what others are especially great and get back to you with those names.

  23. BethinIowa 04/23/2013

    GrnThum,I share your frustration with having deer decide that our hostas are their salad. In the front, we spray the stinky stuff and it does help, but as you say, some deer still munch. One thing we tried in the backyard, before we installed our fence, was the Wireless Deer Fence. Here is the website:
    This really DID make a difference! We also use them in the front yard now. Deer will still come in to take bites here and there, but as soon as they encounter the stakes, they don't return. We have so MANY deer here, it takes a while for all of them to encounter the stakes, but this has really eliminated our walking out and seeing every hosta eaten down to 2 inch stalks, which is what happened one summer in our backyard.

  24. cwheat000 04/23/2013

    So lovely. You are far from an amateur now. I am envious of the great fencing you have. I love the caladium whiskey barrel. You know how to do hostas right ( one of my favorites is Francis William ). I look forward to seeing more.

  25. coleuslove 04/23/2013

    Gorgeous garden and all my favourites.Hosta are beauties,alas I cannot grow them in the Caribbean. Can't wait to see the rest of your garden.

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