Garden Photo of the Day

Big Garden, Small Space: Part 2

Yesterday we visited Eric Sternfels’s backyard shade garden in Northwest Philadelphia, and today we’re back for another round of beautiful images from this wonderful little spot.

A rich mosaic of foliage in different colors and textures makes a garden image full of interest and beauty. And as every garden needs, there is a place to sit and perhaps have a cup of coffee while enjoying the view.

A furry garden helper lurks among the leaves, no doubt ready to spring out and attack a suspiciously rustling leaf.

I love this dreamy view up the narrow path through the garden. Dark foliage from begonias and heuchera in the center are set off to perfection by the surrounding bright, yellow-green leaves, and the whole view is framed by masses of medium green leaves surrounding it. Absolute perfection!

This creative and unexpected art in the garden is made from teapots that seem to be pouring tea and puffing out steam. A supporting cast of hostas shows off the art to perfection.

Cardamine quinquefolia (Zones 7 –9) is an ephemeral spring wildflower that goes dormant in summer.

April shade plants: Arum italicum (Italian arum, Zones 6–9), Syneilesis (umbrella plant, Zones 5–8), Epimedium ‘Domino’ (‘Domino’ fairy wings, Zones 5–8), and Athyrium niponicum (Japanese painted fern, Zones 5–8).

A favorite foliage combination: Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Burgundy Lace’ picks up the eggplant purple of flowers and leaf markings of Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’ (Zones 4–9).

One last view of this beautiful garden, with bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, Zones 6–9) in bloom next to a wonderful brick pathway.


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  1. paiya 01/09/2019

    Eric, you are an artist in the way that you have combined such varied foliage to create an exciting and welcoming garden. With each bend in the path there is a new vista to enjoy. I also enjoyed the silver “steam” coming from the kettle.

    1. nwphillygardener 01/09/2019

      Thanks, Paiya. For the first time seeing my own smart phone image enlarged so big on my PC monitor, I noticed that serendipitously, behind that hammered aluminum "steam" is a trail of fragrant Japanese honeysuckle in bloom. So there is a three time repeat of the ivory color: Hosta, Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard), and Lonicera japonica

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 01/09/2019

    Love all the green, the walkway, & the design in the brickwork in your last pic.

    1. nwphillygardener 01/09/2019

      Thank you. That mosaic was a fun experiment and includes some pea gravel sections pushed into the grout. Some years I let it get mossy in the center.

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    treasuresmom 01/09/2019

    BTW, if you do Facebook, there is a group of whom some comment here. Take a look. It is Shared Garden Visions.

  4. nwphillygardener 01/09/2019

    Sorry. I'm a Facebook abstainer, but will admit I do have moments of ambivalence toward that choice….. like NOW, lol

  5. garden1953 01/09/2019

    Lush, enchanting, and beautiful. Love your gardens and their whimsey.

    1. nwphillygardener 01/09/2019

      Thank you. I aim for WHIMSY with the sculptures I make but try to draw back from the edge of CUTESY. Perhaps the cast stone Buddha that I inherited with the yard crosses into both realms!?

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    meander_michaele 01/09/2019

    I adore the creative whimsy of your teapot vignette, Eric. It definitely tickles the senses and appeals to my inner child. The photo that includes the Arum italicum gives off a tropical vibe which is a fun surprise in a Philadelphia garden.

    1. nwphillygardener 01/09/2019

      Absolutely, Michaele! Arum is exotic-looking, going summer dormant here and then sending up those variegated arrowhead leaves in fall, surviving heavy snowfalls through the winter, flowering white spaeths in early spring which lead to vivid red berries before going dormant again in summer.

  7. cheryl_c 01/09/2019

    Eric, you've done it again- magical combinations of plant textures and colors that just beg us all to stay for a while. Yesterday I was smitten with your strawberry begonia, today it is with your epimedium "Domino". Thanks so much for sharing your very original plant combos!

    1. nwphillygardener 01/09/2019

      Thanks, Cheryl. I really focus on creating harmonious vignettes with careful plant adjacencies. Too much contrast in color (leaves and flowers) adds a level of busyness that I find distracting. So, I move plants around whenever I realize good opportunities
      If you use Pinterest, my board called "Fiddlehead" has a good image that shows the exceptional color of Epimedium 'Domino'. This GOPD shot shows it overhead, but the underside includes a soft plum color. And while it doesn't spread, the clump gets big enough to divide for a friend or two. That's how I got it!

      1. cheryl_c 01/09/2019

        Thanks for the additional information, and from yesterday your information on strawberry geraniums! I'll look at Lowes, and watch for Domino to show up in one of my favorite mail order sources. I'm following Fiddlehead now - thanks for that, too.

        1. nwphillygardener 01/09/2019

          When you find a full hanging basket of the Saxifrage, do not be afraid to break it up into several plugs. Each cluster of leaves is essentially a separated plant, sometime connected by an "umbilical cord" runner. The sooner you break it up, the faster you'll have a low ground cover in your shade garden.

  8. garden257lover 01/09/2019

    Hi Eric, love your plant combinations and vignettes. Was wondering if you ever let people visit your garden. My daughter lives in Hatboro--is that fairly close to you? My email is [email protected].

    1. nwphillygardener 01/09/2019

      Sure. I'll elaborate via your email address.

  9. btucker9675 01/09/2019

    I am in love with your garden! The tea kettle/cups tableau is enchanting!!

    1. nwphillygardener 01/09/2019

      Thanks. The pouring tea supporting the little copper kettle is a twist of brass wire. In spring, I like to scrub it so it adds a little sparkle. Originally, I filled the cup with bird seed but the family of squirrels I share my garden with were going to destroy the whole sculpture.

  10. Musette1 01/09/2019

    Eric, this is a glorious garden! You have me yearning for a bit more shade - love my sunny acre (okay 1/3 acre) but I confess to loving the delicate elegance of these beautiful shade combinations!

    1. nwphillygardener 01/10/2019

      I, too, have a bit of envy when I see glorious ways that a sunny garden can PRODUCE success - as in FOOD, for instance! But perhaps "we get what we need," to quote Mick Jagger. Less weeds, less watering, more serenity….in the shade.

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