Our names are Chad and Seyra Hammond. These are some photos of our garden in Woodbury, Connecticut. I (Seyra) am a lifelong gardener. I inherited my passion for gardening at a young age from several family members. Shortly after my husband and I met, I began indoctrinating him, and now it’s a hobby we share. When we purchased our home in 2017, the yard was a blank slate except for some stubborn pachysandra that failed to get the eviction notice. But in the property’s mature woods and interesting topography, we saw so much potential and a project that would keep us endlessly occupied with our love of plants. We envisioned a garden with varied features spread over several acres that could take decades to achieve (if ever). But for us the enjoyment lies in the journey, not the destination. Five years in, the garden is still sparse, but we’ve put in trails to make areas accessible and created placeholders for future features like our stumpery. In the meantime, small vignettes have begun to appear, and there are so many small details to be enjoyed if you just take the time to notice. Fair warning—we are definitely plant collectors, not garden designers. Here are some of our favorite inhabitants.
I’ve learned how to take photos to make the garden appear less bare than it actually is. For example, this photo shows two separate borders with a path between that you cannot see clearly, so the borders blend into one large nonexistent border. Plants in the back include a very fast-growing Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Claim Jumper’ (Zones 4–8), a pink-flowering Benthamidia florida (aka Cornus florida, Zones 5–9), and Prunus persica ‘Bonfire’ (Zones 5–8). In the foreground are several shrubs and perennials, such as peonies, roses, Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica, Zones 3–8), and Phlomis tuberosa (Zones 6–9). Chad and I love to make things for the garden, including the purple tuteur in this photo.
Near the house, the garden consists of island beds in what was the back lawn. The lawn has been mostly reduced to pathways between the beds. The beds were all created by dumping topsoil and compost directly on the lawn, planting immediately into that, and mulching with wood chips. The entire yard is on a north-facing slope in a clearing in the woods, which means we only get direct sun for the middle part of the day, and when we get rain, it drains away quickly. Phlomis tuberosa is in the foreground.
The garden is very eclectic, as you’d expect for plant collectors. For us, life is too short to stick to just one theme! Here’s a more traditional English mixed border vignette with giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha, Zones 3–9), meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa, Zones 4–8), Campanula, and fragrant Rosa ‘Munstead Wood.’
One of the many things we collect is carnivorous plants. We have created a small bog garden to hold them that is connected to the front pond, so it never dries out. We designed and installed it ourselves the first year we lived here. The bog area is filled with peat moss and perlite topped with pine straw. The pitcher plants (Sarracenia species, Zones 5–9), Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula, Zones 5–10), sundew (Drosera species), and more recently a hybrid grass pink orchid (Calopogon hybrid, Zones 3–9) have done well in this bog outdoors in Connecticut for several years. As you can see, the frogs have also done well here. In the summer it’s fun to see how many you can count. Finding more than 30 at one time is not uncommon. If you build it, they will come! All the wildlife enjoy our ponds.
Sarracenia blooms in the spring
Here is a different view of the backyard. The more-high-maintenance plants are near the house, where I can give them the attention they need. Tougher trees, shrubs, and grasses that require less maintenance are planted farther from the house, where there is no access to water. The slope leads down to a babbling brook in the bottom of the valley. I was scared to expand the garden that far, but Chad has encouraged me to dream big. What’s the worst that could happen? You lose a few plants, it gets a little weedy, or (worst-case scenario) nature reclaims what we cannot maintain. These outcomes are all fine by me. So we took a chance. In the foreground are Hylotelephium telephium ‘Marina’ (Zones 3–9), Salix arenaria (Zones 4–7), Pinus stobus ‘Torulosa’ (Zones 3–8), Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘RedHead’ (Zones 6–9), and Stachys ‘Hummelo’ (Zones 4–8), backed by Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Ginger Wine’ (Zones 2–8).
We have much more shade than sun due to the woods, but it’s also very dry thanks to all those tree roots. We are working on adding compost to increase the moisture content of the soil. Supplemental watering is not possible because our water comes from a well. But I like the limitations that places on us. We have to conserve water whether we like it or not. We have several rain barrels, but it is a chore carrying the water to where it needs to go. So when I do water, I think very carefully about whether it is needed. We experienced months of severe drought this year, and that pushed us and the garden to its limits. We lost many plants. But that is the nature of gardening. We will brush ourselves off, learn what we can, and try again. Some parts of the shade gardens are more moisture retentive than others, and those are the areas that have flourished. Here’s a tapestry of Hosta (Zones 3–8), Athyrium nipponicum (Zones 5–8), Primula kisoana (Zones 4–8), Brunnera macrophylla (Zones 3–8), and Hydrangea bifida (Zones 4–8) under a native dogwood tree.
We have a long, hot-color border full of red, yellow, and orange blooms like Crocosmia (Zones 5–9), Cosmos sulphureus (annual), and Asclepias tuberosa (Zones 5–9), but it was kind of flat to look at. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong until I realized what it needed was some white Eryngium giganteum (Zones 4–7) to cool things down a bit. What do you think?
If you want to see more of this garden, check out Chad and Seyra’s Instagram: @s2szahme
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