Garden Photo of the Day

Claire’s Garden Renovation in Minneapolis

A garden once dubbed "The Pit of Despair" becomes an oasis of plant life

tiered garden beds with veggies and pollinator plants

Happy Monday GPODers—hope you all had a fabulous weekend and, for those of us facing heat waves, are staying cool!!

When starting a restoration, renovation, or upgrade project it can be difficult to remember to take “before” photos, for me at least. I get too excited to get started that I jump right into things with no thought to slow down and document the process. When the project is all done, I always regret it.

Nothing tells a garden’s story quite like before and after photos. Seeing the journey of blank backyard to gorgeous garden full of plants and carefully planned hardscaping adds an extra level of appreciation and understanding of how a space was crafted. It can also be a living document of where you were, how far you’ve come, and the possibilities for the future.

Today’s submission from Claire Haskell is a perfect example of this. She shared the transformation of her Minneapolis garden from barren slope to lush oasis with perfectly placed paths and beds that allow for great growing and easy meandering through the different areas. Just seeing the “after” photos of this garden would have been a treat, but getting a glimpse of what existed “before” is that much more impressive and inspiring! But I’ll stop rambling and let Claire take it away:

When my husband and I moved into our house in Minneapolis, MN almost 10 years ago, the outside space was boring and unwelcoming.

home and surrounding yard with no landscapingBefore: The yard at the front entrance was steeply sloped and had drainage issues that turned it into a big mud pit when it rained, leading us to nickname it “The Pit of Despair”.

man digging in a slope to build a retaining wallChristopher (an engineer) was able to design and build a series of corten steel retaining walls to make the space useable.

tiered garden beds with veggies and pollinator plantsThe new “sipping terrace” includes a raised vegetable bed and a pollinator garden, with a narrow brick path that leads to a small table set at the end—perfect for sipping your morning tea or evening wine.

plant covered in pink flowers buds in front of bright green foliage plantsWe planted up the front into a bright and welcoming garden with green, chartreuse and purple as its main colors.

small shade garden with bright green plantsThe crabapple tree is underplanted with Garden Glow™ dogwood shrubs (Cornus hesseyii ‘Garden Glow’, Zones 4–8) that add bright chartreuse color to the shady spot. Underneath the dogwoods are maidenhair ferns and Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, Zones 5–8) and a trio of ‘Rainbow End’ hosta (Hosta ‘Rainbow End’, Zones 3–9).

flagstone path cutting through garden beds with colorful foliage plantsA flagstone path leads from the sidewalk to the “sipping terrace”. The statue is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s garden sprites. A ‘Sun Power’ hosta (Hosta ‘Sun Power’, Zones 3–9) anchors the left side of the path, underplanted with variegated hakenachloa (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, Zones 5–9) and purple Dolce® ‘Wildberry’ heuchera (Heuchera x ‘Wildberry’, Zones 4–9). In the distance, you can see the Tiger Eyes Sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’, Zones 3–8) and purple smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, Zones 4–10). On the right, a DeGroot’s Spire arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’, Zones 4–10) lends height.

purple flowers next to chartreuse foliagePurple columbine and alliums pop against the background of Garden Glow™ dogwood and maidenhair ferns. In the lower right corner, you can spot a small hosta (maybe ‘Curly Fries’ (Hosta ‘Curly Fries’, Zones 3–9)).

purple flowers with various green foliage behindMore alliums mixed in with foliage of Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum humile, Zones 5–8) and Lady in Red fern (Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’, Zones 2–8).

close up of masterwort flowers with colorful foliage plants in backgroundMasterwort (Astrantia major ‘Venice’, Zones 5–7) is one of the few that flowers in this shady garden. In the background, you can see the ‘Sun Power’ hosta, along with heuchera, hakenachloa and ‘Red Umbrella’ meadowsweet (Filipendula x ‘Red Umbrella’, Zones 4–9).

close up of various green foliage plantsWe focus on variations in form and foliage to make this shady garden more interesting. Here you can see ‘Sun King’ aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’, Zones 3–8), Solomon’s seal, martagon lillies (Lilium martagon, Zones 3–9) (not yet flowering), shredded umbrellla (Syneilesis aconitifolia, Zones 3–8), jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum, Zones 4–9), maidenhair fern and hakenachloa.

Thank you for sharing your incredible garden renovation with us, Claire! It was an absolute treat to see the transformation and reminded me how important it is to snap just a couple of “before” photos.


Have a garden you’d like to share?

Have photos to share? We’d love to see your garden, a particular collection of plants you love, or a wonderful garden you had the chance to visit!

To submit, send 5-10 photos to [email protected] along with some information about the plants in the pictures and where you took the photos. We’d love to hear where you are located, how long you’ve been gardening, successes you are proud of, failures you learned from, hopes for the future, favorite plants, or funny stories from your garden.

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View Comments


  1. User avater
    musabasjoosue 06/24/2024

    Wow, Claire, what an incredible transformation! Nothing like a garden space that feels joyful. Happy sipping!

  2. User avater
    user-7007816 06/24/2024

    I love the beautiful space you have created. I particularly like the Corten retaining walls that you installed. Thanks for sharing.

    1. User avater
      cynthia2020 06/24/2024


  3. islandlover 06/24/2024

    What a transformation! There is always hope to change ugly and boring to fabulous. I too have lots of shade where I use the colors purple and chartreuse.

  4. nwphilagardener 06/24/2024

    A great series of design choices! I love the crisp lines of the Corten wall and linear brick pattern. Adding a seating space at the end is also going to add some tranquility tot he design to remove the "tyranny" of the downhill slope. Kudos

  5. bunny2luv 06/24/2024

    Beautiful transformation! I too have an engineer husband, who helps so much in my garden. The Corten wall is lovely, and I really like the purple with pops of chartreuse for shade. Great job, both of you!

  6. User avater
    simplesue 06/24/2024

    I love a garden post with before & after photos! You both sure did a lot of work, and it was worth it!

  7. btucker9675 06/24/2024

    Sipping Terrace!!! You and your husband have created a stunning garden.

  8. barb_j 06/24/2024

    Like everyone else, I love the corten steel retaining wall. Did you fabricate it yourself? I would be interested in finding out how I could get a retaining
    wall made for my hill.

    1. learning2growinmpls 06/24/2024

      Thanks Barb. Yes Christopher welded the corten wall in place himself. To ensure it stayed straight over time, he also welded in a metal frame and bolted it to the stone foundation of the house with thick metal cables.

      1. barb_j 06/25/2024

        Absolutely impressive!

  9. learning2growinmpls 06/24/2024

    The sipping terrace is also the perfect spot for our spring bulbs before the veggies go in.

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