Garden Photo of the Day

Creating a Pocket of Peace in the Garden

From lawn and marsh to beauty

Today we’re visiting Nancy Ridenour’s garden in Ithaca, New York.

When I moved into this home in 1973, it had very few gardens. The front yard had some established trees, and the backyard was a flat lawn with a marsh and cattails. Over the years, I transformed the yard into my own work of art that I call my “pocket of peace.” The yard is only 100 by 400 feet, but it has transformed into something unique that speaks of a garden much larger.

mulched gardenIn 1980, I had the swimming pool filled in, using soil dug from the marsh in the backyard. The pool was directly behind the house and in disrepair. Over the years, I amended that garden with several perennials, some bushes, bulbs, and two walkways from stones found around the property. I also added two large sculptures to the garden that I made from flexible copper tubing. Some failures included not keeping up with the changing light conditions, resulting in plants such as clematis not doing well. The squirrels consumed most of the tulip bulbs, so I lost many. I had ordered many parrot tulip bulbs from Holland and have only a few left. Very expensive meals!

garden bermI had the pond re-dug and sculpted, which produced a large pond and three berms that gave the yard a unique topography. This photo shows a wide view of one of the berms.

flowersThe formation of berms lent interest to the backyard and allowed more plantings than would have been possible in the original flat yard. One reason for the pond digs was to remove cattails that competed with the lotus. This year, I had to have more excavation because the nonnative yellow iris took over the edge of the ponds and started to compete with the lotus. I need to keep better watch as to what plant is taking over the others in the gardens.

lotus plantsAbout 20 years ago, I planted six lotus plants (Nelumbo nucifera, Zones 4–8) in the pond. There are now over 500 plants that flower in the summer and provide a destination for many garden tours. I was introduced to the lotus while living in Laos, so finding it growing in Ithaca was a real treat.

Lotus bloomLotus is my favorite flower in the gardens and gives me great pleasure to watch and to photograph. It has been the major subject for my work.

Zen gardenIn the backyard, I transformed a section of the lawn into a Zen garden, with gravel and a sculpture, along with a concrete bench. One failure has been that I did not treat any of the copper, and some pieces oxidized to a black patina.

orange daylilyA daylily (Hemerocallis fulva, Zones 3–9) blooming on one of the berms. Since I grew up in a florist family, I have been gardening since my teen years. Gardens were a strong focus for 4-H projects. My present gardens have been a wonderful connection to my past and my family. Over the years, the garden has been my artistic expression with both plants and artwork.


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View Comments


  1. Rebeccazone7 12/07/2020

    I love everything about all of it...As gardeners we can all relate to planting the wrong thing in the wrong place...I can also relate to gardening being a connection to our past, and past family members now gardening elsewhere.

  2. nwphillygardener 12/07/2020

    Nancy, thank you for showcasing two star plantings, which are each quite spectacular, although one quite exotic (Lotus) and the other so common (Daylily) we sometime overlook it. Great lessons from a garden made over 40 years.

  3. reginamelo 12/07/2020

    What a magic garden Nancy, and your flower pictures are astonishing.

  4. User avater
    cynthia2020 12/07/2020

    Nancy - I loved reading your gardening story. Your triumphs are marvelous and I empathize with your disappointments. Thank you for sharing your garden and photography with us.

  5. User avater
    user-7007816 12/07/2020

    What an amazing transformation. Thank-you for sharing.

  6. User avater
    simplesue 12/07/2020

    That's a fabulous garden, and that lily pond must be nice for wildlife like dragonflies, frogs, birds...So beautiful!
    I found your Pinterest page and added you!
    I love your photography, and garden!
    That is the perfect garden name for this garden Pocket of Peace!

  7. User avater
    bdowen 12/07/2020

    What a transformation you have described. The photos of the lotus and daylily are really striking. Thank you for sharing. Curious what it looks like in other seasons....

  8. user-5117752 12/07/2020

    Just a marvelous way to start my day! Your story, the transformation of your property, the beautiful photos have all put a smile on my face and energized my thinking. Do let us know what fall looks like for you and then how winter follows on and around your pond.
    Yes, thank you for taking the time to share with all of us!

  9. User avater
    treasuresmom 12/07/2020

    Love those berms.

  10. btucker9675 12/07/2020

    What a paradise you've created - thank you for sharing your garden artistry. Stunning!

  11. Maggieat11 12/07/2020

    I absolutely love what you've done! Would love to visit next year ....

  12. janeeliz 12/07/2020

    What a unique and exquisite garden you have created, Nancy!
    The berms add so much interest...the lotus are breath-taking.

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