Garden Photo of the Day

Difficult Site, Beautiful Garden

Betsy doesn't let rocky soil or deer stop her from creating a beautiful spot

Today’s post comes from Betsy Thompson of East Greenbush, N.Y.

My garden is located in front of and behind a suburban townhouse near Albany, N.Y., situated in the middle of a six-home building. I shared pictures of it on this site some years ago, but all gardens evolve into a somewhat new look, so I thought it may still be of some interest.

I have lived here for 37 years. There are ongoing problems with the site: I am not permitted to raise a fence, so battles with wildlife increase every year, as deer and other populations increase and tell all their friends about the particular delights of the unique buffet available here. Also, when I arrived there was virtually no topsoil on the ground and no access for vehicles to provide it, so it all had to be carried through the house. Underneath, I found rubble from an era when a glacier had retreated—rocks of all sizes and shapes, round and sharp, cemented together by sand that yielded only to a pickaxe.

Until recent years, most of the work was done by me alone, except for the patio and pergola installations. Now I require a little help with mulching, pruning, and transplanting.


My garage has been partly converted to an office, so I can use the space in front for a few planters.

In June, the front garden features iris, baptisias (Baptisia australis, Zones 3–9) and salvias (Salvia nemorosa, Zones 5–9). The tree is a dwarf Sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii, Zones 4–7).

Behind the house is a pergola and patio (not seen here) from which one can see steps leading up to the back garden. The pine is a dwarf white pine (Pinus strobus, Zones 3–8) about 30 years old. The little tree at left is Acer japonicum ‘Branford Beauty’ (full-moon maple, Zones 5–8).

The back garden (22 feet wide by 100 feet deep) is divided into rooms. The second I call the Silver Gold Garden. It features a center island planted with yellow, gold, and white daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrids, Zones 4–10), Eryngium (sea holly, Zones 5–9 ), Achillea (yarrow, Zones 3–8), white Allium (ornamental onion), gold jonquils (Narcissus jonquilla, Zones 4–8), lavender (Lavandula sp., Zones 5–8), and a variety of complementary groundcovers. The gold flowered shrub at right is Hypericum (St. John’s wort, Zones 6–9).

A path leads from the Silver Gold Garden through the Dogwood Garden to another patio. The dogwood is Cornus kousa (kousa dogwood, Zones 5–8) and is one of the first trees I planted here, growing behind a Japanese tree peony ‘Leda’ (Paeonia hybrid, Zones 4–9).

Almost constant watering in recent summers means the hoses are never completely put away! The iris in front here is ‘Baltic Star’.

A small recirculating waterfall borders the steps leading up to the shady ridge at the back of the garden. The Japanese iris is ‘Gracieuse’ (Iris ensata, Zones 4–9). The shrubs at left are highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum, Zones 5–7).

The Ridge Garden is shaded by a black oak planted about 25 years ago. It features hostas and wildflowers. Last year, the browning shrub at right was replaced by a boxwood hedge. I have to spread milorganite in spring to keep the deer from eating the hostas and trilliums to the ground.

Close-up of a planting of Trillium viridescens (Ozark trillium, Zones 5–9), Jeffersonia dubia (Asian twinleaf, Zones 4–7), Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot, Zones 3–9), Hosta ‘May’, and Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ (lungwort, Zones 3–8).


Learn more:

Betsy’s beautiful garden features many different varieties of plants that are brought together with a clear design plan. Though her location presents certain problems, such as hungry deer and trees that block sun, she has worked to mitigate the damage done by wildlife and has chosen plants that work for her local environment. She also blends plants and trees native to her area, like dwarf white pine, and ornamentals, like Japanese maples, to help create interest.

See our expert’s guide to Japanese maples here

A practical program for combatting deer

Info on planting under a tree


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View Comments


  1. sandyprowse 04/02/2018

    Absolutely magnificent! A joy to behold.

  2. user-7017435 04/02/2018

    Good morning Ms. Thompson, I remember your previous post & was impressed by your determination & accomplishment. It is amazing that you brought everything in the back thru your home & created those terrific garden rooms.
    Thank you for your beautiful post this morning & good luck,Joe

  3. janetgee 04/02/2018

    I don't usually comment but I am in love with this garden. I too have big maples and water constantly. I can appreciate the work/love. Just gorgeous.

  4. garden1953 04/02/2018

    Stunning! I hope you make time to sit and enjoy the beauty you have created. Everything fits together so perfectly.

  5. user-6640935 04/02/2018

    What a beautiful garden. It's obvious a lot of thought and consideration has gone into the layout of this garden.

  6. User avater
    PKKing 04/02/2018

    Your tenacity through significant obstacles is to be commended. And the results are just lovely. Everyone in your neighborhood should be grateful for your vision and hard work as they enjoy the fruits of your labors.

  7. User avater
    treasuresmom 04/02/2018

    Oh, my. Just stunning. Love your little sitting area. Would love to have my cup of coffee & sit & take it all in.

  8. 2bakeornot2bake 04/02/2018

    Well done Betsy!! Just gorgeous; hope you get some time to sit and enjoy your efforts/results.

  9. NCYarden 04/02/2018

    This is a delightful garden. Great variety of plants that deliver amazing texture. Well done considering your soil and pests've clearly out done them. Thanks for sharing

  10. user-1020932 04/02/2018

    I remember this garden and I still love it all. Hard work and determination have created an oasis

  11. Maggieat11 04/02/2018

    Betsy, I LOVE what you have done! Such a beautiful inviting garden and wonderful plants you have used! (Love that Tree Peony!) Could I possible come for a visit this spring/summer?

  12. Chellemp 04/02/2018

    Looking at your garden, I can only think of superlatives. As others have said, what a lot of hard work done in love and dedication. These gardens transport one to another world. You have some very lucky neighbors that benefit from the views of your beautiful oasis. Thank you for your inspiration!

  13. User avater
    meander_michaele 04/02/2018

    Betsy, you and your enthralling garden spaces are truly an inspiration ....showing so beautifully that one doesn't need multiple acres to create a personal paradise. The pruning and up limbing you have done on your ornamental trees is hugely pleasing...the dwarf pine in the 4th picture is a living sculpture. I am in awe of the physical effort it has taken through the years to get all the stone, plant and mulch material from front to back and am glad you are treating yourself to some well earned assistance on some maintenance tasks now.

  14. user-7003263 04/02/2018

    Betsy, what you have done to make a long and narrow lot into a garden that looks at least twice as wide is amazing. Even though you can't put up a fence, you have created your own private piece of heaven. And you have given your neighbors the gift of a beautiful garden on either side of their property. Really pretty garden full of delightful plants and trees.

  15. wittyone 04/02/2018

    I remember your garden from your previous post. It's even lovelier than the last time if that is possible. Good on you for staying in the fight against the deer---it's so easy to become disheartened when a fence is not a possible deterrent.

  16. Sunshine111 04/02/2018

    Betsy I truly enjoyed seeing your lovely photos this morning. I am looking forward to getting out into my own garden again soon. Thanks for the inspiration.

  17. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 04/02/2018

    What a treat to see your garden again, Betsy. I remember it well, as it is a standout in both your collection of plants, hardscape and sheer determination. So glad that you continue to enjoy it and fight the good gardening fight. Today I am completely smitten with your dwarf pine: Wow!

  18. Musette1 04/02/2018

    Holy cats & crackers! You did all this via your house? WOW! It is GORGEOUS! Thank you so much for sharing!

  19. Icgirl 04/02/2018

    What a fabulous job you have done! Gotten just about everything in and in its happy place. I enjoyed your photos, an inspiration!

  20. andreanola 04/02/2018

    What a lovely garden. Thank you for inspiration! Andrea

  21. btucker9675 04/02/2018

    Absolutely wonderful gardens - I hope your neighbors appreciate the beauty you have brought to their area as well! Spraying a mix of 1 part milk (any kind, whatever you have around or is going bad) with 3 parts water and adding several drops of peppermint oil (not extract) worked like a miracle for me in my northern NJ garden where we played host to hordes of deer, wild turkey, foxes, and the occasional black bear. Rabbits don't like it either. I just reapplied after heavy rains. The earlier in the growing season that I started, the better it worked - I guess they would try a few sniffs/nibbles, be disgusted and finally gave up.

  22. JoannaAtGinghamGardens 04/02/2018

    Wow, what an oasis you've created! Absolutely stunning! Thanks a bunch for sharing.

  23. cheryl_c 04/02/2018

    Betsy, your gardens would be remarkable even without the fabulous story that goes with them! I can't imagine bringing all of that through the house to get to the back yard, though I do have a garden whose easiest access is through our front door, dining room and out the 'north' door, so have done just a tiny amount of what your garden required. Thanks so much for sharing an update - I saw the one posting previously, but it mentions a prior one as well that the link has expired on - perhaps our editor could repair that?

  24. grannieannie1 04/02/2018

    What a beauty! Your gardens just keep revealing their gems along all your winding paths and in the rooms. I especially love the seating areas and hope you sit and enjoy your hard work frequently.

  25. Meelianthus 04/02/2018

    What a joy to see your beautiful gardens again Betsy. All of your many years of work is so very inspiring as are your wonderful collection of plantings. Your gardens seem to be much larger than they probably actually are with your different garden areas. Just lovely!

  26. Cenepk10 04/02/2018

    I remember this garden. Great to see again. Betsy has designed a glorious garden that marauding animals can’t help themselves from the banquet. Can you imagine being a deer in some scrub & happening upon this utopia??? AHAHAHA... Sorry, Betsy - but you must admit - no animal would be able to resist. I enjoyed seeing this beauty again.

  27. [email protected] 04/02/2018

    So impressive! And beautiful! Not familiar with milorganite- when I looked for it, I just saw it described as a fertilizer. I have deer and elk visitors, and use Plantskydd, but it's kind of spendy, so appreciate hearing of other options. In fact, I copied B Tucker's recipe in this stream. Now to look for peppermint oil, too so I can compare/experiment...Thanks!

    1. Luvfall 04/02/2018

      Milorganite is a fertilizer produced by the Milwaukee wastewater treatment plant. Apparently it’s ‘unique aroma’ is not liked by the deer and they will avoid an area where it has been spread.

  28. User avater
    CynthiaDow 02/21/2019

    I like all types of flowers. it's really wonderful.

  29. User avater
    ParksWesley 04/24/2019


  30. User avater
    ParksWesley 04/24/2019

    Wow! so beautiful

  31. User avater
    RonaldTague 04/26/2019

    like it

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