Garden Photo of the Day

From Nothing to Garden

Making a hot, empty space into a beautiful one

completed garden in full bloom

Kat Kinch sent in today’s photos of a garden transformation.

My mom, Pat, a retired teacher, was increasingly concerned that a huge, old red maple in close proximity to her house would one day end up in her bedroom in a summer storm. With no small amount of regret, she decided to have it taken down.

yard under construction before landscapingWhile she breathed easier when gusts arrived, the space the old tree formerly occupied was left an arid slope. She missed the leafy shade, and the dry ground and network of roots made new planting difficult. One winter’s evening over a bottle of wine, we dreamed up a solution: a large-scale pergola and a terraced slope, giving her the green, serene shade planting she enjoyed most, overlooking a full-sun level of low-maintenance, drought-tolerant perennials.

new pergola and garden with new plantingsThe design came to life with the help of a favorite local contractor, who was able to get the job done in fall 2020 despite the pandemic, sourcing big beams and adding creative shapes to the pergola structure. The site was mulched for the winter and ready for spring planting in May 2021. By good luck, the plant delivery arrived just in time for my mom’s birthday, which we spent getting the perennials and one tall Amelanchier canadensis (Zones 4–8) into the ground with the help of my friend Heather.

garden full of purple flowersThe lower level close to the driveway features a “creek” of Salvia ‘Caradonna’ (Zones 4–8) (our small town riff on the Lurie Garden’s salvia river in Chicago), punctuated by Veronica longifolia ‘Charlotte’ (Zones 4–8).

white flowers with purple flowers in the backgroundWhite echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Zones 4–8), and Phlox ‘David’ (Zones 4–8) also punctuate the salvia river, all surrounded by plentiful strawberries as ground cover. (After a long-running battle, Mom ceded the berries to the chipmunks.)

the garden in bloomWe added two bareroot plum trees in the fall, supplied by a local fruit and nut grower, providing bookends of height.

light purple flowers amongst a sea of green plantsOn the sunny front part of the upper level, garden chives (Allium schoenoprasum, Zones 4–8) are interspersed with Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia, Zones 5–9).

delicate white flowersMom’s favorite gaura, Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’ (Zones 5–9), floats above it all.

vine growing up and over the pergolaThe pergola creates a sheltered retreat, and the big support beams have had various climbers, the most successful proving to be sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora, Zones 4–9) and a hardy variety of hops (Humulus lupulus ‘Cascade’, Zones 4–8) that are now spreading contentedly across the overarching structure.

blue flowers in the gardenAt the far side of the upper level, a hot spot of full sun for most of the day, false indigo (Baptisia australis, Zones 3–9) has made itself right at home, stretching to mature size in its first year.

completed garden in full bloomThis garden has changed a “nothing,” hot space into a calm oasis full of green, white, and blue tones, lively with pollinators, requiring minimal supportive watering and low-key weeding  Mom is well-equipped with a hori-hori knife, and the few dandelions that poke up their heads are swiftly dispatched. She can use her pergola garden for active gardening when she wishes, but it is designed to be primarily a place to relax with a coffee and an excellent view of the butterflies and bees visiting the flowers below.


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View Comments


  1. Maggieat11 07/14/2022

    Great vision and execution. 🌿

    1. k0kat 07/14/2022

      Thank you!!

  2. Carolyn3134 07/14/2022

    Loved all of this! Even the commentary!

    1. k0kat 07/14/2022

      Thanks a bunch!

  3. blondie3 07/14/2022

    Wow, what a great solution. I love the pergola, the whole garden turned out lovely…I have sweet autumn clematis and the bloom in the late summer is amazingly. Enjoy your garden!

    1. k0kat 07/14/2022

      We are really looking forward to the clematis flowers this year now that it’s established!

  4. gardendevas 07/14/2022

    Nicely done, ladies!! A lovely solution.

    1. k0kat 07/14/2022

      Thank you!

  5. nwphilagardener 07/14/2022

    An extraordinary accomplishment! Thanks for the “Before” photo to demonstrate how fabulous and thirst quenching is the lemonade that Kat made, given the lemons that appeared when the shade tree came down. But for the chipmunks, it might have been strawberry lemonade!

    1. k0kat 07/14/2022

      😀 thank you! Love the strawberry lemonade idea - exactly what we were going for!

  6. User avater
    treasuresmom 07/14/2022

    Wow! Love all that color.

    1. k0kat 07/14/2022

      Thank you!

  7. deodasher1 07/14/2022

    What a glorious space!

    1. k0kat 07/14/2022


  8. pplat 07/14/2022

    Wow! What an amazing transformation—and in such a short amount of time! I also love how you have explained and described the process so clearly. Thank you for sharing. You have inspired and motivated me to pick up my hori hori knife and go work in my garden!

    1. k0kat 07/14/2022

      That makes my day! I love how those knives make weeding so much more fun. Enjoy!

  9. wittyone 07/14/2022

    What a wonderful transformation. The purples and blues of those plants really make the space look cool and inviting. I like the second tier of edging that was put in just above the brickwork. It would have been so easy to just stop at the top of the pergola but this integrates it very nicely with the house.

    1. k0kat 07/14/2022

      We wanted to have some shade over those windows and the second tier really did the trick.

  10. User avater
    simplesue 07/14/2022

    Fabulous! I just love this garden make-over!
    Even the house looks happier!
    Great plant choices-some of my favorite colors- and the trellis is so well designed and looks so strong!
    Love those big stones too!

    1. k0kat 07/14/2022

      Thank you! The house is definitely happier with the fun space alongside it.

  11. wildthyme 07/14/2022

    What a wonderful transformation! It's amazing to see how using large scale objects (boulders, pergola, stone terracing) works to make a small area look bigger . . . it's counter-intuitive, but it really works. Great job!

  12. btucker9675 07/14/2022

    What a fabulous use of the space! Every plant looks like it was made to be there, and I'm jealous of that beautiful false indigo. Mine is getting better each year, but it's nothing like that! Thanks for sharing this wonder story.

  13. [email protected] 07/14/2022

    What a treat today- a fabulous transformation, and in a short amount of time. I don't know why I have never planted false indigo- every time I see it, I suffer an acute case of plant lust. Good job all around- very inspiring!

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