Garden Photo of the Day

From Novice to Gardening Expert

Gardeners and garden have grown over the past decades

Mark Serock sent in these photos of the garden he has created with his wife, Rita.

Rita provides me a lot of suggestions on plants and plant placement. She is the one with the eye for details. I provide the labor and decide when we are going to rip up a section of garden and try something else. We work well as a team.

We live in Montclair, New Jersey, and we have always had a nice garden during our 20+ years at our present location, but we have spent a lot of time in the garden since my retirement eight years ago. We have learned many lessons over the years. When we moved to Montclair from a city life over 35 years ago, I had to ask someone how to mow my grass. That sounds embarrassing now. I can also remember our first garden, that first year in our new house. We went to a nursery and picked out one of each of about 15 different plants with no consideration given to sun conditions, height, or bloom time. They just looked pretty. Needless to say, that area soon became a nice place for my children to play in, as the plants did not survive very long.

Nevertheless, we kept gardening over the years and have learned a lot and are learning more with each season.

Thank you for sharing your readers’ gardens in your daily blog. They are beautiful and provide me with ideas on my next restructuring of sections of my garden.

A beautiful row of daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrid, Zones 3–9) lines a walkway. Mark and Rita sure have come a long way from buying 15 different plants with no plan! Massing together groups of the same plant is a great way to elevate a garden’s design.

Purple Siberian iris (Iris siberica, Zones 2–9) with a wall of rhododendron flowers behind.

Various varieties of Astilbe strutting their stuff.

When they moved here 35 years ago, these gardeners didn’t know how to mow the grass—and look at what they’ve created now! Everyone can learn to garden, no matter how much or how little experience they start with.

The plantings in front of the house create a welcoming entrance.

Hostas and astilbe are a classic combination. They both thrive in shade, and the broad, bold leaves of the hostas contrast beautifully with the fine-textured, airy flowers of astilbe.

A spectacular peony (Paeonia hybrid, Zones 3–8)! This is a single-flowered form, with a ring of bright red petals around the central mass of yellow stamens. Double-flowered peonies, with many layer of petals, are often more common in gardens, but single forms like this are more likely to be able to stand up without staking, and the contrast between the color of the petals and the stamens in the center is pretty dramatic.

A row of peonies shows some of the diversity of these wonderful plants. Peonies are best planted in the fall, and as long as you give them plenty of sun and some support to help them hold up their heavy flowers, they’ll repay you with huge numbers of beautiful flowers for decades.


Have a garden you’d like to share?

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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
    treasuresmom 09/30/2019

    Those peonies are just lovely!

    1. mserock 09/30/2019

      Thank you. The peonies are my favorite also. I just can’t wait each spring to watch them bloom. Too bad they don’t last longer.

  2. User avater
    user-7007816 09/30/2019

    Mark and Rita, Beautiful job, particularly the front yard plantings.

    1. mserock 09/30/2019

      The front has taken a few years of work. It has been worth it and I really enjoy driving up to the house in late spring to see the front yard in full bloom. Thank you for your comment.

  3. annegad 09/30/2019

    Very lovely garden! Like you I started off planting various plants here and there and, over the years have learned to go towards mass plantings. Yours are spectacular, especially those peonies!Thank you for sharing.

    1. mserock 09/30/2019

      Thank you. The mass planting was my wife’s idea. Peonies are a beautiful plant. I would dedicate more garden to them if they lasted longer. Those April showers really take a toll on them.

  4. nwphillygardener 09/30/2019

    yes, the power of planting in large drifts or just one thing (like the daylily bed) is demonstrated in these photos. I really think than makes the blooms more impactful, and the foliage more restful to the eye. This garden shows how well the heights of neighboring plants are considered to form a unifying effect. I hope it helps give pause to those who've continued to plant with a "One-Of-Eachy" approach. Thanks!

    1. mserock 09/30/2019

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  5. avongardener 09/30/2019

    Beautiful garden! Congratulations on your accomplishment! Thanks for sharing.

    1. mserock 09/30/2019

      Thank you. I appreciate it.

  6. User avater
    simplesue 09/30/2019

    Well, you sure have come a long ways since the days of not knowing what to buy and where to plant! Your garden now shows years of expert experience- So beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

    1. mserock 09/30/2019

      Thank you. Lots of trial and error but in the end it’s all worth it.

  7. btucker9675 09/30/2019

    Your beautiful Montclair garden makes me miss my Franklin Lakes garden even more! You have certainly made a beautiful place there - especially love the single flowered red peony - gorgeous!

    1. mserock 09/30/2019

      Thank you for your comment. I am glad you enjoyed the pictures.

  8. cheryl_c 09/30/2019

    As another former one of those 'One-Of-Eachy' gardeners, egged on by companies that sell 'instant garden collections', it is wonderful to witness the results of your reformation. I do still purchase just one of something to see whether it thrives in my garden, then go back the next year to get more. Less frustrating than losing 6-9 plants! You're obviously a well-working team! Keep up the good work!

    1. mserock 09/30/2019

      I started off with one of those instant garden collections. If anything it provided me some ideas on mixing plants and heights and I then purchased more of those that thrived and I liked best. It has been fun. Thanks for your comment.

  9. carolineyoungwilliams 10/01/2019

    Mark and Rita, what you have created together is beautiful. I especially love the Peonies. They are one of my favorites. Thank you so much for sharing with us and inspiring us to continue to beautify our areas one plant at a time.

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