Garden Photo of the Day

Transforming a Garden from Poison Ivy to Flowers

Transforming a weedy site into a garden

white purissima tulips

Today Jason and Grace are sharing their garden with us.

Our garden is located in Long Island, New York. We really started working on planting in the summer of 2019. The backyard is bi-level and divided in thirds. One-third is lawn off of the house, then the slope up which is the garden bed, and at the top is a pool, shed, and firepit area. There are some beautiful established limbed-up oak trees and a dogwood that we love about the property. Unfortunately, our first spring in the garden was spent ripping out and removing tons of overgrown weeds, pachysandra, and an entire garden full of poison ivy. We city folk learned the hard way when we were half-covered in blisters that jumping into gardening was not going to be easy.

But creating a garden was a lifelong desire, so we covered over a third of the garden in cardboard and tarp for the entire first year and half of the second growing season just to smother the poison ivy. The rest of that second summer in the house was spent improving the soil and being diligent about removing any poison ivy that popped up. Then in 2019, out of pure temptation while visiting a local nursery, we left with two ‘Tiny Tuff Stuff’ hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata ‘Tiny Tuff Stuff’, Zones 5–9) and haven’t looked back since. We thought we had a design-and-color scheme but quickly learned that the beauty of plants was a better guide. So we visited every local nursery, read tags, watched as many gardening YouTube programs as possible, and started creating our garden.

The garden this spring is certainly still a work in progress, but to think this is only its third year and has come this far is very inspiring. It has been exciting learning to fill in the blanks as well as leaving room for more plants that we do not have yet.

We mistakenly cut back what we think was a group 1 clematis last fall, so our tuteur may be bare this year. We are also planting from seed for the first time this spring. So far we have direct-sown cosmos, borage, hyacinth bean, and copper plume, and naturally we are hoping for the best. It is such a source of pleasure, and all you invest and do in the garden will never match how much joy it gives in return. We’ve learned you are never finished, and that’s a good thing.

peony shoots emerging from the groundWe love having peonies in the garden. From early spring to when they bloom, each day they present something exciting. From those alien curled fronds when they first begin to break up from the soil to those generous globe buds floating atop the dark leafy greens just before they bloom, they are such a joy. Certainly they are our favorite harbinger of summer and one of the best spring garden plants.

Peony shoots beginning to unfurlPeony shoots beginning to unfurl.

pink tulips with grape hyacinthsTo our great surprise this spring, some of the white tulips we planted last fall from an online source came up in a deep pink. It was almost an “off with his head” moment, but for now we are rolling with it.

white purissima tulipsThe white purissima tulips (Tulipa ‘Purissima’, Zones 2–8) that we correctly received have been glorious!

queen of night tulipsOur ‘Queen of Night’ tulips (Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’, Zones 2–8) are back too, and we are planning to add many more of them this year.

lots of green plants getting ready to bloomLast fall was our first time planting allium. Seeing them pop up has been a thrill, and the anticipation for seeing them in bloom is wonderful. The border was framed by a lovely lavender hedge to one side, but it looks like it may not have survived our heavy snow and cold weather this winter.

broad leaves of alliumThe broad leaves and developing flower heads of allium are full of the promise of flowers to come.

lupines behind a pink azaleaLupines (Lupinus polyphyllus, Zones 4–8) beginning to put up their spires of purple bloom behind an azalea.

dogwood in bloom during springDogwood tree (Cornus florida, Zones 5–9) beginning to bloom.

lambs ears and white tulipsWhite ‘Purissima’ tulips in the back, with vinca (Vinca minor, Zones 4–9) and lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina, Zones 4–10) in front.


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View Comments


  1. sandyprowse 05/06/2021

    Jason and Grace, your personal story was delightful and your enthusiasm marvellous. I loved the photos of your garden. You have done a super job. Bravo!

  2. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 05/06/2021

    Thanks for sharing your nice photos. Beware those lupines will self-seed, and before you know it, they will populate the entire garden bed. Lupines and Foxglove are wonderful - but I learned the hard way and now have neither :)

  3. Rebeccazone7 05/06/2021

    I've been gardening forever, and I still manage to get some itchy thing every year. Most people aren't bothered by Virginia Creeper, but it does me in. It's inspiring that you continued on after poison ivy...yuk and double yuk.

  4. PG20 05/06/2021

    Love that the nasty bout of poison ivy didn’t deter you...just like those peonies, I think you might be lifers!

  5. gardendevas 05/06/2021

    Thank you for sharing your story and photos. Applause for your heroic persistence, and what lovely plantings you are developing. Especially love the Purissima tulips. And I always like to see how other gardeners are dealing with slopes. Please share more as you progress.

  6. User avater
    treasuresmom 05/06/2021

    Everything is so lovely.

  7. CTpat 05/06/2021

    Good for you being persistent in getting rid of the yucky stuff and replacing it with beauty. Keep after the pachysandra--it has serious takeover tendencies, too. If your tulips came from Scheepers, please contact them and let them know. I had a problem like that this year, and never before. Also pink ones instead of the Daydream ordered. I learned rabbits prefer pink to yellow/orange.

  8. Joycelaubach 05/06/2021

    Kudos to you for what you've accomplished. Sorry your journey included a bout of poison ivy! :( I've been there. But glad to have you join the ranks of happy gardeners. It's especially nice to know that you can appreciate all the phases of plant eruptions - each of which is a tiny miracle.

  9. User avater
    simplesue 05/06/2021

    I like the pink tulip surprise, they are luminous, they seem to absorb and reflect the light!
    Your Lupines looks so healthy and happy, mine didn't make it for some unknown reason.
    If this is only year three and much time was spent getting rid of poison ivy at that, just imagine how established your garden will look in another three years!
    Nice work!

  10. btucker9675 05/06/2021

    You've created a paradise - worth all of the work and the poison ivy itch. Prior to moving to NC, we lived and gardened in northern NJ and also battled poison ivy. My husband has a much more severe reaction than I do, so I took over most of that battle. I can relate to your love of seeing the peony spears in the spring - like red asparagus and assuring that warm weather is coming. I haven't tried them here yet because I'm searching for a variety that will deal with the hotter weather here. I have a wooded area in my back garden so will plant a few at the edge where they'll be protected from the hot afternoon soon. Thank you for sharing your beautiful place!

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