Garden Photo of the Day

Garden Transformation

Before-and-after of a new garden.

Joe Koller shared some photos from his garden in early fall, including wonderful before-and-after shots of a new garden. He says that this area was always a problem due to dense clay, but with lots of soil amendment and new plants, he’s transformed it into a beautiful display. The area is only 150 square feet, so he knows some of the plants will eventually have to be relocated, but his dense planting certainly makes a huge impact right now!

Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius, Zones 6 – 9) puts on a display that can’t be beat in early fall.
Monarch butterflies fuel up on Celosia spicata (annual).
A single yellow chrysanthemum glows in an Asia-inspired section of the garden.
A difficult spot next to the front entrance before the new planting.
The same spot planted up, featuring stepping stones made from slate roof tiles from the last project of Joe’s career, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
And now, the same spot in full autumn bloom! Plants include Caryopeteris ‘Li’l Miss Sunshine’ (blue beard, Zones 5 – 9), Salvia ‘East Friesland’ (meadow sage, Zones 4 – 9), Duetzia ‘Nikko’ (slender duetzia, Zones 5 – 8) Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (hardy geranium, zones 4 – 8), Ilex ‘Red Beauty’ (hybrid holly, Zones 6 – 10), Ilex ‘Blue Prince’ (blue holly, zones 4 – 7) Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ (Japanese holly, Zones 6 – 8), Ilex ‘Soft Touch’ (Japanese holly, zones 6 – 8) Cotinus coggygria ‘Winecraft Black’ (smokebush, Zones 4 – 8) Acer palmatum ‘Red Dragon’ (Japanese maple, zones 6 – 8) and Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ (autumn joy sedum, Zones 3 – 9).

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  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 02/06/2018

    Beautifully done. Love that swamp sunflower. I have it but it is native here & planted itself. I pull a little but leave the biggest part of it in place.

    1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      Good morning, The plant shown is actually one plant with the left side portion tied back to the fence. Thank you for your kind comment. Good luck, Joe

  2. user-3565112 02/06/2018

    Good morning Joseph, Thank you for posting my photos this morning & providing the plant descriptions. I realize now you spend a lot of time & effort on keeping GPOD rolling.
    Thank you & good luck, Joe

  3. Maggieat11 02/06/2018

    Joe, what an awesome display from your Helianthus! And your photo of the monarch is just lovely. I also enjoyed the transformation with your front entrance area. Thanks for sharing!

    1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      Good morning Maggie, This was a good year in central Md. for Monarchs & others . The hoto was taken in mid. October & I hope he left in time to get back home.
      I am glad to hear uou like what we din in the no plants area .
      Thank you & good luck ,Joe

  4. Sunshine111 02/06/2018

    Joe I loved seeing your transformation, especially the Caryopteris.

    I used to have one but it didn’t make it and seeing yours made me decide that I want one again. I will have to look for one this year and find a spot for it. Best regards, Lily.

    1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      Good morning, I appreciate your comments. My friend contributed the sedum & Iris from his gardens I have no experience with Caryopteris & don't know if I should cut it back. Thank you & good luck, Joe

      1. cheryl_c 02/06/2018

        Hi, Joe, The process for caryopteris in this area is to wait until really late in spring to see which of the prior year's stems are showing new leaves, then to prune out those which are not and those which are just not good contributors to the shape you want to achieve. It works well for us in zone 6 in the midwest.

        1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

          Good morning Cheryl, Thank you for letting me information. I am going to put a copy in the spring chore list.
          Thank You & good luck, Joe

  5. user-1020932 02/06/2018

    Joe, you just proved that any area no matter the size can be made into a garden. I always love before and after shots, your new space looks great

    1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      Good, morning Jeff, Thank you , This garden was started May 2017. I intended to use boxwoods but could not find enough of the right type in this area, Thank you & good luck, Joe

  6. User avater
    meander_michaele 02/06/2018

    Hi, Joe, thanks to your inclusion of the before cannot be denied...yes, that was an area that definitely needed some "prettifying"! Now it has 4 season interest with the evergreen varieties of hollies and the delightfully dependable show that the sedum 'Autumn Joy' puts on. And, in comic book language, "Ka-Pow" on how that tall stand of super bright yellow swamp sunflower must knock people for a loop.

    1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      Good morning Michaele, Needing prettifying is an understatement. I appreciate your comments. The sedum are divisions from my friends garden & were in a shady spot. When we planted them last June in this full sun area they just exploded as you can see. Thankyou & good luck, Joe

  7. wittyone 02/06/2018

    A great before and after, I like your choices. Such a good idea to over plant in the beginning knowing that some things will ultimately need to be moved. It eliminates that " oh, it will grow into itself " period when it looks nothing like the picture in your mind.

    1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      Good morning all, I am still trying to figure this new format out & did not mean to add a new comment. Thank you all for your interest & comments, Good luck to all, Joe

      1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

        Good morning Wittyone,, I believe it was Tim who coined the phrase "cramscaping" * this is probably an example of that.
        No doubt a bunch of divisions will be taken from this area to keep things in check.
        Thank you & good luck, Joe

  8. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 02/06/2018

    Great transformation, Joe. That's the perfect spot for an exuberant garden. Cram away! That Helianthus is certainly a showstopper, and that means a lot coming from me since I'm not a fan of yellow! Your Asian-inspired garden is certainly coming along nicely. That single pop of yellow from the Chrysanthemum is perfect.
    I'm curious about you last job involving slate tiles at the Smithsonian. I've got some slate slabs that I dug from my property that must have been used to create slate roof tiles on site for my house. Unfortunately the slate roof was destroyed by a previous homeowner.

    1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      Good morning Tim, Thank you for your comments this morning . I used your phase "cramscaping" in my reply to Wittyone.
      In 2002 I came out of retirement to work as the project manager to finish 2 Smithsonian projects started by a bankrupt contractor. The slate was part of a total slate & copper reroofing project at Natural History. . The slates are Vermont blue green slate in 2 sizes.& I in. thick.
      The 2nd was total reroofing/ waterproofing at American History including Plazas, planters , terrace decks & main roof replacement. Thank you & good luck, Joe

      1. User avater
        Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 02/06/2018

        Sounds like an amazing and dangerous project. It's great that you have some cool souvenirs!

  9. JoannaAtGinghamGardens 02/06/2018

    Joe, I was so excited to see pictures of your gardens and they are beautiful! Please share more.

    1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      Good morning Joanna, Thank you for your comments. I am planning a Christopher LLoyd type cottage garden & hope to use plants started using your milk jug technique. I'll send photos if works out. There are previous posts of my gardens on GPOD but I do not know how to find them. Perhaps someone else can guide you.
      Thank you for your tips,good luck, Joe

      1. User avater
        meander_michaele 02/06/2018

        Hi, Joe, about finding your previous GPOD sharings...if you go to the top of the page , there is the magnifying glass/ search symbol. If you click on it and type in your name in the search bar and then hit Enter, your previous posting titles will show up. Now, for your name, some other posts are showing up that include the first name "Joe" but one can tell which ones are yours.

        1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

          Thank you for the info. Michaele, As you know doubt are aware computer literacy has eluded me. Thank you, Joe

  10. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 02/06/2018

    Good morning Joe. Like everyone here has said, it’s great to see before and after photos so that we can really appreciate how much you’ve changed this little garden. You’ve made some good plant choices, especially ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ caryopteris. We have a couple of them and they look good all season. We generally prune right after they drop their leaves or in early spring before they start leafing out. Thanks for a good post this morning.

  11. user-3565112 02/06/2018

    Good morning Linda, I am glad to hear you like the new area. This is a tough spot & the only plants there for 40 yrs. were 1 hydrangea &1 azalea. , The tiller could not dent it & bounced all over the place. Thank you for the plant care tip re: pruning .
    Thank you & good luck,Joe

  12. cheryl_c 02/06/2018

    Hi, Joe, Love these pictures, and thanks for re-igniting a desire to add the helianthus to my wildflower 'meadow' (that is, 'power line easement!). I read that this can be cut back in late May or early June to make it unnecessary to stake, and wonder if you have tried that. I think your Monarch picture could be a prize winner for a calendar - absolutely stunning!
    I put in a Little Miss Sunshine last year, and the shape is so perfect through this winter that it is going to really break my heart to prune it back (see my note about about pruning recommendations for this area) - good luck with yours. Thanks so much for sharing your before pictures!

    1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      Good afternoon Cheryl, I've never tried cutting the Helianthus back that late but it is certainly worth trying on a section this year. Both sections in the photo are tied to the fence & I did take a division this spring. Although it's called "swamp sunflower " it is thriving with drought tolerant plants such a Russian Sage, Rudebeckia, Baptista,
      etc. It has been there 3 years. Thank you for your comments,good luck, Joe P.S. I am in zone 7

      1. User avater
        treasuresmom 02/07/2018

        Joe, I am zone 8b near the Gulf Coast & my swamp sunflower doesn't start coming up til late May or early June. Mine is the native plant. Does yours return in early spring? Mine starts blooming in late August to mid September.

  13. Chris_N 02/06/2018

    Looks great, Joe. I like the before, just planted up, and grown in photos. It's nice to see a progression like that.

    1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      Thank you Chris, This area has been an eye sore for years & I thought it was hopeless due to soil conditions. It took some work with a pick to make large amended planting pockets.& I hope when the roots hit the clay it will help keep the plants size in check. Of course I could be wrong .
      Thank you for your comment ,good luck, Joe

  14. user-7015537 02/06/2018

    You have transformed that bare spot into a beautiful garden. I have a couple of places close to the house that need this. You have inspired me!

    1. Meelianthus 02/06/2018

      Goodmorning Joe, all of your hard work has certainly paid off as you have developed some lovely gardens. Your Asian inspired garden is very inviting for a contemplative moment to sit, relax, and enjoy. Happy Gardening!

      1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

        Good afternoon Meelianthus , Thank you for you kind reply. Regarding the new garden, an entrance garden posted last year included a melianthus plant. I intended to plant one but the nursery told me it probably would not work in my area. The winecraft black smoke bush was planted in that spot instead. Regarding the oriental garden I hav,nt quite figured out how to arrange it using pink Tenn, marble slab from a former project at the U.S. Capital. Hopefully it will happen under an adjacent flowering crab.
        Thank you & good luck, Joe

        1. Meelianthus 02/06/2018

          How memorable that you have so much 'history' in your garden Joe. I don't know how cold your winter temps are where you are located and even though our winters are typically not far below freezing in our Zone 8, my Melianthus has survived just fine down to 20 degrees. It will die completely back but I have it heavily mulched with leaves and bark and it always comes up with new shoots in the Spring. That said, your black smoke bush sounds like a beautiful addition also, :)

    2. user-3565112 02/06/2018

      GNorood afternoon, It's good to hear that you like what we've done in that spot. I hope thru pruning I can keep the holly small & suitable for this confined area. I got my inspiration from a GPOD by a post by a lady in the PNW.
      Thank you & good luck, Joe

      1. user-3565112 02/06/2018

        please excuse the typo's in my previous response. I've got to check before I send replies. Joe

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