Garden Photo of the Day

Gardening Every Square Foot

Growing more of what does well in a small garden

Today’s photos come from Helen Durfee.

I garden on a 0.15-acre parcel in a neighborhood of mostly late 1800s/early 1900s Victorian workingman’s cottages in a village (a former mill town) in north central Connecticut. I’ve made gardens on nearly every square foot of my land.

This is the side garden in my front yard. I call it the Heritage Garden; it’s filled mostly with plants I transplanted from my mother’s abandoned large cottage garden in a nearby town (she had gotten too old to take proper care of it). I’m still transplanting things from it a decade later. It’s fun to see what color daylilies and irises I’ve planted. This year we saw an iris my mother identified as belonging to my grandfather, who loved irises.

The back garden was my first. In 2006 I plopped down four roses in a row and an Endless Summer hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bailmer’, Zone 4–9) there; now I’m transitioning to bigger plants with dramatic foliage, such as the tiger eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’, Zones 4–8) and royal purple smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, Zones 4–8).

The front yard has been planted out except for a narrow border of grass in front; the iris came with the house, and behind it is one of my favorites: orange rocket barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’, Zones 4–9). Everything tends to grow bigger than advertised; I chalk it up to my propensity to not rake leaves but let them compost over the winter. This also helps improve my heavy clay soil.

This is my favorite garden—the shade garden on the side going to the backyard. It was mostly pachysandra, so I planted many shrubs and shade perennials on top of it. I’ve given up fighting my neighbor’s invasives and now welcome the grapevine that covers his ugly chain-link fence.

This overview of the back garden shows many different textures and subtle color. I couldn’t maintain all this without the use of ground covers (advice from my mother).

The front yard has red fairy (on the right) and lovely fairy roses. Fairy roses are a particular favorite.

My tastes have changed over the years, from bright flowers to foliage and leaf shapes. I love shrubs of all kinds and recognize that that is a way to make future gardening less labor-intensive. My favorite plants are iris, hydrangeas, roses, peonies, clematis, baptisia, and hosta. I’ve scaled back on the roses except for mostly own-root shrub roses. David Culp (The Layered Garden) says to “love what loves us back.” My mother just says, “I like what does well in my garden.” I try to follow that mantra. I do indulge in buying many different plants rather than “drifts.” I justify it due to my compact space (and that greediness gardeners have!).


Have a garden you’d like to share?

Have photos to share? We’d love to see your garden, a particular collection of plants you love, or a wonderful garden you had the chance to visit!

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.

If you want to send photos in separate emails to the GPOD email box that is just fine.

Have a mobile phone? Tag your photos on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with #FineGardening!

You don’t have to be a professional garden photographer – check out our garden photography tips!

Do you receive the GPOD by email yet? Sign up here.

View Comments


  1. User avater
    meander_michaele 08/19/2019

    Why do I guess that when giving directions to your home, you'll end with the final comment, "It'll be the place with all the flowers in the front. You can't miss it."? Everything looks awesome and much larger than .15 acres. I love your mom's gardening philosophy and you have done her proud!

    1. Hilltopgothic 09/30/2019

      I used to but now I have two neighbors with beautiful front yards!

  2. user-7525974 08/19/2019

    Love your beautiful gardens! I particularly like your shade gardens since that’s what I have. I am with you and your mother on choosing the plants that are happy in our garden. I too am a shrub lover and make lots of use of ground covers.

    1. Hilltopgothic 09/30/2019

      There's something about those shade plants, eh? Challenging but so much fun.

  3. Musette1 08/19/2019

    your mother is a very wise woman (with a massively green thumb!) - and the only thing lovelier than your garden is the connection to her, via those gorgeous plants!

    1. Hilltopgothic 09/30/2019

      My grandfather had a superb green thumb and had also been a gardener to an estate in the Berkshires during the Depression. I wish he'd been around when I started gardening.

  4. hummerlu 08/19/2019

    Love it, my kind of garden, just a little wild! I've had my garden featured on Fine Gardening too and feel we could be best gardening friends. So lovely

    1. Hilltopgothic 09/30/2019

      I calm it down when it gets too wild! I like a balance but you'd never call me formal. Just not my style.

  5. btucker9675 08/19/2019

    What a wonderful cottage-y garden! So lovely to have plants from your mom's garden. Your mom's gardening advice is spot on. My maternal grandpa (a Doctor of Botany) used to say that a weed is simply a plant growing where you don't want it.

    1. Hilltopgothic 09/30/2019

      I agree with your Grandpa! I walked around Saturday looking at all the beautiful wild asters that had planted themselves and will keep them all. I was so surprised that first Spring after I planted the Heritage Garden, that it was so full. My mother said, of course they were mature plants!

  6. User avater
    treasuresmom 08/19/2019

    It is all so absolutely beautiful!

    1. Hilltopgothic 09/30/2019

      Thanks so much. I try to follow gardening rules, but in the end just go with my gut, and what I like in terms of form and color. That usually means pink and purple and round shapes.

  7. User avater
    simplesue 08/19/2019

    Gee, I feel like I just walked by your garden and had a nice chat with you about it. I love the way you told your garden story, and how you rescued plants from your mother's abandoned garden and I love that you named your garden. I really admire what you have done- it's just gorgeous. You also taught me about "Fairy Roses" I had never heard of them before. Thanks for sharing your garden!

    1. Hilltopgothic 09/30/2019

      I planted that garden in August 2010 and I'm still getting plants from her garden, which is wild and almost completely overgrown. Fairy roses are awesome and carefree. Try them, especially if you like the "bunches of rosettes" look. You'll get at least two flushes in the season.

  8. carolineyoungwilliams 09/11/2019

    Helen, you have done a great job with your flower gardens. I'm in the process of re-thinking my planting decisions and I love the words of wisdom...Love what loves you back...this will be my determining factor as I move forward. Thank you for sharing your beautiful gardens (especially those with the smoke bush and the fairy roses) and your gardening philosophy.

  9. Hilltopgothic 09/30/2019

    It was a hard lesson, especially with things like delphiniums. I also really love shade plants and don't have a lot of shade.

Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related Articles

The Latest