Garden Photo of the Day

Gardening for a Friend

Turning a little space into a garden

close up of hosta with pink flowers

Hello, this is Cindy in Chicago. A good friend was expecting her first baby this past spring. I knew she would be busy with an infant, so I volunteered to help her grow some of her favorite plants—sunflowers (Helianthus annuus, annual).

Three years ago, we started a spring cleanup tradition of pulling weeds and amending soil in the long, slim border adjacent to the three-family brick building in Chicago (Zones 5b and 6a). This year I wanted to share this area next to the house with you as an example of a simple and low-budget garden with a mix of perennials and annuals. The previous fall, I checked with the other residents to see if they wanted space to garden; they did not, and the landlord was amenable to having someone else do some weeding and pruning.

Last fall, I started pruning—by about one-third—the two unruly rose plants a previous tenant had selected. The thorns were some of the sharpest I have ever come across, and the stems sometimes lashed out over the narrow sidewalk during windy weather. By moving two unused metal trellises from the garden bed in front of the garage, I attached stems with twine in arching shapes parallel with the wall and away from the front gate. I had never seen the red roses in flower and had no information on the variety. The hostas had been there for years, and three years ago the phlox was added—probably Phlox paniculata ‘Ultraviolet’. Finally, I divided and transplanted an unknown salvia from the back garden into this border.

Along with green leaves of different shapes, there was a succession of color in this border during the summer—red, purple, magenta, and finally yellow. So far there has been color from June through early October.

This spring when preparing the ground for the sunflower seeds, I incorporated some bagged cow manure and topsoil into the area—which half a shovel length down is a mash-up of hard soil and detritus of all sorts, including metal and glass. Early in the season, a lot of sunflower seedlings were eaten or trampled by wildlife, so I had to start again several times. Spraying a foul-smelling animal repellent was helpful in getting some plants to maturity.

Here are some of the best of the spring and summer photos, including my friend’s favorite: Helianthus annuus ‘Russian Mammoth’.

It was a pleasure to work out a simple design, observe the urban wildlife that was attracted, and even hear stories about what was noticed by the families in the building and neighbors as well! By the way, the new baby boy was sometimes my gardening assistant this summer, napping peacefully in the shade while I did some watering.

narrow garden bed along a sidewalk with sunflowersThe border includes tall ‘Mammoth’ and dwarf ‘Teddy Bear’ sunflowers, and potted dwarf ‘Incredible’ sunflowers paired with light purple Ageratum houstonianum (annual). In this picture taken in early September, I have already divided the scorched hostas that were growing over the sidewalk and the salvia that has flopped over.

dark pink rose bush against a brick wallThe rose bush in June. There were a lot of blooms, but the show was short.

garden bed along brick wall with lots of hostas and red rosesIn June the border looked full and healthy.

close up of hosta and purple SalviaThe salvia (Salvia nemorosa, Zones 4–8) looked its best in early June.

close up of hosta with pink flowersHosta blooms in the beginning of August

close up of small yellow sunflowers‘Teddy Bear’ sunflower with the long stems of the rose

close up of Pink phlox flowersPink phlox (Phlox paniculata, Zones 4–8) in early September

ultra close up of large sunflowerThe beautiful patterns in the blooms of ‘Mammoth’ sunflower in early September

three large sunflowers starting to nod overThree ‘Mammoth’ sunflowers in mid-September. These were planted late and so grew a little shorter and less vigorously than the earlier sowings.

close up of seeds in center of sunflowerRipening seeds on the ‘Mammoth’ sunflower heads.


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View Comments


  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 10/20/2022

    I love sunflowers, don't you?

    1. User avater
      cynthia2020 10/20/2022

      Hi, Treasuresmom. Thank you for your comment. Yes, the sunflower blooms were something nice to look forward to.

  2. User avater
    simplesue 10/20/2022

    I love what you did for your friend, what a kind gesture!
    You've shown what a difference a small space can make when it's turned into a garden!
    That little strip of land is now a source of beauty and interest, I just love it when someone can see the potential of small space like that.
    It turned out super nice!
    Love those red roses and huge sunflowers, Hostas...oh I love it all!

    1. User avater
      cynthia2020 10/20/2022

      Hi, Sue. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. It is a small space but it was enjoyable to be outside working on it!
      By the way, I hope you will get together some photos from your garden to share with us. :-)

      1. User avater
        simplesue 10/21/2022

        Oh one day I will....(the link to my former garden is on the info linked to my name on this page) new garden needs more time to mature to be a decent design.
        I think small spaces as you turned into a garden have as much impact as a huge garden. It changes the environment totally in a positive way.

        1. User avater
          cynthia2020 10/21/2022

          ...I did see your garden a year or two ago and loved looking at the photos.
          I think of you as one of the core group of posters here cheering people on... :- )

          1. User avater
            simplesue 10/22/2022

            Awww thanks Cynthia! I get so excited about gardens LOL!

  3. sheila_schultz 10/21/2022

    There is little better than a little plot of dirt to bring neighbors together. The 'dirt' when loved suddenly becomes fertile soil and the beauty begins. What a lovely little space you have created to bring your neighbors together to smile, laugh and get their hands dirty working in nature. Love it!

    1. jos29803 10/21/2022

      What a nice idea, which I'm sure has impressed and given your neighbors and landlord a welcome treat. Good for you!!!!.

      1. User avater
        cynthia2020 10/21/2022

        Hi, jos. I did see the building landlord one day and he did thank me!
        Again, I enjoyed the process of gardening - planning, planting, watering, weeding, observing...

    2. User avater
      cynthia2020 10/21/2022

      Sheila - I appreciate your response!
      It looked like some of the youngest residents had "planted" little rocks and peanuts in the shell on top of the soil. :- D

  4. btucker9675 10/21/2022

    What a lovely thing to do and everything is so pretty!

    1. User avater
      cynthia2020 10/21/2022

      Hi, BT. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.
      I know what I did isn't actually fine gardening - but it's gardening... and I am getting old, so glad to still be in the game...
      :- D

  5. jos29803 10/21/2022

    What a nice idea, which I'm sure has impressed and given your neighbors and landlord a welcome treat. Good for you!!!!

  6. User avater
    bdowen 10/21/2022

    What a wonderful story. That's quite a gift you have given your neighbors. I wonder it someday some of them might want to get involved and help you with the project. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story.

    1. User avater
      cynthia2020 10/23/2022

      Hi, bd. What a thoughtful post - thank you.
      Re: I wonder
      I am planning on bowing out after this season, but will clean things up for next year so if others would like to take over, the area will still be relatively weed free.

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