Garden Photo of the Day

Japanese Style in California

Dealing with deer and making a beautiful garden

Today’s photos come from Geni Hiestand.

I live in the Sierra foothills in Grass Valley, California. Our front yard was a patch of weeds and clay soil when my husband and I moved in. We love Japanese art and gardens, so I decided to make our front yard into something Japanese-like and have it be low maintenance and deer resistant. We are surrounded by 5 acres of forest, and the deer think that this is their front yard as well. Finding things that they don’t like was challenging. I have our driveway lined on both sides with Provence lavender. I use lots of different berberis, because the deer won’t touch them and they are drought resistant. They also bring color to the garden after all the irises and peonies have finished blooming.

We started with pea gravel and brought in rocks that were on the property to form a Japanese look. We created mounds of red and wooly thyme (Thymus praecox, Zones 4–9, and Thymus pseudolanuginosus, Zones 5–8). Elfin thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’, Zones 4–8) works really well around the rock placements—better than traditional moss with the intense heat that we have here.


I love peonies (Paeonia sp., Zones 4–8), but the deer don’t. A perfect match!


Peony ‘Pastel Splendor’ is one of the Itoh hybrids, named for Japanese breeder Dr. Toichi Itoh, who hybridized herbaceous peonies with tree peonies to create this group of peonies with large, beautiful flowers and very vigorous growth.


One morning I discovered a frog prince on one of the unopened peony blooms, and he waited for me to get my camera!


Osakizuki Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Osakizuki’, Zones 6–8) is so gorgeous in the fall with its bright red leaves.

A ruby dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Ruby’, Zones 5–8) also has impressive fall color.



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View Comments


  1. bsavage 07/06/2018

    Oh my goodness, that photo of the frog is amazing! I would love to buy a print or even a digital copy of it! Your garden is stunning... well done to you!

  2. User avater
    meander_michaele 07/06/2018

    Your Japanese inspired garden is absolutely stunning, Geni. I wonder if its current reality is even more beautiful than you dreamed about in the beginning. The way the undulating pools of thyme encircle and ease away from the rocks is very calming. That particular Itoh peony, 'Pastel Splendor' is stunning and the photo with the Prince Charming frog is pure enchantment.

  3. User avater
    user-7007816 07/06/2018

    Your Japanese garden is an inspiration for me. I have a similar garden which I enjoy, but your use of thyme adds a beautiful element. I'm sure I will be adding it. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Sunshine111 07/06/2018

    A gorgeously stunning masterpiece!

  5. user-2389999 07/06/2018

    Stunning! Gorgeous! Would love to see more of this amazing 'piece of peace' with another go 'round of coverage. It looks so effortless which means someone has been diligent and working hard to accomplish this combination of composition, color, texture and timing through the calendar. Kudos! jgd

  6. VikkiVA 07/06/2018

    Stunning garden! Your Itoh hybrid looks like a Georgia O'Keeffe painting. I also love peonies and have never seen one like this. I will be looking for them in the garden centers. Thank you for sharing your marvelous work.

  7. btucker9675 07/06/2018


  8. [email protected] 07/06/2018

    Geni, you have a wonderful garden. I love your little town of Grass Valley (probably not as small as I remember), and grew up not that far away in Gridley, Calif. Now I garden outside of Seattle, and share your "deer challenges" as well as a local elk herd. Just sprayed some deer repellent on a weeping redbud. We do enjoy watching the critters, though we sometimes run outside and yell at them...sometimes we think maybe we hear them snickering...
    Thanks for sharing!

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