Garden Photo of the Day

Kirstin’s young ‘from-scratch’ garden in Illinois

This is a tiny little vignette of a pretty border display I put together with Shasta daisy, delphinium, and ‘Northwind’ panicum  grass.  My yard is surrounded by a chain link fence, which I am trying to cover up with plants, but that process takes time.  This explains why so many of the photos of my garden are close ups!

Today’s photos are from Kirstin Larson.

The front bed.

She says, “I am a Master Gardener in Palatine, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  I have worked for the past 9 years at a local greenhouse/nursery in the summers, and do programs for local garden clubs in winter.  I volunteer at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, where I really enjoy all the amazing people I meet–both staff and volunteers.  How lucky I am to live so close to such an amazing and inspirational garden!!

This island bed in the middle of my lawn is my first step to minimizing grass and maximizing garden beds.  There are 2 birdfeeders hung above either end of this bed, so we have lots of avian visitors to our yard.  In the background are a couple of ‘Blue Muffin’ viburnums that I planted 3 years ago, and little ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas that went in last year and are still getting established.  Someday that chainlink will be nicely screened.

My husband and I moved to this home only 4 years ago, and when we moved in, the was not a single garden bed on the property, so my garden is very, very young.  I like to garden in layers, adding a little something new each year, so it takes me a long time to achieve the effect I want.

I won this 3-tiered planter four years ago at my garden club, and plant it up with a different color theme each year.  I grew everything in this planter from seed this spring.

To be honest, the front bed has gotten the most attention, since it’s so visible to everyone, and this year I have been very happy with how it has filled in. It’s not a typical front-yard garden–I have created a very casual and inviting front yard that instantly welcomes visitors and puts them at ease.

Hawk moths were everywhere last summer!  Sometimes, in their hurry to get to my flowers, they would bump right into us.  I’m curious to see if we have such a large population of them again this year.

The hellebores offer the earliest spring color, along with heuchera, columbine, and phlox.  Spring color gives way to silene and sweet William accented by the dark foliage of ligularia and ‘Chocolate’ eupatoriaum. Shasta daisies and lilies are blooming now, soon to be followed by coneflowers and rudbeckia. That’s a lot of punch packed in to a small area, creating a full and always-changing aspect.

Echinacea ‘Magnus’ reaches up to the bent-wire planter draped with creeping sedum on the fence to my back yard.

It’s fun for me to imagine how it will look 5 years from now, 10 years from now–whenever I plant something new, I like to consider the potential it has as it settles in and grows to maturity.  Maybe I’m too willing to overlook some of the “awkward” phases, but I think a lot of gardeners are like that, don’t you?  It’s always a work in progress.”

‘Drama Queen’ poppy about to blossom.  This dramatic poppy reseeds freely in the beds next to my herb garden, and I love how it weaves itself in and amongst the other plants that live there.

Well gardened and well-said, Kirstin. Your young garden has soul. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

Ripening Concord grapes draped along the top of the wooden fence along the east edge of the yard.
Chain Link looks much more attractive when sporting a goldfinch.
This hummingbird and his family are also regular visitors to our garden, returning year after year to nest in the ‘Prairifire’ crabapple on the west side of our house.
When we moved in, this lilac was about 18 feet tall, and only had 3 blooms on it for the first 2 years.  Last year, I began the process of renewal pruning.  The result was a little horrifying at first, like a shaggy, bad haircut.  But the results were evident this year when it came into bloom, COVERED with heavy, gorgeous flowers.  It received a step 2 in the renewal pruning process this year, and its overall shape is starting to come together.  It’s a great feeling of satisfaction to bring something like this lilac back to life.
Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ is a favorite of mine, and forms a backdrop for the bed next to my kitchen bed, which also contains liatris, coreopsis, lupine, ‘Drama Queen’ poppy, bee balm, geranium, Shasta daisies, and lavender.

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  1. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 07/19/2014

    That is a very inviting front garden and the garden does not look young at all! Love the hawk moth and bird photos, too. My somewhat inexpensive solution for my not-too-attractive chain link fence was to affix rolled bamboo fencing directly to the chain link. Doesn't take much time to attach with wire and looks cool. Thanks for sharing.

    1. user-7007083 07/21/2014

      Thank you

  2. perenniallycrazy 07/20/2014

    As the perennial addage goes, " The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap." Your garden has definitely reached the leap stage Kirstin. Great job on all the colors, textures and details! I'm especially attracted to that enameled cast iron wall ornament. Where did you find such a treasure?

    1. greengenes 07/21/2014

      This is so true, Perennially Crazy!

    2. user-7007083 07/21/2014

      I use that saying all the time when trying to tell customers at the nursery how many plants they need.
      My enameled cast iron wall ornament came from Hobby Lobby about 10 years ago, spent its early years in the garden at my old house, and came along with me to help me establish my new garden.

  3. User avater
    meander_michaele 07/20/2014

    Hmm, hard to pick what I'm most impressed with... you have a wonderful garden and a great attitude...or is it a a great garden and a wonderful attitude! Anyway, I agree that at 4 years young, your garden is already looking very interesting with delightful plant combinations. I'm such a fan of ornamental switchgrasses. They are so easy to care for and I adore their airy bloom heads.
    Your photo capture of Drama Queen about to burst into bloom is quite beguiling. Is the flower as vibrantly rich in color as the opening bud hints at? Congrats on your very successful rehab on your lilac...having all those aromatic flowers filling the air with their incomparable scent had to give you such an awesome feeling!

    1. user-7007083 07/21/2014

      Thank you for such kind words. I love switchgrass too, and, actually, my favorite is Shenandoah, which I have planted on the corner of my garage.
      The Drama Queen poppy seeds were a gift from a friend from halfway across the country, in California. The first year they bloomed, I was beside myself with excitement--the bud promises, but the bloom delivered. Hopefully I will succeed in attaching a photo of the bloom here:

      1. user-7007083 07/21/2014


        1. user-7007083 07/21/2014

          one last try.....well, obviously I'm doing something wrong because I can't get it to work. (ha-joke is on me---now they have all apparently uploaded and we have Drama Queen overload. Clearly, I am technically challenged.)

          1. User avater
            meander_michaele 07/21/2014

            Well, Kirstin, Drama Queen is such a stunner, that seeing her three times in a row is a, it's nice to know that someone else can get flummoxed by technology!
            I think 'Shenendoah' might be the variety that I have quite a few clumps of. I have been replacing maiden grasses with division chunks of the switch grass. They are so much easier to cut down in the spring and blend so nicely with other perennials.
            Thanks for taking the time (and trouble) of sharing Drama Queen opened up in all her glory.

          2. greengenes 07/21/2014

            I so love this little drama queen which by the way, is aptly named! I will definitely try to find some seed! Thanks for sharing with all of us, these beautiful pictures! Meander1 you did well with the teckno!

  4. user-178447 07/21/2014

    I don't comment but just had to this time. You are doing a great job on your garden. If you want to cover your chain link fence, think clematis. There is a website that is known for it's clematis forum, You can look through and get an idea of what they look like. There is also a group on Facebook, crazy about clematis. By the way, you did magic on your lilacs. I did step one Rejuvinating mine this year. I hope next year gives me such great results.

    1. user-7007083 07/21/2014

      Thank you! I love clematis, and have a Jackmanii and a Sweet Autumn on the front walkway. Sadly, they died last winter, under the onslaught of too much wind, too much snow. But I've been wanting to branch out and try some others. Thanks for the links.

      1. user-178447 07/21/2014

        Don't give up on those clematis they may come back. I thought I lost my sweet autumn clematis a few years ago and then I notice some new growth. It has come back.

  5. greengenes 07/21/2014

    Its all very nice, Kirstin! I so enjoyed every picture and am inspired to prune a huge lilac in my gardens. You hardly notice any chain link fencing but then again you are there in the fullness. Clematis would be a nice addition to your mix though. Also using the bamboo fencing that was mentioned by Tim Voit sounds like a great idea as well! Its all so fun, isn't it to try different things and hear of others ideas. Gardening truly is a work in progress or should it be said, "fun in progress". Thanks so much for showing us your gardens and we look forward to seeing more in the future!

    1. user-7007083 07/21/2014

      Thank you. I agree--work in progress, fun in progress, AND satisfaction in progress!

  6. thevioletfern 07/21/2014

    What a beautiful garden in such short time and I am impressed with your revitalization of the lilac! I just want to share with you my gardening mistakes ... I, too, have a chain link fence and in retrospect I would tell myself to bite the bullet and get rid of it! I have wild grapes and creeper and rose growing on mine - in an attempt to screen - but come winter I still see that awful fence and now the grapes threaten to take over my garden each July. We are putting up a wooden fence, finally, and that chain link will be just a bad memory. I would get rid of the chain link before it will be too difficult with all your new plantings. You will tend to always see a sore spot no matter how beautiful a garden you create. I wonder how much better my plantings would be if I didn't try to "screen" that fence to begin with?

    1. user-7007083 07/21/2014

      You are so right! I wish we could afford to replace the chain link right now, so sadly, as much as I'd love to rip it out, for now it has to stay.

  7. annek 07/21/2014

    The blue and white colours (that one's for you Meander) in the first photo captured my attention right off. So sweetly bright and contrasting. Your bunny statuary looks right at home in your island bed of greenery, and oh my, that Lilac! Wonderful swooping arcs of purple pruned into such a pleasant shape. I want to go out and work on mine right now. I'm so glad you included photos of the drama queen (and all three just made a bigger impact). An incredibly beautiful combination of colours and frills. Is it like most poppys in that reseeding is prolific? By the way, your grape and iron wall ornament could easily win a photo contest.....wonderful composition and yes, COLOUR!! Your "young" garden is exuberant!

  8. sheila_schultz 07/21/2014

    Your gardens are lovely, Kirstin, and you are right, your front bed is very welcoming! Thanks for posting the photo of your Drama Queen, she is an incredible beauty. WOW!
    Good luck with your Hawk Moths returning in large numbers next year. Last year they came to my gardens in droves... one evening about 10 neighbors stopped just to watch them, they were so mesmerizing. This year we had only two. I'm thinking they just bypassed Denver on their way to your yard in Palatine! Enjoy them ;)

  9. GrannyMay 07/21/2014

    You've come a long way in just 4 years, Kirstin! That you know what you are doing is obvious - the front garden is a lush and lovely welcome to your home and you already have plenty of beauty in the back to draw the eye away from the fence. My favourite vignettes are the echinacea in front of the creeping sedum planter and the gorgeous lilac.

    You are so wise to take your time, enjoy each small success and ignore the awkward phases. Anticipation and imagination are huge parts of the joy of gardening. In our minds we always see how it will look in the future as we carry the next little plant home. That is what feeds our addiction!

  10. ancientgardener 07/22/2014

    You need make no apologies - your garden is lovely. I shall try to find a "Drama Queen" poppy. I love the ones that seed around.Your front bed is beautiful. Very pastel and airy looking, and welcoming indeed. Wish you could drop by and teach me how to prune my overgrown lilac.

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