Garden Photo of the Day

Lessons Learned in 25 Gardening Years

Learning the techniques and plants that work

Today’s photos come from Jenny McCoy in Des Moines, Iowa.

I have been gardening for about 25 years, and this particular garden is about nine years old. I am proud of the fact that it is slowly coming around to what I want it to be. Every spring when things are just starting to come up, I spend lots of time moving them around in a quest for perfection, which of course will never happen. But it’s the journey that’s fun! Also, I am committed to doing this without pesticides or any chemicals that would harm birds and pollinators.

I have learned a lot from my failures along the way as well. Like I can’t miss a day of putting Liquid Fence on my front yard flowers, lest the deer lop off the top of my ‘Casa Blanca’ lilies (Zones 5–10), making me wait another year for their spectacular and fragrant blooms. Luckily, my backyard has a high fence, so deer are not a problem, but I definitely have the same problem with rabbits! I have also learned what plants I like and what is not worth the frustration. For example, while I think Moonbeam Coreopsis is beautiful, for me it was always a struggle, because grass would grow up through the plant and it was very difficult to get rid of. I have also learned to pull my ‘Bubblegum Pink’ Phlox paniculata (Zones 4–8) and Cheyenne Spirit coneflower (Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ Zones 3–9) volunteers, lest they take over the whole garden!

My favorite plants are my bright red Oriental poppies because of the “Look at Me” statement they make when they bloom; my yellow Itoh peony (a gift from my boyfriend’s mom), my Casa Blanca lilies, and my new-this-year David Austin ‘Harlow Carr’ roses, which have begun forming a hedge under a west-facing window in my backyard. And how can I forget my climbing William Baffin rose?

In terms of my hopes for the future, I am trying to get my flowers organized in waves for more impact, while keeping the garden natural looking and making the most impact from seasonal blooms. I am also to the point where I am generating extra plants from dividing, so I have begun to create a new garden in the front of my house. I am looking forward to seeing how that develops. I have also found lots of fun plant swap sites on social media, so I am learning that lots of people want the plants that are overtaking my garden, and in exchange I can find some fun new varieties to try.

Finally, I am learning about incorporating vegetables into my garden, thanks to a talk I heard this spring by Brie Arthur at the Des Moines Botanical Garden. I planted some okra among the flowers this year and am enjoying the fruits of that now. She also suggested buckwheat as a garden addition, which I may try next year.

I do have one funny story: When I was checking out my garden after work last week, I noticed a vine with yellow flowers clinging to a trellis full of Clematis and a tall canna. I wondered what it could be. Upon closer review, I realized it was a cucumber vine. I have never grown cucumbers in my garden. But I am taking advantage of the bonus vegetables and must have a bird or chipmunk to thank for the nice surprise.

Sun-loving perennials fill the garden with color.

Climbing rose ‘William Baffin’Climbing rose ‘William Baffin’ in full bloom on the fence.

Another view of the flower beds.

A spring pink-and-purple moment.

ClematisClematis blooming on the fence. Putting flowering vines on fences turns deer deterrent into a beautiful feature.

A pool and sitting area with a view!

Fences are important for keeping out hungry deer.

Looking through the gate into the garden paradise.


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View Comments


  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 10/10/2019

    It is all so very lovely!

    1. jennymccoy67 10/10/2019

      Thank you so much!

  2. User avater
    meander_michaele 10/10/2019

    Hi, Jenny, your commentary and your photos are a delightful reflection of each other...each communicating a very appealing and colorful exuberance. Your pictures indicate that you are achieving your goal of a very full and natural looking garden. Your plantings have a pleasing rhythm of repetition of color with lots of varied shapes going on that keep things lively and interesting. Sincerest congrats on everything looking so great.

    1. jennymccoy67 10/10/2019

      Thank you! It is a work in progress but there is nothing I enjoy more than being out there moving plants around! :)

  3. avongardener 10/10/2019

    Beautiful, lush, colorful flower beds! I love your William Baffin climbing rose. I planted a bare root plant of the same variety couple of years ago but it is still small. How long did it take for yours to grow so big and floriferous? Thank you for sharing pictures of your wonderful garden.

  4. jennymccoy67 10/10/2019

    Thank you! That rose has been there for probably 7-8 years. It started blooming prolifically maybe 4-5 years after I planted it? I always wanted a climbing rose over a gate. My challenge now is how to train it to do that. I recently installed a horizontal 2x6 over the gate so it give it something to cling to.

  5. btucker9675 10/10/2019

    So beautiful! The border along the pool is spectacular. We are having a pool put in soon and I'm going to borrow ideas from your border. : )

    1. jennymccoy67 10/10/2019

      Love it and thank you!

  6. User avater
    simplesue 10/10/2019

    Gorgeous flower beds all around your nice pool! I too have found a few surprises- blooming in my grass-, so I really enjoyed the story of finding the cucumber in your garden! Nice hearing how long you have been gardening and how long you have had this garden. I'm starting a new garden after moving, and like hearing your experiences- I agree you learn what plants work, and go with it! and so true failures are part of the learning process for sure. I once lived in Des Moines long ago so I especially enjoyed seeing your garden.

    1. jennymccoy67 10/10/2019

      Thank you so much!

  7. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 10/10/2019

    That was a refreshing garden expose. Thanks for sharing and best of luck in the future.

    1. jennymccoy67 10/10/2019

      Awww thanks! It's a labor of love!

  8. carolineyoungwilliams 10/10/2019

    OMG Jenny, I am in love with your garden. Your choice of flowers and the color combinations are gorgeous. I have the same flowers and similar fence line but your groupings are 100% better. Just looking at your garden have inspired me to go in and move some things around. Thank you so very much for sharing your beautiful handy work. Be Blessed.

    1. jennymccoy67 10/10/2019

      You are so sweet! Thank you so much! It has been trial and error every year. I still think I need more taller plants on the back on the right side lol! And still trying to make groupings a little better. It is definitely a process! The funny thing is that the patterns of plants are really just because I kept dividing what I had because I didn't want to spend the money on new ones! I think that worked out for the better because it has given it some consistency and repetition.

      1. carolineyoungwilliams 10/16/2019

        After seeing your post, I have cleaned out my neglected corner area, amended the soil and made some changes. I divided & planted some daylilies and Irises. I will be adding some yarrow, blackeyed susan & salvia by this weekend. I also threw out some coneflower seeds. There's already a climbing rose cutting, some shrub roses, a few daisies and 2 Texas stars struggling to hold on in this bed. I am hoping for a blessing cause this area gets less than 5 hours of morning sun. Thank you so much for sharing your garden. It inspired me more than you will ever know. :-) Thank you. Have a great day.

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