Garden Photo of the Day

Making a Garden in the Woods in Pennsylvania

Creating a rich tapestry of plants under the trees

Today we’re visiting Deborah McQuiston’s garden and sharing some photos she took in the beginning of October.

I live in northeastern Pennsylvania, in the Pocono Mountains, Zone 5b.

Our house was built in 2012, so I started with nothing: half an acre, nothing in the middle, surrounded by more than 200 deciduous trees. Challenges are the ever present deer, our short growing season in Zone 5, and gardening on a slope in the rear of the house.

It’s still a work in progress: hardscaping is done by landscaping professionals, but all 400+ perennials and shrubs have been planted by this 60-something!

My goal was lots of evergreens, since we can easily have more than four months with no signs of new vegetation. I also like weeping, cascading plants. No pyramidal or columnar shrubs for me!

So there’s lots of Pieris japonica (Zones 5–8), junipers (Juniperus species), Russian cypress (Microbiota decussata, Zones 3–7), a thunderhead Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’, Zones 5–9) in the front and a few cascading pines, cotoneaster, and weeping hemlocks sprinkled in. There are lots of perennials, including ferns, sedges, grasses, and some pachysandra. I brought a few daylilies and Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum, Zones 2–7) from my old house in Valley Forge, both of which require deer spray but are worth the effort.

I feel I still have a ways to go: there are blank places to fill! But I feel after seven full growing seasons that I’m at the point where I can start dividing some of the original plants.

Having a garden full of mature trees can be a challenge, but they make a beautiful backdrop.

A mixture of shrubs and perennials makes an interesting carpet of various textures.

Russian cypressRussian cypress makes a beautiful trailing carpet of evergreen foliage.

Perennial plants, with a hint of water beyond

Container plantings add life to the deck seating area.

This is a garden that feels like walking through a natural woodland, in the best possible way.


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View Comments


  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 11/15/2019

    Love your use of stone for retaining. I need to take a page from your book about the use of evergreen materials for those months of nothing green.

  2. btucker9675 11/15/2019

    Love your property - like being in a park! The rock edged terracing is so attractive and sits in the landscape like it's always been there.

  3. wittyone 11/15/2019

    I love the look of your wooded property. All that shade necessitates careful well thought out plant selections and it looks as though you have made good choices. I really like the Russian cypress and am so glad you mentioned it specifically. It sounds like a good candidate for a shady or semi-shady spot and most evergreens seem to need a lot of sun to do well.

  4. User avater
    pattyeckels 11/15/2019

    Wow! You really had some thinking to do to make your gardens look good. Looks wonderful. Nice PA mountain landscaping.

  5. nwphillygardener 11/15/2019

    It appears your house lies to the south of this hillside garden. What I notice is that while the evergreens growth seems to push outward more uniformly, the perennials appear to be growing to the light….uphill. For those plants with cascading habits, we might expect them to be growing downward toward the lake. But it appears even the Hakonechloa (aka Japanese Forest Grass) are arching to the brightest spot. So I imagine any perennials that flower might be all the more showy when viewed from the house above.

  6. cheryl_c 11/15/2019

    Good garden ideas in a very difficult location! Shady slope! I also have one area like that, combined with limestone bedrock outcroppings and have turned it into a small Japanese style garden. Your gardens have a similar understated beauty. Thanks for sharing!

  7. User avater
    simplesue 11/15/2019

    I'm impressed with your photos and that you are in your 60s (me too) and planted all those plants. I agree with your thoughts on "a garden that feels like walking through a natural woodland..." is a really nice feeling. Very pretty!

  8. User avater
    meander_michaele 11/15/2019

    I'm especially intrigued with the dark maroon leafed plant on your deck...the one next to the what I think is the elephant ear.

  9. user-5348488 11/15/2019

    from the gardener Deb:
    Thank you for all your kind comments.
    The captions underneath are actually written by the FG editor.
    The maroon foliage on the deck is coleus - I do a pot every year, changing the colors each year. Oddly, this summer’s didn’t bloom. Also in that photo are the elephant ears - another staple each summer, and papyrus in a pot of water, which I purchase from a pond store. Safe from the deer!

  10. User avater
    AnnaMartinez 11/19/2019


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