Garden Photo of the Day

Paradise in the Mountains

Overcoming rocks and clay to make beauty

Today’s garden photos come from Debbie McDonagh. Debbie says:

My name is Debbie McDonagh, and I garden in the mountains of Upstate New York, Zone 5a. I have many challenges in my garden, the first being the tough clay soil, which filled with rocks, rocks, and more rocks. My property sits up on a hill surrounded by trees, and it backs up to acres and acres of woodland. The deer love to visit, as do the bears, coyotes, and countless squirrels, chipmunks, and birds. I wake up in the warmer months to fresh country breezes and the wonderful sound of birdsong. I have been living in the mountains for 16 years now and never once regretted my move from New York City—I am a country girl at heart and always have been.

Welcome to my garden!

This is the back side of my veggie garden. The evening primrose (Oenothera sp.) grows rampant here; it’s a bright spot in an area that used to be a dumping ground when the previous owners were here.

I start cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus, annual) from seed every year—they are so easy! This year I’m trying four new varieties and can’t wait to get started!

We took out the dogwood that used to be in the center of the garden. It never ever bloomed; it wasn’t good for Zone 5a. I replaced it with ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ Zones 5–8) surrounded by hostas. I absolutely love my Japanese maple, and it’s truly the showpiece of the front garden now, as it should be.

More evening primrose at the entrance to the veggie garden. The arch has two types of clematis and ‘New Dawn’ roses climbing on it. I am forever tucking in annuals in the beds outside the veggie garden for added color. Mine is a true country garden!

I added lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus, Zones 3–8) to the garden this past season. Here’s hoping it survived the winter, but if not, I’ve already started more from seed.

Papa’s garden is my latest transformation. My dad bought me a Pinky Winky® hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata Pinky Winky®, Zones 3–8) for my 50th birthday less than three months before he passed away. This garden is where I come to talk to my dad and remember him. It’s my tribute to him, and the first thing I see out of my bedroom window in the mornings.

I used a lot of red, white, and blue in my containers last season, a tribute to my dad’s veteran status.

Bee balm (Monarda didyma, Zones 4–10) adds a welcome splash of color to the late summer garden.

The butterflies love my garden, and I love seeing them flitting about on a sunny summer day.

Nigella (Nigella damascena, annual) has the most bizarre looking seedpod, like a space alien.

Gloriosa lily (Gloriosa superba, Zones 8–10 or as tender bulb) is one of my favorite climbers. It has such unusual form, and those bright colors would bring a smile to anyone’s morning! I grow it on the arch on my deck that spans my two herb boxes. It’s a most welcome sight first thing in the morning when I step out my door.

I hope you enjoyed this walk around my garden!


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View Comments


  1. mjensen 03/20/2019

    beautiful, lupins are one of my favorite

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      Mine also! I'm trying to grow some from seed this year so I can add them other spots in the garden - wish me luck!

  2. sandyprowse 03/20/2019

    Just absolutely delightful. What a garden! I could almost smell the soil and garden. Very touching and heartwarming. Well done!

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      Today we can nearly smell the soil, on this first day of spring - the temps are in the 50's! I'm anxious to get out there and start spring clean up but the weather has not been agreeable!

  3. katherine_8 03/20/2019

    Thank you for the tour of your garden, Debbie. What an incredible job you've done teaming so many beautiful flowers, bushes, and trees together. What a sight!! It all looks so natural, effortless; however, we know that's not the case. In particular, I love the tributes to your dad and his veteran status. Here's to another season of your spectacular garden :)

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      Most definitely not effortless, Katherine, you're right about that! I could use a team to help me out at times, and the older I get the more I could use that help!

  4. User avater
    treasuresmom 03/20/2019

    Love it all. Wish I was your neighbor. I understand how plants passed on/gifted to us from our parents mean so much. I have them here from my mom who passed away 8 years ago this coming Friday. She truly had a green thumb.

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      My mom is a huge gardener also, and she and my Dad did so much work to their garden through the years. I obviously inherited that trait from them!

  5. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/20/2019

    Loved your photos and accompanying commentary, Debbie. How special that your dad gifted you with a plant that brings you joy and keeps his memory close. Your garden "shed" is super charming and I can well understand what a treat it is to look out on it when you start your day. I don't think I have ever seen a Gloriosa lily...quite exotic and spectacular looking. Do you dig up its bulbs each fall and winter them over or start with new ones each spring?

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      They also brought me a beautiful lilac when I first bought my house - it's planted next to my little garden cottage also, so I really feel Dad's presence there. You can dig up the Gloriosa Lily tubers and store them in the crisper drawer in your fridge to plant again in the spring - sadly the last time I had them I forgot to do that so I ordered new ones this year.

  6. paiya 03/20/2019

    Debbie, your garden is so beautiful,,colorful yet tranquil. Your father must have enjoyed it too. The glorious lily is truly glorious, and so are the other plants. Do you have high fences around the perimeter if your garden or only around the vegetable garden - even that is so pretty

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      Sadly my dad was too ill by the time I bought my house to enjoy my garden....I would show him photos, though, and he followed my blog to see what I was up to also. I wish I had a big fence around the perimeter, that would be wonderful!! But no, just around the veggie garden.

  7. anibanani 03/20/2019

    I love that you take closeup photos as I also do. Each flower has a beauty of it's own that isn't seen when looking at the whole picture, which is also very beautiful. I'm sure dealing with rocks and lots of critters is difficult, but you have found a way.

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      So true!! I have two close up photos from my very first blog post that I had blown up onto canvases - they are hanging up over a sofa in my house and they bring a bit of sunshine to the bleakest winter day!

  8. btucker9675 03/20/2019

    Your garden is a true delight - colorful and full of personality! A couple of birthdays ago, my Dad gave me a check and "bought" me that exact same hydrangea. It's in my front border, but if we sell this house, I will pot it up before anyone sees it and take it with me. Thank you for this garden stroll. The nigella seed pod looks like it might say "Feed me, Seymour"!

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      I can't imagine leaving this house, but I'm sure some day I will get too old to take care of it any longer....but for now I'll just enjoy every minute I get to spend out in my garden! And yes, you are so right....FEED ME!!! It's bizarre, isn't it?

  9. User avater
    simplesue 03/20/2019

    Nothing better than a morning coffee and a garden tour! I really enjoyed the photos you shared. It's such a different world and different type of challenge living around so much wildlife that you describe. And how peaceful to wake up to. I'm inspired by your Evening Primrose, they look amazing and I can't say I'm familiar with the until I saw them in your garden!

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      I can't wait until the days get warmer so I can start my mornings with an actual garden tour!! It's the first thing I do every morning, and the first thing I do when I get home from work....after I take care of the pups, of course!

  10. buckleez 03/20/2019

    Thank you for sharing your lovely garden. Papa’s garden is especially sweet. I too speak to my departed parents and pets when I garden. Call me goofy, but a day in the woods always brings me closer to those who have gone ahead of me; I suppose it’s just being in the midst of Nature’s never-ending cycle of growth. Thanks again from your fellow 5a gardener and best wishes for a colorful and fragrant spring.

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      I think I feel the most connected to him out in nature, I feel his love all around me. Nice to 'meet' another zone 5a gardener - anything budding in your neck of the woods yet?

  11. hazyhill 03/20/2019

    Debbie - I also live in upstate NY on a hill, with clay soil, rocks, more rocks, and deer! Your garden is beautiful. I'll have to try the primroses - I assume the deer don't gobble them up? I know they don't touch Monarda and so far they have left my Lupines alone.

    1. DebbieMountainMama 03/20/2019

      So you know the challenges for sure!! Every time I dig a hole I dread it....I just know I'm going to be sore as heck by the end of it! One little hole can mean pulling out 50 rocks!! I tend to buy my perennials in smaller sizes just so I don't have to dig big holes! The evening primrose is super easy, and it spreads....but not in an annoying way, because it's so easy to pull out and replant elsewhere. I have shared it with some fellow gardeners at my local farmers' market...the critters and the deer leave it alone, which is awesome.

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