Garden Photo of the Day

Rich on a Little Plot of Land in New Jersey

A starter home and trial garden becomes so much more for a young family

completed garden bed in full bloom

Hi GPODers! Today we’re visiting Dan, who didn’t let a yard with a small footprint stop him from creating a magical garden that has become the perfect space to create special memories with his young family:

My name is Dan Pilla. I am 34 years old and have been gardening for around 7 years. When my wife and I set out to buy our first home, I had visions of owning acres and acres of land with mature trees, pristine lawns, and lush gardens. Unfortunately, our budget only allowed for 1/10th of an acre with one tree, sandy grass, and no gardens in Runnemede, NJ. I was disappointed but determined to make the best use of what we had. So, I grabbed my shovel and proceeded to dig up roughly half of the property.

Knowing that this likely wouldn’t be our forever home, I have used the property as a trial garden with the hopes of trying one of everything. On our little tenth of an acre, I have tried nearly 1,000 different types of flowering plants, shrubs, and small trees. I keep a list of my favorites that will one day be a part of our future gardens.

That said, the garden has been far more than just a place to try plants. As a Christian, the garden has been a place to enjoy the beauty of what God has made. And as a parent, the garden has been a place for my wife and I to make memories with our two daughters…picking cherries and grapes, drying lavender, planting seeds and bulbs, and letting them start gardens of their own.

We may never own acres and acres (and after seeing how much work 1/10th of an acre is…I don’t think I want to), but we are rich on our little plot of land.

gardener digging new garden bedDan in his garden at the very beginning, digging up what will become a long bed full of fabulous flowers.

new garden beds with only a few new plantsEvery garden starts somewhere, and it’s clear Dan had the vision. Some baby plants and a small, bright pink hibiscus pruned into a tree form were humble beginnings.

completed garden bed in full bloomTo a space where flowers of many forms now stand. And do my eyes fool me, or is that the same pink hibiscus still acting as a fabulous focal point in this border planting??

Thankfully, we don’t have to guess about all of Dan’s fabulous plants, because he sent close ups of some of his favorites (though I’m still wracking my brain on how we can narrow it down from the nearly 1,000 he has grown!!).

tigridia pavoniaFirst up, an absolutely out-of-this-world tiger flower (Tigridia pavonia, Zones 8–10).

Anemonopsis macrophyllaSwinging to the other side of the garden spectrum, a soft and elegant false anemone (Anemonopsis macrophylla, Zones 4–8) is no less a show-stopper when these unique blooms emerge in late summer and fall.

Eremurus cleopatraWhile all of these flowers are wildly different in shape, size, and color, I am still sensing a theme. Dan is clearly dawn to the most striking, unique, less-common blooms in the garden. This theme continures on with this impressive spire of ‘Cleopatra’ foxtail lily (Eremurus x isabellinus ‘Cleopatra’, Zones 4–8).

Dracunculus vulgarisAnd Dan isn’t afraid to deal with some less-than-pleasant attributes to enjoy these beautiful blooms. Dragon lily (Dracunculus vulgaris, Zones 6–10) is not for the faint-hearted gardener, with the scent often being described as “rotting meat”. These striking blooms are best enjoyed with nose plugged!

Hacquetia epipactisYet another under-loved gem to wrap up Dan’s list of favorites: Dwarf masterwort (Hacquetia epipactis syn. Sanicula epipactis, Zones 5–7). Just like poinsettias and dogwoods, the outer “leaves” of this plant are actually bracts that help to support the flowers. The interesting forms in the center are little buds about to transform into a cluster of tiny yellow blooms.

Finally, and as Dan mentioned, most importantly, are the memories he has created in the garden with his family:

child picking cherries with fatherThe most handy garden helper showing off a successful cherry harvest.

child holding wormDan showing his daughters that flowers aren’t the only thing worth appreciating in the garden.

family under garden arborAnd a gorgeous background for family photos to boot! What a special space.

Thank you so much for sharing your little piece of paradise with us, Dan! I hope we get another update long before you trial another 1,000 plants 😉


Have a garden you’d like to share?

Have photos to share? We’d love to see your garden, a particular collection of plants you love, or a wonderful garden you had the chance to visit!

To submit, send 5-10 photos to [email protected] along with some information about the plants in the pictures and where you took the photos. We’d love to hear where you are located, how long you’ve been gardening, successes you are proud of, failures you learned from, hopes for the future, favorite plants, or funny stories from your garden.

Have a mobile phone? Tag your photos on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with #FineGardening!

Do you receive the GPOD by email yet? Sign up here.

View Comments


  1. islandlover 07/02/2024

    What a wonderful story! This is what gardening is all about - making beauty, teaching children, memories, making the world a better place. Well done!

    1. DanPilla 07/02/2024

      Hi islandlover, thank you and totally agree with you! The garden has been such a blessing to my family and I!

  2. TheBarefootGardener 07/02/2024

    Beautiful! In my 40+ yrs of gardening, I'm not sure I've grown 1000 different plants. Now I have something to aspire to. Among all the beauties, May I recommend adding native plants? They are beautiful as well. Good job!!

    1. DanPilla 07/02/2024

      Hi TheBarefootGardener thank you so much for your kind words! Totally agree about the beauty of natives! I have many of those in the garden as well, just was limited in the number of pictures to send in. Here are some of my favorite natives in my garden...buttonbush, virginia salt marsh mallow, and california blue bells.

  3. user-7821942 07/02/2024

    Sharing the story of your garden, family, and faith made my day. I love your adventurous spirit in trying so many different plants. You obviously have the gift of gardening - your plants are thriving. Teaching your daughters about the garden and the creatures who live there is what gardening is all about, sharing the love.

    1. DanPilla 07/02/2024

      Hi user-7821942! So happy the story of our garden made your day. The garden has brought so much joy to our little family and I thank the Lord for that. Blessings to you!

  4. User avater
    treasuresmom 07/02/2024

    Love that foxtail lily.

    1. DanPilla 07/02/2024

      Me too...Such a striking bloom and the bees love it!

  5. btucker9675 07/02/2024

    Beautiful garden, beautiful family! That foxtail lily is a showstopper... Glad to see that your daughter doesn't shy away from creatures in the garden.

    1. DanPilla 07/02/2024

      Thank you for the kind words btucker9675!! I am a big fan of the foxtail lilies...I have also tried the yellow flowering Eremurus - Stenophyllus Bungei.

  6. User avater
    user-7007816 07/02/2024

    Love what you have done in a relatively small space. Also like the involvement of the whole family. Well done!

    1. DanPilla 07/02/2024

      Thank you user-7007816! I like how you described it as a "relatively" small space. At one time I would have viewed 1/10th of an acre as a VERY small space....but now that I have to maintain it, I don't feel that way anymore haha.

  7. User avater
    simplesue 07/03/2024

    It's always so nice to see the gardener behind the garden- and garden before & after photos! I enjoy Fine Gardening's GPOD because it's real people making real gardens, and learning as they go without expensive landscape designers or big budgets.
    What a wonderful & inspiring garden, and what lucky little kids to have this influence in their fondest memories of my family & grandparents are gardening together! I'm sure you are making great memories for your kids too!

Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related Articles

The Latest