Garden Photo of the Day

Sallie’s Pandemic Garden Project

Making a new garden bed

finished garden viewed from a second floor window

Sallie Boge is sharing her garden with us today.

We garden in Riverside, a nearby suburb of Chicago (Zone 5a–6b). In April 2020 we constructed two new 11×16 garden beds in order to reduce our Kentucky bluegrass lawn and to add more plants for beneficial pollinators

cutting out the edges of a garden bedMy husband, Mark, used a straight-edge spade to cut the new bed outlines. We also converted the gently curving outlines of the existing perimeter beds into straight edges as well. This required lifting and repositioning many existing perennial and spring bulb plants in the perimeter garden beds.

chunks of lawn and soil cut out of groundIn the above photo, 1×1 chunks of turf grass are awaiting removal. One method of eliminating the turf chunks is to lay them upside down in a secluded corner of the yard and let them decompose over time. Our property is not big enough to have a secluded area, so we sliced off the soil with my garden hand saw and distributed it on top of the existing and new garden beds. Admittedly, an easier way of disposing of the turf would have been to hire a landscape crew to haul it away. But we did this during the first weeks of COVID lockdown, when getting a crew was extremely difficult. Besides, we had a lot more fun and satisfaction completing the project ourselves.

gardener planting in new bedLook at the middle of the photo in the lower foreground. You can see a robin patiently waiting for a “snack” (a worm). A small flock of robins gathered each time we excavated more lawn. One robin even caught a worm that I tossed in his direction! Spending time in nature provides a lot of entertainment.

boxes full of new plants in a drivewayBefore we finished excavating turf grass, 36 Buxus sinica var. insularism, ‘Franklin’s Gem’ (boxwood, Zones 4–9) arrived via Federal Express. After unboxing them, we gave the cardboard boxes a second life: We manage a charity vegetable garden at our church, so we laid the boxes flat on top of the raised beds and covered them with composted cow manure and shredded leaves. If you research “lasagna gardening” you will see that cardboard is one of the favorite foods of worms. It helps improve the soil as it decomposes. You can still plant vegetable seeds after covering a bed with cardboard. Simply poke a hole in the moist cardboard and drop a seed into the hole.

view from second floor window of garden beds being dug outThe above photo from our second-floor window shows the new garden beds partway through the turf-cutting process. The line of boxwood plants is staged around the perimeter of the space. If you are wondering what is in the window box in the lower part of the photo, that is mesclun mix lettuce. Lettuce was one of the foods in short supply in the Chicago area during the first month or so of the lockdown, so we grew some ourselves.

new garden beds with some plants planted and others placed still in their potsIn the above photo, two Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ (Zones 3–8) and the boxwood are already installed in the middle of the new beds, while 56 Nepeta ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ (Zones 4–8) in their white nursery pots are awaiting installation. The nepeta’s main bloom time in our garden is mid-May through June. It still continues to flower through September, especially if I cut away the spent flower stalks, but the color is more muted. We still enjoy the geometry that the mass planting of nepeta creates even if the color is not as spectacular. Many types of bees and butterflies enjoy it too.

close up of various purple flowers in the gardenThe next phase of the project, in fall 2020, involved planting a mixture of hundreds of Crocus chrysanthus (early snow crocus, Zones 3–8) and Crocus vernus (large cupped crocus, Zones 3–8), including the variety ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ and others. We now see and hear early spring bees buzzing around both types of crocus in these beds. We also planted dozens of alliums inside each boxwood parterre. We purchased about nine different allium varieties to obtain a wide range of heights, bloom times, shapes, and colors. There are subtle differences in the varieties. The above photo was taken in spring 2021. I timed the design so that the alliums and nepetas would bloom at the same time.

finished garden viewed from a second floor windowThis photo shows the garden beds in spring 2021. By now there was no problem in obtaining lettuce at grocery stores, so I planted pansies (Viola × wittrockiana, cool-season annual) and ‘Tete-a-Tete’ daffodils (Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’, Zones 3–8) in the window box in the foreground of the photo, which attract early butterflies and bees. The daffodils have finished their bloom in this photo. Since we designed the beds to have space in between each plant, we top off each bed with hardwood mulch each spring to create a dressier appearance, suppress potential weeds, and reduce the amount of supplemental watering needed during what can be some hot drought conditions in July and August. We also had our underground sprinkler system reconfigured to accommodate the new beds and the reconfigured existing beds. If you have an existing underground sprinkler system and are considering changing or adding beds, it is best to plan for the added cost as part of your entire project.

gardens covered in a think layer of snowOur new beds still bring us viewing pleasure during our long Chicago-area winters. We like the shapes the snow creates with the individual boxwood plants and the “frosting” that the snow adds on top of the Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ dried flower heads. We hope you enjoyed our three-season gardening process as much as we did. Happy gardening at your own home.


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. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 02/02/2023

    Fantastic transformation. Thanks for the journey through your garden enhancement. :)

  2. sandyprowse 02/02/2023

    Wow!! Just truly amazing. This is the first time I have seen the person with a shovel in hand creating a garden and ultimately being responsible for such beauty. I thoroughly enjoyed vicariously your journey from start to finish. Thank you and well done! The wonders of a garden.

    1. janetsydoruk 02/02/2023

      What a fab garden. You did an amazing job. Thank you.

  3. User avater
    user-7007816 02/02/2023

    What an amazing and beautiful transformation. Thanks for sharing.

  4. User avater
    treasuresmom 02/02/2023

    How lovely!

  5. User avater
    carolcowee 02/02/2023

    Fantastic record of a gorgeous garden! So inspiring. Eye candy for a gardener’s heart! Great example of choosing the right plants for your zone…

  6. User avater
    simplesue 02/02/2023

    Such a well planned classic formal garden!
    Love the nepeta used in the center with the various bulbs- nice combinations
    It's a great story to read how you two did it it all during Covid and kept busy- even grew some lettuce!
    What a great team you two are!

  7. btucker9675 02/02/2023

    Your "pandemic" garden is fabulous! Love the robins waiting for snacks during excavation.

  8. fromvirginia 02/02/2023

    Lovely transformation. What variety of boxwood did you use?

    1. gardenconcierge 02/03/2023


      We used Buxus sinica var. insularism, ‘Franklin’s Gem’ (boxwood, Zones 4–9).

  9. jos29803 02/02/2023

    I agree, gardening was a great way to get through the pandemic, it was for my husband and I. I love the winter photo, it's so peaceful and reminds me of scoops of ice cream. You and your husband should feel proud of what you created and thanks for sharing.

Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related Articles

The Latest