Garden Photo of the Day

Seasonal Views of a Special Garden in MA

By Kim Charles

Garden in late fall with hydrangea, ornamental grass & sedums.


Ellie Gilbert gives us a glimpse of her garden transformation with that "WOW" factor.

In 2001, when my husband and I moved into our newly built house in Plymouth, MA, the yard was a virtual sand pit, and the hill behind the house was steep and featureless except for a few scrub pines. Something definitely had to be done! 

We began transforming the hill by building some steps from stones that we unearthed on our land. I then added spirea, boxwood, hostas, salvia, and ornamental grasses to both sides of the steps for symmetry. I also transplanted some tiny birch saplings to the top of the slope because they have a shallow and spreading root system that I felt would help keep the hill from eroding. Next came five spreading junipers and some ground phlox, also as a guard against erosion. The shrubs that form the main structure of the hill garden are three tall oakleaf hydrangeas, five 'Rosebud' azaleas, several mophead hydrangeas, two dwarf lilacs, and a red-twig dogwood to mark the boundary of our hill. Over the years, I filled in all the empty spots between the shrubs with perennials — hostas, shasta daisies, threadleaf coreopsis, yarrow, salvia, meadow cranesbill, catmint, and several varieties of daylilies, making sure I repeated the pattern across the hill so the final look would have a sense of rhythm and harmony. 

I've attached several photos of the "hill" garden, my patio garden, and some close-ups of various flowers as well — hope you like them!

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A mix of birch hosta, bleeding hearts, forget-me-nots, siberian iris, & crimson pygmy barberry make up this scene.

Bleeding heart

Scenes from my garden in May: cranesbill, weigelea, bleeding heart, catmint and heuchera.

Daylily 'Summer Wine'

Hill and patio in early spring with cransebill, catmint, azalea & heuchera.


Patio garden with lacecap hydrangea

Oakleaf hyndrangea.

Shade garden at the top of the hill with hostas.

Japanese anemone

View Comments


  1. frankgreenhalgh 10/07/2016

    Hi there Ellie - Thank you for the story of the systematic and well-considered creation of your 'cracker-jack' garden (i.e. exceptionally good - nothing to do with American brand snacks) over 15 years. There is a lovely balanced colour palette, and you have presented a nice combination of close-up and wider view photos. The 'hill' garden adds great character and interest to your garden. Congratulations on the gardening achievements of you and your husband. Cheers, Frank

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Ah, Frank, it's comments like yours that make the hard work of creating a garden like this all worthwhile! Thank you so very much for your wonderful compliments!

    2. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Ahh, Frank, it's comments like yours that make all that hard work of creating a garden worthwhile. Thanks very much!

  2. ptkmwilk 10/07/2016

    Great job with the slope and I love the nice thickly planted and deep borders. Really well done!

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thank you very much, Kathleen...I'm so pleased that you like it!

  3. NCYarden 10/07/2016

    Good morning Ellie. Very stunning. Awesome gardening endeavor. Enjoyed the history of the garden. Any pics of before the wonderful variety of plants went in? Love the trunks of birches. The elevation of the hill is a great dynamic - like a gallery showcase of horticultural delight. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thanks so very much for your comment! You can see more about the "transformation" of that hill in a slideshow I posted at this address:

      1. user-7007498 10/08/2016

        Ellie, I just looked at your slideshow. Awesome job. I wish I had chronicled the progress of my garden over its development in the past 20 years. Thanks for adding it to your post.

      2. Sunshine111 10/08/2016

        Just lovely to see!

      3. terieLR 10/08/2016

        Oh, I love this transformation! SO WELL DONE!!! Your post was the perfect inspiration I needed this weekend. Thank you for taking the time to show us your wonderful property and plant choices.

      4. frankgreenhalgh 10/08/2016

        Hey Ellie - Your slideshow is fantastic. Lovely to have such a record of the transformation of your garden over time. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of photos of my garden (also on a steep slope) when it was mainly bush before I turned it into a terraced garden over a decade - so I cannot match your initiative and forward thinking. Your garden is a real credit to you and your husband.

        I love the quote by Lady Bird Johnson.

        Cheers from Australia

  4. user-7007498 10/07/2016

    Ellie, thanks for sharing pictures of you hillside transformation. You have done a great job with texture, the 2nd photo is great. Wonderful use of color repetition to pull our eye done the long hillside border. Visually pleasing and relaxing. Must be a real pleasure to look out from your house and patio.

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Many thanks, Kevin! I did lots of research on garden design before I began this garden, so that combined with about 50 years of gardening experience helped immensely!

  5. User avater
    meander_michaele 10/07/2016

    I always love when a serene curving ribbon of grass separates lushly planted garden beds and yours are particularly beautiful, Ellie. You must have done some very conscientious soil amending throughout the years because everything looks healthy and wonderfully robust. Your patio garden with the lace cap hydrangeas is dreamy and very, very lovely.

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Many thanks for your lovely comment! Wherever I've had a garden, I've also had a compost bin, so, yes, I do lots of soil amending! Every plant on that hill had to have an extra deep and wide planting hole with lots of compost to compensate for that sandy soil.

  6. Sunshine111 10/07/2016

    I am enjoying your gorgeous garden! I really love the daylily and the purpleish hydrangea in the first picture. What cultivar is it?

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thanks very much, Lily! That hydrangea is called 'Nikko Blue' and its truly blue color in summer morphs into that wonderful purple in the fall. Maybe it has something to do with our acid soil...

  7. User avater
    treasuresmom 10/07/2016

    Love all you have done. The hydrangeas are gorgeous. The anemone is pretty as well. I love it but it hates where I live.

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thanks very, very much! What would a garden in New England be without hydrangeas! I have several varieties...mopheads, oakleaf, lacecaps and dwarf...but my favorites are the lacecaps! What zone are you in that doesn't allow you to grow anemones?

      1. User avater
        treasuresmom 10/08/2016

        Elllie, I am zone 8b, clay all the way to China, hot and humid, dry, and very little winter weather. They hate my garden. I have one in a pot in shade pulled close to the house, but it has almost totally died. I have tried them in the garden as well, but no go. Yours are gorgeous.

  8. greengenes 10/07/2016

    Thanks Ellie for sharing your gardens with us! Your pictures are very beautiful and full of design! I really like how you used low growers on the slope. Very well kept too! All so beautiful!

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Many thanks, Jeanne, for your lovely comment. Truth be told, there is a lot of maintenance involved, but then that's all part of gardening, isn't it!

  9. cynthiamccain 10/07/2016

    Just beautiful, Ellie! I love the color combinations; the overall effect is soothing to the eye and wonderfully harmonious. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thanks very much, Cynthia. I tend to favor pinks, blues and purples...with a touch of yellow as well, and, fortunately, there are some lovely plants in that color range.

  10. caroldt 10/07/2016

    A garden of my dreams! Perfection! I love the long gracefully curving beds and wide variety of plants! Your birds must love the birdbath. It's a gorgeous focal point.

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Many thanks for your comments! Having birds in my garden has always been important to me, so I have several feeders and birdhouses in addition to that birdbath. Their antics never fail to delight me!

  11. chelleisdiggin 10/07/2016

    Wow! Wow! Wow! Ellie, you and your husband have done a wonderful job of transforming the landscape. I love the color palette and your choice of plants; so many of my favorites. Your garden gives me so much inspiration. Thank you!

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I do seem to favor pinks, blues and purples...with a touch of yellow as well, and there are some lovely plants in that color range.

  12. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 10/07/2016

    Outstanding. Your hydrangeas are beautiful, as well as your plantings.
    Your hill gardens with that clean, grass path are beautiful. Great transformation from a sand pit!

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thanks ever so much! I can hardly believe the change myself. I look back at early photos and marvel at how far the garden has come.

  13. GrannyCC 10/07/2016

    What a delightful garden. You hill garden is beautiful. Love what you have done with it all.

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thank you very much!

  14. schatzi 10/07/2016

    Well done. Absolutely beautiful. I have never seen a Heuchera with such pretty pink flowers. Do you know which one it is?

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thank you so much! I have several varieties of Heuchera, but I'm pretty sure that one in the photo is called 'Raspberry Ice.'

  15. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 10/07/2016

    Ellie, what I like best about your garden is the gentle curve, with just a patch of well manicured grass to set off all of the beautiful plants. Your repetition just draws the eye up the hill. Beautiful plant choices and photography. Thanks for a good close to the week. Have a good weekend Gpoders and stay safe all of you in the SE.

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thanks very much, Linda. I find curving beds appealing, too, so I made sure to incorporate them into my garden...

    2. frankgreenhalgh 10/08/2016

      Hey Linda - certainly been a bit windy and rainy in Florida etc. according to reports here. Boy Haiti was hit badly, and is going to need a lot of help.

      I heard your Sec. of State, John Kerry, give a great talk to a UN meeting on the Montreal Protocol and Climate Change a couple of months ago in Vienna. He spoke about the increasing frequency and cost etc. of these events in your country. As an independent observer (i.e. no US political persuasion etc. - except we Aussies are scratching our heads at the moment) I found the talk to be a highlight of the entire meeting. Cheers, Frank

      1. User avater
        LindaonWhidbey 10/09/2016

        Thanks, Frank about the Secretary Kerry compliment. It's hard to believe in light of weather in the last few years and now being able to cruise through the melting polar ice cap that people still deny that climate change is real. It's even harder to have one of those people running for President of the US, not to mention embarrassing. Please know that not all of us in the US are dingbats and that's a term that I'm sure translates the same in OZ. Cheers back atcha, Linda

        1. frankgreenhalgh 10/09/2016

          Hi Linda - We are totally on the same wavelength, including the meaning of 'dingbats' ('drongo' would be our equivalent - see attached). There is a fascinating story around the Montreal Protocol Treaty for the elimination of ozone depleting substances and the creation of greenhouse gases and climate change etc., but this is for another forum. I would never doubt the intelligence of GPOD'ers and other gardeners, but if I may be so bold - the world is nervous and international credibility and standing are at stake. At the same time, we change Prime Ministers at the drop of a hat, so it is a bit like 'the pot calling the kettle black' (if you get my drift).

  16. bsavage 10/07/2016

    Sooo beautiful!!!

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thanks, Brenda!

  17. VikkiVA 10/07/2016

    You have a beautiful garden Ellie! I love the soft curves of your beds and your choice of plant material. Easy to see you have planned for beauty through out the year. Vikki in VA.

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thanks ever so much for your lovely compliment. Having something of interest to look at all through the growing season was truly part of my plan...I'm glad you caught that!

  18. sheila_schultz 10/07/2016

    Ellie, it's obvious that your garden beds have been thoughtfully planned and planted, they are absolutely lovely! The white trunks of the birch visually lighten the look and feel of the slope, and the color repetition draws the eye down the length of the curved beds. Beautiful!

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Many thanks for your lovely compliment. I love birch trees and wanted them to be a part of my garden.

  19. WashingtonLady 10/07/2016

    What a lovely transformation from what must have been. Your choice of plants and their placement is perfect for the site!

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thank you! I did quite a bit of research before I began...

  20. eddireid 10/07/2016

    Your garden is a picture to work towards Ellie. The design, execution and maintenance is truly wonderful. I love the harmonious colors and groupings, too. The lawn is something. I will never achieve, but I shall certainly aim for the rest. Thank you for sharing all your hard work.

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comment.

  21. Cenepk10 10/07/2016

    Stunning.... absolutely stunning!!!! Looks like a coffee table book garden !!!! Great great job with the design

    1. Chalis2 10/08/2016

      Thank you for your lovely compliment!

  22. donna_stiner 10/08/2016

    Thanks Ellie for sharing your garden. Really beautiful. I appreciate that you included the names of the plants. I can now look for some of the same plants for my garden.

  23. Chalis2 10/08/2016

    A million thanks, Diane! Lots of research into garden design (combined with many, many years of gardening experience) went into this project. I'm also a passionate photographer, so I love capturing my flowers both up close and from all kinds of angles.

  24. wGardens 10/08/2016

    Just grand! Great photos. I really like the swath of lawn between your hillside and other garden, Makes both gardens really stand out. Truly an all-season garden. Thanks for posting!

    1. Chalis2 10/09/2016

      Thanks very much for your comments!

  25. deeinde 10/11/2016

    Your gardens are beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed the video of the transformation of the hillside. How wonderful it must feel to look out at the gardens each day!

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