Garden Photo of the Day

Stepping Behind the Fence

By Kim Charles

Caroline Dickson and her husband Matt create an unexpected "back alley" garden in Vancouver, Canada


"As I wander into my back alley in boots and a raincoat, I am reminded of the gift of rain.
The flowers are fading away and the plants retreat into their dormancy. I walk into our
back lane several times a week, as many of us do, to take the garbage out. Raincoat on,
a random pair of shoes found by the back door, bag in hand. The alley is a forgotten
place, a world where cars quickly dive into garages, neighbours take out the trash and
cats wander. Unintentionally, the ground becomes neglected and we forget this
untapped extension of our homes. Stark and untended, this rugged road is a world of
garden opportunity. It is a place of community, a shared experience for our neighbours,
where colour and plant life can add so much character.
I tried my hand at adding some life to our alley this year. The back lane as we also call it,
is where the trash cans live, home to gravel, ditches and rogue weeds. Adding soil and
a trim of stray rocks, I created a small bed, nestled beside our city garbage cans and
cracked blue recycling boxes. What arrived after tilling the soil and hopeful planting was
a glorious surprise of colour and vivacious life.
In a space we often neglect, the colours tempted cheer and pleasure on that dreaded
garbage walk. It sparked conversations with neighbours I hadn’t talked with in ages. It
brightened up our once plain fence and suddenly the kids were willing to take out the 
trash. The back alley is a place of low expectations, a blank canvas ready for creativity.
For those willing to take a few steps behind the fence, a world of garden joy awaits you".


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View Comments


  1. frankgreenhalgh 11/09/2016

    Hello there Caroline & Matt - Congratulations on your innovation and initiative in transforming an ugly alley/back lane into an interesting and rewarding garden space, which has considerable social benefits. Well done and thanks for sharing. Cheers from Oz.

    PS. Total shock and disbelief down under at the result today. This is because Aussies value women, the US/Australian alliance, international trade and credibility/standing, stable policy, informed and sound judgement, and a multi-cultural society. I understand that most of you guys won't agree with the general Aussie position based on your voting today, but the decision is going to have major ramifications for us and the rest of the world. For example, the Aust. Securities Exchange crashed with a loss of A$70 billion on the election news. Enjoy your gardens because it is going to be a rocky road ahead for all of us.

    1. wGardens 11/09/2016

      Yes, Frank, I totally agree with you. It is frightening, to say the least!

      1. frankgreenhalgh 11/09/2016

        Thanks Margaret - There was intense interest here in the result, and we are simply gobsmacked! I cannot repeat some of the jokes circulating now. Cheers, Frank

        1. user-4711274 11/09/2016

          omg, we'll never be taken seriously again... you have to laugh, right? Right?

          1. frankgreenhalgh 11/09/2016

            There is a real danger that instead of making America great again, your new boss will make it the laughing stock of the world - let's hope your previous comment is right, and he will listen to and act on good advice. Have a look on social media for some ripper jokes about the election result. Cheers, Frank

          2. Meelianthus 11/09/2016

            Good or bad this is NOT a political blog! The people have spoken - so let's be with both Clinton and Trump in their time of need.

          3. user-3565112 11/09/2016

            I agree with you & thank you & the others who have spoken out about the inappropriate comments . I enjoy this blog to no end but some of this is sickening.
            Thank you & good luck, Joe

    2. user-7007498 11/09/2016

      Our political system is so broken, and our politicians only focus on themselves, their special interests and their party. They no longer serve the people. Their was no choice this election, it was to be a bad outcome either way. But to elect a person with No character???

      1. frankgreenhalgh 11/09/2016

        Hi Kev. - There is also a lack of real political leadership elsewhere in the world, and it is an indictment on the systems involved. It seems that power is the driving force for a lot of our politicians. I don't know the solution, but I do know we are now in for a difficult 4 years. I'm concerned about a trade war developing and threats to economic growth globally etc. I guess we just enjoy our gardens and watch it all unfold. Cheers mate

    3. User avater
      Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 11/09/2016

      No argument here, Frank.

      1. frankgreenhalgh 11/09/2016

        Good on you Tim - we are dealing with a smart GPOD community here!

    4. user-4711274 11/09/2016

      I really don't want to bring a political discussion to GPOD, but I had to comment... please know you are not along in your shock and disbelief. I'm personally fearful and embarrassed. What would he had to have done or said not to get elected? It's like the dog who chases the truck... what do you do when you finally catch it? But it's time to rally together and help him the best way we can. There's a lot at stake. We can only hope he accepts the help. And that's all I'll say about that. Deb from the deep South

      PS. Please PRAY FOR RAIN for the American southeast. Fires are popping out all over and the drought is extreme to exceptional (the worst possible). I know how California feels now. I know Australia is no stranger to dry conditions.

      1. frankgreenhalgh 11/09/2016

        Hi Deborah - Nice comments and yes I hope that he listens to advice etc., but leopards don't change their spots. And yes we know about bush/wild fires in SE Australia. Unfortunately, climate change will increase the risk of such devastating fires. Your new boss is also a climate sceptic, which raises another problem. Hope you do get rain to help control your fires Deborah - Cheers from Oz.

    5. sheila_schultz 11/09/2016

      This is a very sad day in the US, Frank. Many of us are grieving and fearful of what has been set in motion and what is going to happen to the future of our country and it's people.

      1. frankgreenhalgh 11/09/2016

        Lovely to hear from you Sheila - pity under such circumstances. Nightmare on Elm Street is nothing compared to this! Cheers, Frank

    6. User avater
      LindaonWhidbey 11/09/2016

      Frank, in shock here,too. Watching the futures plummeting last night as the returns came in was most depressing. It's good that we garden as we may have to live off of our own land for a few years. Sorry world.

      1. frankgreenhalgh 11/09/2016

        Hello there Linda - looks like there are lots of those dingbats/drongos in your neck of the woods. It is a crying shame for such a great country to be in this position. We are also really worried about the repercussions of some of the new potential policies (if you can call them that) on us. It appears to us that your new boss is a mile wide and a fraction of an inch deep i.e. all show and no substance. Cheers from a depressed Oz

        1. Meelianthus 11/09/2016

          This is NOT a political blog! The people have spoken - so let's be with both Clinton and Trump in their time of need.

    7. grannieannie1 11/09/2016

      Watching the results early this morning was a horror, Frank, for those of us who love our US multi-cultural and multi-racial mix. I dread going to help this evening in our church's English as a Second Language course and seeing the sad Hispanic faces of folks who are very hard-working, doing jobs nobody else wants, while trying to adjust and fit into their new country.

      1. frankgreenhalgh 11/09/2016

        Lovely comments GrannieAnnie - We too feel for you guys and your multi-cultural communities. Cheers from Oz

  2. wGardens 11/09/2016

    Wonderful idea ... looks good and the social benefits are great!

  3. User avater
    treasuresmom 11/09/2016

    What a great idea and a very good way to bring color to an area that is typically drab.

  4. user-7007498 11/09/2016

    Great job in brightening up a non-traditional space. Beautiful selection of plant material. Well done. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Chris_N 11/09/2016

    Beautiful. I love when people try to brighten up wasted areas. I've seen vacant lots turned to community gardens. Another blog writer spoke about working with neighbors to turn a weedy street corner into a flower garden. I grew up with alleys and was always happy to see people planting marigolds and zinnias outside their fences. Thank you for brightening our day and your neighbors lives with your colorful garden.

  6. NCYarden 11/09/2016

    Cheers for the guerilla garden. All splendor when we brighten any spot in and around our gardens & homes with beautiful plants. Everyone benefits. Well done, and thanks for doing this.

  7. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 11/09/2016

    Love what you've done and the Aconitum is beautiful. I have an alley behind my house, too. I've dumped plants out there that can take the harsh conditions and it looks better than weeds, but you've raised the bar and challenged me to do better.

  8. sheila_schultz 11/09/2016

    What a gift for your neighbors, and I would guess the garbage truck drivers, too! I'm betting they are extra careful when picking up your garbage... no more tossed bins without a care!

    1. User avater
      Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 11/09/2016

      I wish our garbage truck drivers were a bit more careful, but honestly, our alley is so narrow that they don't have a choice sometimes about driving up over the plants. Stalwarts and cheap plants only out there!

  9. Plantstuff 11/09/2016

    I thought this was about gardening. Whatever your political views are they do not belong here.
    Could we a least give the person that was elected a chance to prove himself. Remember the AMERICAN dream. You could be whatever and whoever you wish if you set your mind to it. I believe in dreams! We are nothing without them sometimes it is our dreams that carry us through challenges in our lives. They could be small such as planting a garden to large as becoming the next president.

  10. grannieannie1 11/09/2016

    Well done! The bees surely enjoy the blossoms as well as the neighbors. All that's lacking are some chairs to sit and enjoy the beauty!

  11. User avater
    meander_michaele 11/09/2016

    Wonderful transformation, Caroline. You modestly share that you tried your "hand" at adding some life...ha, well, I'm no poker player but I'd say that based on your photos, you ended up with a royal flush . The combination in the 4th picture is just stunning. What is the plant providing the vibrant purple?

    1. user-6536305 11/09/2016

      The purple flowering plant is Aconitum napellus, monkshood.

      1. User avater
        meander_michaele 11/09/2016

        Thanks for the id, Lillian. Do you happen to grow it? If so, does it save its bloom period for this time of year or is now a second flush for it?

        1. user-6536305 11/09/2016

          No I did not grow it. I heard it is very difficult to bring it to bloom. I run out of room - total about 2500 square ft of garden space. I wish I could try. I am at a point that I have to remove a plant in order to plant another one. So many plants so little room!

          1. User avater
            Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 11/09/2016

            I'm with you, Lillian. Sometimes it is 'out with the old, in the with new' plants!

        2. User avater
          Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 11/09/2016

          I think most Aconitum species that are similar to this are late summer or fall bloomers. As far as I know, they don't do a second flush. Mine are blooming now, but I don't remember which species they are.

          1. user-7007498 11/09/2016

            Tim, I am surprised it grows for you in Ohio. I always thought Aconitum needed cool summer nights with abundant moisture and good drainage (much like delphiniums).

          2. User avater
            Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 11/09/2016

            It doesn't grow well. I don't remember the species I have, but if it is napellus, that could explain a lot. It starts growing in January with lush green leaves, grows tall by early summer and slowly dies off all summer, leaving a few to flower in October/November and makes several offsets on every plant, dead or alive. I have an endless supply of plants a few flowers-I thought perhaps it was diseased.

  12. schatzi 11/09/2016

    Gorgeous plants - great job.

  13. Cenepk10 11/09/2016

    Love American beautiful...Great share !!!!

  14. wittyone 11/09/2016

    What a wonderful idea you have had. So many plant out the front yard to impress and entertain the passing traffic. It's an inspiration to plant out the forgotten spots that can encourage the few who happen upon them. The monkshood is just beautiful and the beauty berry behind it makes for a wonderful color combination.

    Makes me wish I had a back alley to work with.

  15. greengenes 11/09/2016

    This is a great opportunity to grow more and make the neighborhood beautiful! Your neighbors probably really enjoy this compared to dark walls and pavement. Maybe this will catch on with them and they will follow!

  16. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 11/09/2016

    Caroline and Matt, what a nice thing you've done for your neighbors. Lane walks are always a fun thing to do when we're visiting our daughter in Vancouver. I'm sure that the clematis paniculata gives off some great scent for those taking out the trash.

  17. user-6536305 11/09/2016

    Beautiful work and writing. Love the purple and white combination. Thanks for sharing.

  18. ctplantguy123 11/10/2016

    What is the yellow blooming plant in the first photo? Very nice. I'm a fan of monkshood, too. Great plant for fall color.

    1. user-6536305 11/10/2016

      I would guess it is Hypericum calycinum St. John's wort. Hope it is valid.

  19. user-4691082 11/10/2016

    What a beautiful idea. I have never seen a mature monkshood. What zone are you? I've never had any luck with it.

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