Garden Photo of the Day

Three Years in a New Garden

Sharing progress in making a garden

My name is Suzanne Hens, and I’ve been gardening for twenty years in North Carolina. I moved three years ago to Raleigh and have slowly been transforming a blank canvas with planting beds. Since our soil is mostly clay and had impermeable landscape cloth under mulch, I’ve been working to amend the beds with lots of compost to improve drainage, nutrients, and soil life. Finally I think my soil is good and my plants are happy. I have mostly shade beds, and I love gardening there for their coolness and subtle beauty.

Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, Zones 6–9) were moved into wine barrels and placed at the woodlands edge. Now they are covered with blooms, while one plant changed colors from pink to blue! (Editor’s note: Hydrangea flowers change colors depending on the acidity level of the soil they’re planted in. In acidic soil, they are bluer, and in alkaline soil, pinker.)

astilbesI’ve been planting Astilbe roots for several years now. Finally this year they are not only growing but flowering. It must be all the spring rain. This picture shows two astilbes along with bear breeches (Acanthus mollis, Zones 7–10).

shade gardenThis bed originally had sun-loving plants, which must have been planted before the trees grew. Now it gets only dappled light, so we transformed it into a shade bed. A few of the plants include ferns, aucuba (Aucuba japonica, Zones 7–9), hostas, Pulmonaria, and magenta New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri, annual) for a pop of color. My favorite plant is the autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora, Zones 5–11) that my mom gave me. I divided the clump into two with a reciprocating saw!

purple CalibrochiaI just love the color contrast in this annual container with BullsEye geranium (Pelargonium × hortorum ‘BullsEye’), purple Calibrochia, and a dark foliage dahlia.

Lastly, my newest shade bed that gets morning sun is filled with hostas, astilbe, Pulmonaria, daylilies, roses, Camellia, azaleas, irises, and pink rain lilies (Zephyranthes) under the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, Zones 5–9).


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  1. User avater
    FlorenceThibodeau 11/26/2019

    It's beautiful!

    1. shens 11/26/2019

      Thank you!

  2. User avater
    meander_michaele 11/26/2019

    So glad your autumn fern survived its dividing and seems to be's such a great type of fern. And I couldn't help but notice what I think are some acanthus stalks with blooms sharing the picture with the astilbes. I have an acanthus with great foliage but I guess my growing season isn't long enough to ever make it to the blooming stage...lucky you.

    1. shens 11/26/2019

      Yes, those are acanthus. It took a few years before they bloomed. It's in part shade.

  3. User avater
    treasuresmom 11/26/2019

    So very pretty. Love that acanthus bloom!

    1. shens 11/26/2019

      Me too. The cool thing is that the plant forms colonies, so I have new plants growing around the mother. It's said that even if you move it there is a high chance of leaving a root behind that will form a new plant. That's happened to me and it gives me a chance to share this beautiful plant.

  4. User avater
    simplesue 11/26/2019

    Look'n good! I know how hard it is to correct crappy garden soil. Looks like you finally got the soil healthy, cause all your plants are thriving beautifully! Nice job, beautiful garden beds!

    1. shens 11/26/2019

      It took a lot of compost, soil conditioner, and determination

    2. shens 11/26/2019

      Nothing that hard labor and many baths can't fix. Damn Fine Gardening for making me ocd on gardening. Just kidding. I couldn't live without it.

  5. btucker9675 11/26/2019

    What lovely a lovely garden you've created with your hard work. I'm south of Charlotte and dealing with the awful clay - such hard work! Your success gives me hope... Happy Thanksgiving to all!

    1. shens 11/26/2019

      I did remove some clay from the soil and amended the rest. Clay has many minerals and keeps things moist.

  6. Sasha_HMS 11/26/2019

    o help you evaluate how much sunlight will be available where you want to plant in a new garden, there is a new app in the Google Play Store which tells you how much sun or shade any point in your garden has. Low introductory price. Try it out at:
    You can even use it in the winter by turning on the "simulate foliage" mode. Have Fun!

  7. Cenepk10 11/26/2019

    Lovely ! I covet your shade ! I have a few shady spots that giant oaks don’t sap every bit of moisture & goodness from the soil where I grow astilbe & bleeding hearts. Such a beautiful garden you’ve made. Loved seeing it !

    1. shens 11/26/2019

      You can grow astilbe in dry shade? Next to this bed, there is a large tree that also has very dry soil with many aerial roots. The only thing that has survived that site is hellebore and ajuga, pulmonaria would probably work as well. Thanks for the cudos.

      1. shens 11/26/2019

        I ain't an English teacher, kudos!

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