Garden Photo of the Day

Tiny Lot, Big Dreams

By Alexandra Dittrich

Jennifer doesn't let her small space limit her from adding in plants she loves. The more the merrier!

"Where most people looked with alarm at the tiny, uninteresting- 3000 sq. ft. back yard of the home we had just purchased near Seattle WA, I saw lush foliage, serendipitous paths and garden rooms! They just couldn't "see" it yet. I wasn't worried…

We moved into our home in September, 11 years ago. As soon as the weather cooled down, we covered every square inch of the grass strip with newspaper and cardboard.
I spent the winter with all my old Fine Gardening magazines open—dreaming and sketching. My husband, the garden workhorse but not the visionary, stood by awaiting instruction at the first signs of spring (what a guy)!

We began creating the bones of the garden. Our budget was small, my dreams were big!  For the paths we splurged on some flagstone but mostly we used the dull side of free recycled granite. We made a small circular patio in one of the "garden rooms."  We got a few inexpensive trellises and an arbor bench and we found a zen like fountain on clearance at the local Fred Meyer. We raised up some beds in various places along the garden paths. We had many yards of lush garden soil and compost delivered and my (then) teenage children hauled it begrudgingly from the front to the back for days!

Then the planting began! First I planted the things I moved from our old home in pots. Next I began perusing Craigslist for free plants and shrubs. I got a lot of what has become the foundation of my garden this way.  My favorite story is the free you-dig ancient Japanese Maple we found on Craigslist—and dig we did, for hours! Please know I do NOT recommend this!!!  But we ended up pulling it out of the ground with our car and a tow rope. It should not have survived, but it did—and thrived nonetheless. It has become my delight and the focal point of my shade garden!

If the truth be told I went hog-wild and planted WAY too many plants. The problem being, I've rarely met a plant I didn't like! And of course I've run out of space, so now 40 pots are nestled among the jungle like foliage! Even in Seattle, a girl must have tropicals that her husband has to help her hoist into the garage each fall.  Plant lust is a real thing.
My garden is lush and crazy, in the summer it smells of mints and phloxes. Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies flit from flower to flower. The Italian plum tree is laden with fruit. The fountain gurgles. Many  of my beloved trees have outgrown their space and my husband says we need to do some chopping.  Yippee, now I can plant something else! I'm not worried… My name is Jennifer MacDonald and my garden is in Bothell, a suburb of Seattle WA. I've been told my garden zone is 7b."

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  1. frankgreenhalgh 08/03/2016

    Well, Jennifer MacDonald, what a tale you tell of your vision for a small yard, serendipity, a workhorse husband and begrudging children, economic landscaping, and lustful gardening to create a lush and colourful oasis - and the story continues. Stone the crows (i.e. an expression of surprise - Don't worry about this Aussie Jen, I'm a few stubbies short of a six pack)!!!!!! A great narrative and reward for your persistent endeavours. Congratulations. Cheers from Oz.

  2. sharongoetchius 08/03/2016

    Hi Jennifer! I absolutely LOVE your story! Your gardens are gorgeous! Your passion is something that I can totally relate to..I think 'us gardeners' are quite passion filled! We have to be...the work is never done ..we always need more more space? Oh, well..something else has to move..or become a gift..and then, finally that feeling when you sit back and breath it all in..and realize that you did it! It's like 'growing another set of children' when your children are all grown up! Thank you so much for sharing?

  3. User avater
    meander_michaele 08/03/2016

    Jennifer, welcome to a GPOD echo chamber of "What a wonderful story and your garden looks fabulous!" Seriously, I loved every word you wrote and actually feel personally energized by your contagious enthusiasm. Is the delightfully curved trunk Japanese maple in the 2nd picture to the end the star of the Craig's List saga? I suspect the joyful and generous color palette of your garden matches your personality and you are a happiness certainly brightened my day!

  4. Jay_Sifford 08/03/2016

    Great job, Jennifer! You definitely have a knack for great color and texture combinations. And having a story behind a garden makes it all the better. Congrats!

  5. user-4691082 08/03/2016

    If only I had done what you did! Planning, planning, and more planning! I think some of us move to a new home and start planting things willy-nilly. ( how's that Frank!) As we learn more, we have to move things, pay someone to tear them out, or find new cultivars we like better...after 27 years, I'm still doing this!!! Congrats on doing it well the first time! Is that a 'Bengal tiger' canna I see? Love your story and your garden AND your husband!!!!!!

    1. frankgreenhalgh 08/03/2016

      Pretty good Rhonda - we also use the term 'Willy-nilly' down here! Definitely potential to make you a 'ridgie didge' or 'dinky-di' Aussie. Yeah, Jennifer's husband should be 'bottled'.

      Please let me know if you guys have had enough slang. Cheers, Frank

    2. Chris_N 08/03/2016

      Rhonda, I think those are Canna Tropicanna. Bengals have lighter colored leaves.

  6. thevioletfern 08/03/2016

    Beautiful! I love the Ancient Maple story. I never thought to skim Craigslist for plants but guess what I'll be doing ha ha. What a lovely retreat from the world. I think the smaller size actually makes it live larger! I wish I could simply haul pots to a garage - I feel every lug of your husband's love! - mine have to go down some stairs into our cellar but I've taken to bulbs I can just dig up and store and well, new, lightweight pots. You have created a paradise and thanks for sharing it!

  7. Chris_N 08/03/2016

    The planning sure shows in the layout of your wonderful garden. If you're a plantaholic, the best laid seem to go by the wayside as more and more plants appear. Makes good bones even more important. Love your crocosmia. It's marginally hardy here in southern Wisconsin. We have to have perfect drainage for it to survive the winter. Mine never have. Like Kathy, my tropicals have to go down to the basement as our non-attached garage can get to 15 below. Unlike Kathy, I move bananas and elephant ears there. We'll see how much longer I can keep that up. Also in awe of your Japanese maple. I can't imagine moving one that size. Please send more photos of your garden!

  8. NCYarden 08/03/2016

    Absolutely fantastic garden and with a story to boot. You've done an amazing job packing and stacking your space with exciting plants. Totally relate to the digging of an established plant you just gotta have. Yes, maybe not recommended, but when successful, so worth it, and maybe even make you consider doing it again - As a huge fan of Japanese maples I celebrate your effort. It looks awesome if I am correctly recognizing it in your photos. It appears you've created quite a private and thriving suburban oasis. So glad to hear you and your husband are a team in this endeavor, also especially seeing that you both seem to "know your roles" - ha! Well done, and thanks for sharing.

  9. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 08/03/2016

    I'll definitely revisit this post. Such a wonderful story and garden. Crammed and jammed with so many great plants all working together. I like your choice of tropical focal points, too. Let me know when you're tired of your old craiglist-find Japanese maple. Several of us here will be glad to come over, dig it up and take it off your hands so that you have room for more plants.......

  10. batyagorin 08/03/2016

    I'd love to see the plan you designed originally that led to this amazingly full and lush garden with so many different rooms.

  11. GrannyCC 08/03/2016

    Hi Jennifer I love your story and your garden. It is amazing what you have packed into a small space and at the same time it looks larger than it is. It just shows that bigger isn't necessarily better just more work. A good lesson to learn as we all have to downsize someday.

  12. schatzi 08/03/2016

    Beautiful, beautiful! Love the lush, happy plantings. And Frank, I always enjoy your comments and your Aussie slang. Keep it coming.

    1. frankgreenhalgh 08/03/2016

      'Goodonya' Shirley.

  13. Cenepk10 08/03/2016

    Gorgeous!!! I want to see more !!! We have all the same plants !!! Your crocosmia is looking a hell of a lot better than mine. Have mine in full western sun. ( i'm so cruel )

  14. user-7008204 08/03/2016

    As I've asked so many times, I sure would like to know the names of these beautiful plants.

  15. lindanewber 08/03/2016

    Hi Jennifer...Love your garden. Like you, I've never met a plant I didn't like either. Last year I built a greenhouse and planted way too many seeds ☺️. I love your tropicals. What is that beautiful red flower? You've done a great job!

  16. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 08/03/2016

    Jennifer, the way that you did your garden is so much better than what we've done. We were more like Rhonda, finding plants that we love then deciding where to plant them and, of course, replant them. I love your story and your plant choices. I think that I spotted a 'Sem' in there, one of my favorite plants and that Japanese Maple against the fence with the contorted trunk is beautiful. Was that the rescued one? Thanks for sharing this good read.

  17. Clarkpark 08/03/2016

    Jennifer, I admire your vision, planning, and hard work. Congratulations to you and your husband. THANKS for sharing your great garden. Patty in eastern WA

  18. sheila_schultz 08/03/2016

    What a delightful story, Jennifer... dreams can come true!!! Your gardens are wonderful and it's obvious they have been designed and planted with a whole lot love! You have achieved your dreams!

  19. user-4691082 08/03/2016

    Thanks Chris, for the clarification! And Frank, we can never get enough Aussie slang! BTW, where's Kevin?

    1. frankgreenhalgh 08/03/2016

      Looks like Kev has gone AWOL, Rhonda. I'll have to stir the lad up, but need to get out to my garden and birds now.

    2. frankgreenhalgh 08/03/2016

      Rainbow lorikeets!

      1. frankgreenhalgh 08/03/2016

        Close up!

        1. User avater
          meander_michaele 08/04/2016

          Absolutely amazing...and to think I get excited when I see a chartreusy yellow finch perched on a coneflower seed head.

        2. user-4691082 08/04/2016

          I want some of those in my yard!

  20. eddireid 08/03/2016

    I'll bet that you are NEVER bored, Jennifer! Having read and pored over your garden, I find that I am smiling. What a treat it all is. We are all plantaholics at GPOD and it's great to gain another pal. Your garden is a lush retreat and you should be congratulated, along with your amazing husband and children. Having decided I really should scale back and buy no more plants you have convinced me (not too difficult) that I need to go shopping!

  21. Sunshine111 08/04/2016

    Lush, gorgeous and beautiful!

  22. bsavage 08/04/2016

    So beautiful!

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