Garden Photo of the Day

You Never Forget Your First Garden

This little 20-foot by 22-foot urban woodland garden was created by Sue Hughes and Marshall Goodwin in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh between 1984 and 2012.

When we bought the property, there were no trees or bushes, just grass, weeds, and some Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata, Zones 4–8) that grows wild in Pittsburgh. A large commercial building next door extended the length of one side of the garden. Luckily, it had no windows, so we nurtured the Boston ivy already growing on it to turn it into a wall of green.

The only access to the garden was through the house, so every brick and bucket of sand/gravel for the patio was carried in by hand. The same is true for the fence materials, trees, plants, ornamental stones, etc.

We did all of the design and labor ourselves.

Instead of plopping down a small square patio in the middle of the level lot, we created planting mounds and an organic-shaped patio. Doing so gave the patio some depth because you had to look over and through a planting mound into a slightly secluded seating area.

Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris, Zones 3–8) and ‘Sum and Substance’ hostas contrast with the darker leaves of the English ivy (Hedera helix, Zones 5–11) used as ground cover.

The trunk of a hemlock (Tsuga canadensis, Zones 3–7) among the ostrich ferns.

The tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera, Zones 4–9) that we planted grew really fast and gave the garden a big tall feeling in that little spot.

We had some pretty deep shade in that garden, so we could never grow sun-loving flowers there. But we found a lot of amazing shade-loving plants that gave this garden its peaceful woodland feeling in the middle of a noisy, traffic-congested, urban area. This is a bamboo (Sasa palmata, Zones 7–10).

In such a small garden, surrounded by the sounds of the city, a small fountain added the relaxing sound of water and attracted many birds. No matter how many you create after it, a first garden will always have a special place in a gardener’s heart.

This was our first garden, and we’ve recently moved and so have had to start all over again creating yet another garden at a much older age. Although the lot of the new house is larger, we found ourselves trying to recreate the intimacy and the feeling of an outdoor room that came from the limitations of our first small garden.


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  1. mainer59 03/21/2019

    What great designers you were in your youth! You could have gone an easier route and not created the planting mounds, especially since you were carrying all materials through your house. What vision! I'll bet your new garden will be spectacular since you nailed it the first time. I love the pictures that included you! Brings back my own memories...

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    meander_michaele 03/21/2019

    It's easy to understand why this first garden will forever stay so memorable in your minds and hold such a special place in your hearts. #1 is that you did a really great job with it and it's adorable. #2 is that you developed and nurtured it for such a significant amount of time and as it grew in complexity and beauty, so did your relationship with each other. Congrats on your successes.

  3. User avater
    pattyeckels 03/21/2019

    Absolutely breath taking! Your pictures brought back memories of my first garden when we lived in Maryland. For 10 years I toiled in it. It was lovely. But, I will give you a hint, dont go back and see what the new owners have done. All my work was neglected and now its overgrown and just ugly. Made me sad. But, I carried on here in South Carolina (I had to get used to the different zone...wasnt easy). So thank you for your memories...I think I still have pictures of my old garden on my computer..I’m going to remember my first today.

  4. nwphillygardener 03/21/2019

    "the intimacy and the feeling of an outdoor room that came from the limitations "
    Thanks Sue and Marshall, for reminding us that what seems like an obstacle can birth some great accomplishments. That garden was indeed special (even if I worry the bamboo might overtake it entirely if it's as vigorous in Zone 4 as it is in Zone 7.) Getting the photo of your fountain with a visiting frog must have been gratifying, and reminds us that water nurtures a variety of living things. I hope you've taken that sweet fountain with you.

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    treasuresmom 03/21/2019

    Oh, my - no words!!!! You need to write a book about your experiences!

  6. DebbieMountainMama 03/21/2019

    Absolutely gorgeous!!! Small but mighty, that's for sure! I do still remember my first garden....I was so naive but I had tons of energy and created a gorgeous space. I hated leaving it behind! My second garden was much larger, and I had learned a few things by then....I created a woodland haven that I had to leave behind once again....I often wonder what's growing in that garden at any given time. Are the thousands of bulbs I planted popping up now? Is my weeping cherry budding and getting ready to erupt in beautiful blooms? Did my Japanese Maple survive in the shady location I had put it? How's the Washington Hawthorne doing over by the shed? Sigh....I didn't miss the house itself, but I could still cry over leaving that garden!

  7. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 03/21/2019

    Really enjoyed your photos and garden story.
    Wishing you all the best in your new gardening environment and all the wonderful memories you will make there.

  8. Sunshine111 03/21/2019

    Such a labor of love! Truly, truly lovely ! ?❤️?

  9. btucker9675 03/21/2019

    What a beautiful secret garden paradise you created! I hope whoever bought the home after you appreciates and cares for it.

  10. User avater
    simplesue 03/22/2019

    Thanks everyone for your nice comments, and sharing your own personal stories about gardening, and gardens left behind! I really appreciate it.
    And thanks Fine Gardening Magazine Staff for the honor of showing our old garden! It was a ton of fun! I love getting the daily email leading to this page of Garden Photo of the Day!- Sue

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