Front Yard 2015!


Last summer, I put a lot of work into carving out a front garden in the space on the left side of my house. There’s a little over 30 feet of yard there, just hanging out next to the front porch. My lot is pretty wide for Kingston—75 x 100 feet—and one of the challenges with it (aside from shoveling in the winter) has been figuring out how to effectively use the space while balancing the need to maintain original features like the low wrought-iron fence and keep the dogs contained and give the backyard space some privacy. The best solution that I could come up with was to install a 6-foot tall fence about 20 feet behind the original low wrought-iron fence and dub that area a dog-free front yard, like so:


The problem was, all I had was a bunch of grass and weeds, a huge clump of hosta, and two scraggly rhododendrons. I know there are more economical and soil-enriching ways of eliminating grass than just digging it up (sheet mulching is pretty cool and makes lots of sense!) but in this case part of the goal was also the bring the level of the soil back down. As it was, the entire bottom of the wrought-iron fence was below-grade and rusting, and the sidewalk was being overtaken by surrounding soil and grass on either side. Excavating the entire area down a few inches was a huge pain in the butt, but I’m really glad I did it!


I worked on the garden in a couple of phases—starting near the new tall fence and working my way toward the sidewalk. I threw down a path made from broken pieces of bluestone from the backyard, and put enough plants in the ground to make it presentable enough without spending much money.


Because I transplanted and split the hostas during the summer, they did not do particularly well. I sort of saw that coming so tried to remember that in a few months they’d die back, and then this spring they’d be like new plants! Some plants are more finicky than others about when they can be moved and split, but I’ve always found hostas fairly indestructible.

Anyway, I think that’s kinda where we left off?  This spring/summer I planned to do more work on that side of the yard than I really have, but I’ve done a few things. Mostly, though, nature’s done the heavy-lifting and it’s starting to kind of look like a garden or something! There are still a million things I want to do and change (I’m sure there always will be), but even the way it is now makes me pretty happy. I feel like I’ve done something good for the house and the street, and I’m excited to see it develop as the years go by. Gardening is funny because it feels so low on the priority list during a major renovation project, but it’s also the thing that takes the longest time to mature and start to actually look good.


After living with the space between my sidewalk and the wrought iron fence planted and mulched for a year, I noticed that the mulch tended to get spread around onto the sidewalk by wind and dogs and probably people, so this spring I decided to take action! I’m not really a fan of black plastic edging in general, but it seemed like the best solution for here. The sidewalk stones are pretty irregular so something too rigid wasn’t really an option, and I figured that I could bury it fairly deep and keep it looking as minimal as possible. Plus, it’s cheap!

Using a small spade, I dug out a 6″ or so trench next to the sidewalk to create a channel for the edging. It took a while and was no fun.


Here we go! I don’t love the way it looks, but it’s very functional and looks…fine? Nothing gorgeous but it does keep things neat and tidy. This was back in May so the hostas were just getting going and I’d just mulched.


Here’s the same area a couple days ago. The hostas are all done flowering for the season but the foliage is still nice to have around, and it’s nice to see them all full and happy after last year! There are honey locust trees in the strip between the sidewalk and the curb…if you’ve ever lived near one you know those tiny leaves get EVERYWHERE and are kind of impossible to keep out of flower beds and whatnot. I don’t really care, but I feel like the creeping jenny kind of gets lost because of it and would be better off somewhere else.


I took this picture of a house a few blocks away because I think their hosta hedge would work really nicely in front of my fence. It’s the same situation—a bunch of hosta planted in front of a low metal fence—except they spaced them much closer so they don’t really read as individual plants, which is SO MUCH BETTER than what I did. I don’t want to screw with the hostas again before they’re done for the season, but in the fall I’ll transplant the creeping jenny elsewhere and split all of the hosta and plant them much closer together so that it’ll look more like this. When they mature, hopefully they’ll cover the plastic edging and it’ll all look very lush and nice and it’ll be great? I’ll let ya know.


Anyway, the rhododendrons bloomed back in May, too! The rhodos in front of my porch are old and nicely established, but they’re also weirdly tall for their location and look sort of scraggly to me most of the time. They’re quite nice for the few minutes a year when they bloom, though!


It really seemed like the smaller of the two rhododendrons bit the dust during the winter. I thought it was my fault, but my tree dude who took down the big maple in the backyard said that last winter was just so cold that a lot of people’s rhododendrons died. I came *this close* to cutting it down and digging up the stump, but then…


That mo’fo’ came right back! It got all this new growth and even bloomed and it was sort of amazing and impressive. Good job, plant I don’t even really like!

It sounds like Rhododendrons can respond well to fairly aggressive pruning, so I think I’m going to attempt to get these guys growing lower and fuller over the next few years.


This is not a good picture, but I started a boxwood hedge last year that wraps the porch and stoop foundations. These were little $7 boxwoods from Lowe’s (“winter gem” variety) so it’ll be a few years before they really fill in and start to be hedge-like, but they’re doing pretty well! I think it’ll be a nice traditional element to ground things, and it’s nice that they stay green year-round. Grow, boxwoods, grow! Several people have told me that propagating boxwoods from clippings is super easy, but I gotta say I tried it last year and it was a total fail. I think I’ll just stick with buying the cheap ones.


Anyway! Here’s an idea of how things were around mid-summer last year. All thin and limp and sickly. I value these qualities in a man but not in my garden.


And here we are this spring, just after mulching and stuff! Everything I was sort of worried about by the end of last summer came back! The hydrangeas in the back are happy and all the hosta grew in nicely, although I think I’m going to move all the hosta to the “hedge” and out of the main space. Too much hosta.


And here we are a couple days ago! It’s been a dry August (the whole summer, really) and I’m still not in a great watering habit, but nevertheless things have been filling in and doing OK. It’s fun to see how much growth happened in a couple months!


I think I may have been too aggressive with splitting the irises, but they did all return! Only a few of them bloomed, but the ones that did were really pretty. These were transplanted from somewhere near the garage last year—I’m glad they survived! I love irises—I hope to add a lot more in different varieties over the years. The flowers don’t last that long but the foliage is nice and sculptural too, and I like that they’re a very traditional plant.


The false indigos are doing REALLY well. I think this is one of my favorite plants now! There are two, and I’d say both of them have at least doubled or tripled in size since last year. The flowers are so lovely while they last, but I love that the plant maintains such nice minty foliage until well into fall. They love the sun and don’t really seem to need any extra water, either!



The bleeding heart comes and goes pretty fast, but it’s such a pretty early bloomer. The entire plant is spent by about mid-July so I just cut them back to ground level and forget about them, but they’re so pretty while they’re in bloom and the foliage is nice until it dries up and dies.


I always kind of forget that I have lilacs in the front yard! They’re right next to the fence between my property and the neighbor’s and they’re super top-heavy so they kind of flop down into the neighbor’s yard. I pruned them quite a bit last summer and this was the first spring that I’ve seen them bloom! I’m going to try pruning them more in a couple weeks and see if I can get them to fill out next year.


Those three little clusters in the foreground are autumn joy sedum, which are fun to watch over the course of the summer! Above is how they looked back in May…



And here’s couple days ago! Autumn joy indeed! It’s nice to have that bit of color low to the ground.


The peony I planted last summer came back nicely (I think it had a total of one flower, though), and a couple little tiny peony plants sprouted up adjacent to it. I think maybe I planted bulbs last year but I honestly can’t really remember—I planted a lot of bulbs but I definitely did it way too early and none of them really came in. Ah, well. Better luck next time!


This was labeled a “wine and roses” weigela. I planted three of them in a clump sort of in the middle of the yard and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next year. The foliage has a lot of deep purple in it and I guess they’ll have little pink flowers and be 2-3 feet tall and wide.



The most recent addition to the front are a couple of oak-leaf hydrangeas I picked up on sale at Adam’s. I’d never heard of these until a few people suggested them in the comments last year (thanks, guys!) and I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for them ever since. I dig the foliage on these guys. I’m pretty sure they won’t bloom until next year, but I’m glad they’re in the ground and getting comfy.


Is that enough rambling about plants? I know the garden has a lot of filling in to do and it’s looking pretty hodgepodge (probably because it is!), but I’m counting the fact that stuff is alive and mostly doing well as a victory regardless. I think if I just keep futzing with it and adding a few things every year, it’ll start to take shape and really look like something? That’s the whole plan so I hope it works out.

What kind of plants would you add to this space? Plant suggestions are always welcome!

About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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  1. 8.25.15
    Adrien said:

    You have such a green thumb!



  2. 8.25.15
    Donna said:

    Nicely done garden areas! I particularly like the black edging next to the sidewalk since I’m a big fan of black in the garden–it just disappears (at least for me). I like the idea of the hosta hedge. Just select the plants that you really like for some reason (it might be beauty just in the spring or year round because all of it is intensely personal). I am a huge fan of hostas and dailyness…but I’m in Zone 6 and deal with high levels of summer humidity and these plants do well in that. I also think the oak leaf hydrangeas (and they come in all sizes in case you want to use them in the backyard) are a great idea–I especially like the peeling bark in the winter.

    Anyway (as you would say). It all looks quite good and a lot of fun. Look forward to seeing pictures next spring and summer.

    • 8.25.15
      Daniel said:

      Ohhh, I’m not even sure I knew about the peeling bark! That sounds so nice! (and thank you!)

  3. 8.25.15
    Katie said:

    Daniel, the sheer amount of work and love you have put into this yard and your home is just incredible. The results are stunning and although you might feel like it can always be better you gotta know you’re a huge inspiration and your vision and effort always come through effortlessly. It’s just beautiful. Keep it up!

    • 8.25.15
      Daniel said:

      Thank you, Katie!

  4. 8.25.15
    Jaclyn said:

    This is the third summer my husband and I have been in our house and to this day we REALLY regret not hiring a landscaper the first year when we were already hemorrhaging so much money and just getting all the landscaping basics set in place. It’s so hard to wait for things to establish themselves!

    I think a nice, low mounding Japanese Maple would look really nice up toward the low gate between the false indigo and whatever the other tree is. Although, it looks like you may have some peonies there in one of the photos….

  5. 8.25.15
    lisa said:

    I love your garden ramblings.
    You might enjoy this site if you are looking for ideas & visual inspiration.

    • 8.25.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks, Lisa! There’s some great stuff on there—I’ll have to look at it more later! I love those English gardens that are just overflowing…sighhhhh. Must plant more things!

    • 8.25.15

      Ben has incredible posts – they go on and on and show incredibly gorgeous english gardens (which have lots of help !) definitely inspiring. as is his own garden (its huge) and landscaping around his country home. its a joyous blog to read.

  6. 8.25.15
    Karen said:

    Mother Nature sure does shine in that closeup of the bleeding hearts. Just stunning. Wonderful job all around!

  7. 8.25.15
    threadbndr said:

    Your peonies will take a couple of years before they really start blooming. They are a plant that takes a bit to get established and unlike the hosta , they don’t like being moved and divided.

    Your garden is looking really lovely. I like the idea of the hosta hedge. Too bad I don’t live closer, I’d take the extra ones off your hands in a heartbeat.

  8. 8.25.15

    wow! so nice to see the growth and change! some ideas:
    1 do you like those fir/pines/whatever trees that are casting so much shade?
    if you dont really need them ( i cant see that they hide much of the neighbor?) i would cut them down – that will open up the light on this section so much. then you can plant more perennials that need more sun … echinacea, delphiniums, hollyhocks – wouldnt they be pretty against the black fence?
    if not then i would look into FERNS – no really – Ferns are AMAZING. since half my garden is shade from a 100+ft maple tree (damn) next door… i have learned to embrace the shade and am in love with FERNS!!! they come in all sizes and colors… lots of colors…

    other ideas
    1 camellias – yes, there are winter hardy camellias – i have six in my wee garden – they stay green all winter and have gorgeous blooms- check out Camellia Forest Nursery – you can order them now and get them in the ground fast however if you want to wait til early spring it might be better – they do better with at least two full seasons in the ground before winter. there are many shapes and sizes – and bloom times.. and some are very fast growers – i could also see some dwarf camellias where the rhododendrons are near the front door – lots of nice green thru the winter – with gorgeous blooms. or a bigger one on the right side of the house as you face it – to balance the porch and the other garden – camellias can grow rather large and are beautiful plants.
    2 weiglea – you already have this – btw they will take over – they are very aggressive and will grow fast and spread – but thats not bad.
    3 butterfly bush will also spread out and fill in. and great for bees and butterflies (natch)
    4 roses – not the fancy fussy ones (tea hybrid etc) but nice old fashioned shrub roses – that would be nice along the wrought iron fence – and climbing rose along the fence with your neighbor – or a trellis perhaps along the side of the house? there are many that are low maintenance… and ever blooming. see Knockout brand.
    5 perennials – there are tons that you can sprinkle thru out those beds – monarda, echinacea, daisies, yarrow, delphiniums!!! a great source and local (well Ithaca) is GRACEFUL GARDENS – a wonderful mail order with cottage garden perennials, annuals and lots of delphiniums … droll over her gorgeous photos and FABULOUSLY low prices. yes you get baby plants the first year – but believe me they will take off and in a few years (like two) you have beautiful mature perennials. (i have too much shade to order all the plants i want from her, her annual prices are great too)

    another idea – you probably know this – go to upscale nurseries in your area – wander around – most of the shrubs and perennials they stock will be those that will thrive in your region – NOT HDepot or Lowes, they truck plants in. your local nursery will have plants that will grow and they are a great source of info. even if you just wander around and get ideas..

    its so exciting to see the changes here from unkempt and unloved to tidy and loved! can imagine your neighbors are pleased as well!

    • 8.25.15
      Daniel said:

      Thank you (as always!) for all the suggestions and words of encouragement! I’ll definitely check out those sources! Love the idea of camellias and hollyhocks and delphiniums…everything you’re suggesting, really! I want to take the front garden in a pretty traditional, classic direction so this is very helpful!

      I don’t love the two pine trees, but it also seems like a shame to cut them down since they’re reasonably healthy and established…I’ve considered it but other areas of the yard (in the center where the new weigelas are and near the path) actually get a LOT of sun, so I’ve kind of felt like leaving them be and working with the shade (YES to ferns! I feel like I never see them for sale but maybe I’m at the wrong places, or I’m just overlooking them?) underneath them might actually make for a nice mix of sun/shade-loving plants, you know? Admittedly I also like having the evergreens in the winter but I suppose that could be compensated for with different evergreen kind of shrubs to obtain the same effect. I’ll keep mulling it over! :)

    • 8.25.15
      Megan said:

      if you make friends with a neighbor with ferns, they might split them for you. My next door neighbor gave me all of the ferns that I have planted in my back yard. It helped her yard to have the ferns thinned out. Maybe you’ll get lucky and score some free ferns too!

    • 8.25.15

      agree about the trees. you could do a lot with a combo of ferns and other shade plants – there are lots – but ferns are so graceful and elegant and i think would go well with the style of your house and the garden.

      here is a great website for ferns and hostas…
      he has gorgeous plants and lots of three for specials.. also how about some ferns mixed in with the hostas on the hedge? just an idea.

      I heartedly encourage the investment in evergreens … they really anchor your garden. its hard to spend the money to get decent even just medium sizes when all the other “buy me” plants scream at you – but in the long term you will be happier with your garden with some of them planted strategically.

      to see my wee garden – check flickr – sogalitno … there are only about a million photos (uh, not kidding) and in the nine years (may 2006 was the birth-it was a weed strewn yard) lots and lots of things have been tried.. and the landlord has given and taken away spaces so that has made it evolve in ways it would not have done if i had full rein. anyway, lots of trial and error… and its ongoing (latest is the destruction of my echinacea by mr groundhog sigh – the landlord wont let me put a gate so he has a clear pathway into the garden). since i have such a wee space i do a lot with vines – clematis, honeysuckle, morning glories (which seed everywhere).

    • 8.25.15
      Cindi M said:

      Daniel, what do you call the guy who walks into the pool hall and pretends he knows nothing? Well, yeah, you supposedly knew nothing and wow! Great job. It looks wonderful. BTW Christmas fern is evergreen and is native to your region. It’s slow growing so get a few if you can find a dealer.

    • 8.26.15
      Luna said:

      In a shady part of my garden this summer where ferns and white bleeding heart are planted I planted some white impatiens (not the waxy leaf kind) in front of them. They loved the shade and the flowers peeped hrough the ferns which was nice against the green of the ferns. I love green and white in the shade so the white impatiens flowers replaced the earlier flowering bleeding heart. In another area I planted some salvia guarani ‘black and blue’ Thes plants were relatively small when I bought them but they grew ENORMOUS (almost 4 ft tall and at least 3 ft wide)very quickly and haven’t stopped flowering all summer. The flowers are a deep purple, almost black in the beginning and then open up into a beautiful vibrant blue. Also the leaves stayed fresh and pretty. I think they make a great background plant.

    • 9.10.15
      Kate F said:

      You probably won’t see this weeks and weeks later, but you still need to visit the house, and I have literally ACRES of ferns you can help yourself to. Bring a bucket.

      (I love all the yard updates. And I’m into shade gardens–you may want to look into buying a couple fancy hostas to mix in within your fence and leave the uniform ones to the hedge by the sidewalk. I’m crazy about the blue varieties, some with awesome dusty bumpy leaves that are almost round, but they need true shade or they turn green.)

    • 8.26.15
      Rasmus said:

      Daniel, I’m very envious of your progress. It’s looking lovely, and I’m sure it’ll be even more beautiful, as the plants settle in.

      I have a butterfly bush in my garden. It’s not a very attractive plant, and the flowers last little more than a month. But the swarms of butterflies, humming bird moths, bumblebees and other beautiful insects has saved its life. It’s *so* lovely in summer, when it’s an inter-species community center. There’s something magical about a garden with a variety of butterflies, and they do a marvellous sort of mating-flight-dance around the plant (I’m not a biologist, so they may be two males fighting, but I’ve chosen to interpret it as loving affection).

      The plant grows incredibly fast, so it needs to be kept in shape. In february I build a raised bed around it, so I cut it down to a few branches. I didn’t expect it to flower this year. But going into autumn it has more than doubled in size, and once again my garden was the place to be for pollinators.

  9. 8.25.15
    Annie said:

    Lovely Daniel! I think your garden looks awesome, I esp love the wrought iron gate! Add several bunches of daylilies in a few different but complimentary colors! YES. Also, to add some visual interest and height, you could add a simple, wrought iron stand that a large pot fits into and plant some kind of hanging wonderfulness in it. I did this in my own front flower garden (here in southern Maine) and put a large pot of Lantana Fuschia in it– a huge attraction for butterflies and humming birds which, I think, is an integral part of any garden. (We get to watch them from the front porch of the house) Just me two-cents!! :) Keep up the awesome work!!

  10. 8.25.15
    ericka said:

    Looks great Daniel!

  11. 8.25.15
    Karyl said:

    Love all your work and it’s going to be so lovely when mature. You might consider removing the spindly evergreens–they have a tendency to acidify your soil and suck up all water which might thwart the long-term beauty/success of the garden. Otherwise, I love coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’–USDA zones 5-8) since it’s striking, especially during winter when you need a little red to cheer up a bleak winter landscape. Dogwoods are also beautiful too and would suit your area. Black-eyed susans and cone flower look right at home with bleeding hearts, hydrangeas, hosta, and false lily of the valley.

    • 8.25.15
      Daniel said:

      Wow, the coral bark maple is really striking! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one! I don’t love or hate the evergreens, but I do like that they stay green in the winter…but I’ve definitely noticed the water-sucking aspect. It’s hard for me to think about taking down perfectly fine trees, but maybe down the line. The tree guy also warned me that there’s something affecting pines up here and they might up and die regardless, so that would make the decision pretty easy!

  12. 8.25.15
    Maura said:

    I love seeing the progress in the garden!!!

    You probably know this, but if you prune the lilac in the spring, right after blooming, you’ll leave it plenty of time to grow and set buds for next year. Of course you can prune now, but you won’t get many (or any) flowers next season.

    I put an oakleaf hydrangea in my garden this year too! The fall foliage is supposed to be yummy; I’m looking forward to it!

    • 8.25.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks for the tip on the lilacs! I looked this up not that long ago, too…I must’ve gotten it mixed up with something else! Noted! Next year, then. :)

  13. 8.25.15
    Erin said:

    First of all, I enjoy your posts very much. Before I became disabled I gardened outdoors. I also loved to walk through other people’s gardens. Thank you, Daniel for this visual stroll.
    I treasure lilacs. They are a beauty and aromatherapy thing for me. Prune lilacs in the spring, after they flower. If you do it now you will be cutting off next year’s blooms. Incidentally, picking the blooms constitutes as a light pruning. Removing suckers from the base and if desired, replanting them into pots might be something you can do now.

    • 8.25.15
      Daniel said:

      Thanks, Erin! I’ll hold off on messing with the lilacs! Maybe I will try to propagate the suckers…it hadn’t occurred to me but I’d love to have more of these in the back!

  14. 8.25.15
    nans said:

    Please don’t prune your lilacs now. They form next year’s blooms weeks after their blooms die off. If you prune now, you won’t have blooms in the spring. Wait until next year, and google to find out the right timeline.

    • 8.25.15
      Daniel said:

      Thank you, Nans! I stand corrected! For some reason I thought I read late summer/early fall was the time to do it, but I’m clearly losing my mind. Ha!

  15. 8.25.15
    steph said:

    So lovely! I have a place up in the Catskills that is probably a similar growing zone and I too am going for that overflowing English cottage look. I think you should give your side yard a few years and you’ll be close!

    A couple of plants that you can definitely add that are perennials, like that zone, and are bee-friendly are:
    – lavender bushes
    – anise hyssop (tolerates shade)
    – creeping thyme (tolerates shade) this may be a really good idea to plant in between the stones on your path. They will spread and also don’t mind being walked on so look into it!

    I also think that giant rosemary bushes would do well, even though they’re herbs, but they are certainly cold friendly and would do well filling out some more gaps in the garden. Hope this helps and keep up the awesome work!

    • 8.25.15
      Daniel said:

      Thank you, Steph! For some reason I didn’t know rosemary was a perennial—I love that idea!

    • 8.25.15

      lavendar along with the hostas might be an idea.for the hedge.. thats a nice sunny spot and the lavendar would love it… or all lavendar… !

    • 8.25.15
      Ryan said:

      There are only two varieties of rosemary that will survive your winter: Arp and Madeline Hill. Just to be safe, I’d also plant it against a south facing wall that will radiate some winter sunlight back to the plant. I jealous of all the big rosemary plants in California but I want to try and get one established in my snowy winter location.

    • 8.26.15
      Luna said:

      OOh yes rosemary! such beautiful little flowers and the light bright green of the stems/leaves and a divine smell!

  16. 8.25.15
    kayce said:

    Yay, I love your garden posts. I am so jealous of your hostas and lilacs. They don’t grow in my zone, and I love them so. We are starting work on our yard next month and though I’ll be putting in very different plants (tropicals!), this is still hugely inspiring.

  17. 8.25.15
    Trish said:


    So loving your garden! That’s a heck of a lot of work and it’s paying off. I would look at adding coneflowers, meadow sage and lambs ears. All add color and texture and are drought resistant. Btw have you visited Deborah Sulver’s excellent blog Dirt Simple? Lots of inspiration there.

    • 8.25.15
      Daniel said:

      Nice, I like all of those! I’ll check out the blog—I’ve never seen it! I need to start getting into gardening blogs!

    • 8.25.15
      Lisa said:

      Deborah Silver’s blog is the most beautiful blog on gardening I know – and Tara Dillard’s is really interesting, very classical, with a lot of teachings on landscape design.

  18. 8.25.15
    Jen said:

    It looks like you have a lot of shade…ferns and lily of the valley are both lovely for the shade (lily of the valley spreads like mad, and will quickly fill in any “bald” patches), ferns *I think* look woodsy and sort of mysterious/prehistoric in a good way in a mixed bed.

  19. 8.25.15

    ok hopefully the last post today – but i love gardening! anyway do you know about the OPEN DAYS for gardens? The Garden Conservancy gets private gardens to open on certain days… so you can see what is growing and get design ideas in your area…

    as for gardening blogs – there are tons… have fun exploring!

  20. 8.25.15
    Gillianne said:

    Lookin’ good! It’s definitely coming along. If you’re into birds and bees and butterflies, you might check out rose of Sharon–a hummingbird magnet–along with the usual red and bright orange blooms of, say crocosmia and trumpet vine (beware planting trumpet vine too close to a foundation). You can keep rose of Sharon pruned to bush height or let it become a tree. For rapidly disappearing monarch butterflies, milkweed, its host plant. It, too, can be invasive through amazingly persistent underground runners, so it’s good in a container or area it can take over. Bees love lavender, and it grows in handsome clumps that look good for months; also good dried for scented sachets (a nice house gift and pillow-topper for guests). Ditto suggestions on creeping thyme, kill-proof coneflowers, good old Shasta daisies. Easy-care classic perennials. For shade, add coral bells (heuchera), which come in an endless array of leaf color from lime to deepest purple. Sage is also cold-hardy even in Vermont, as are marjoram and oregano. And parsley is often a reliable self-sower: plant once and have parsley forever. Your neighbors and garden centers can add to your good instincts about what thrives in your climate and can give you a long season of interesting height, shape, texture, and color in your garden.

  21. 8.25.15
    Kari said:

    You are killing it in the curb appeal department this summer!

  22. 8.25.15
    Lorraine said:

    Great Job! You know the gardening adage for the first 3 years of plants: Sleep, Creep, Leap. And they will leap in Year 3. I thought your front garden would benefit from a nice bird bath. They are great for the butterflies as well. So many in different materials.

  23. 8.25.15
    Laura said:

    It would be great to add some Hakonechola macra (Japanese Mountain Grass). It has a great color (goes well with the other plants you have chosen) and would be a nice textural contrast. It looks great all through the winter (unless it’s covered by snow…sigh), and other than being cut back in early spring really needs no other care.

  24. 8.25.15
    Jolene said:

    Looking so good!! I did an overhaul of my flower gardens when we moved in three years ago and this year it’s all filled in and almost too crowded! So hard to believe in the beginning that it will fill in so much. Don’t worry about cutting back your irises too much! They propagate all on their own SO well! I’m terribly jealous of your beautiful bleeding heart! I’ve managed to kill at least five of these so far! I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!

  25. 8.25.15
    Zoe said:

    I just got into Balloon Flowers this year and I LOVE THEM. I also have some fabulous ornamental thyme (it’s called Tiny Dancer, which is weird) that is beautiful and simple and I cannot kill. Lastly, hardy geraniums. You must get these, they are amazing.

  26. 8.25.15
    Paula said:

    Dont know where you find the time to do all this!!

  27. 8.25.15
    jannike said:

    Your garden is looking great!
    I have a tiny, shady front yard with a small pathway of stones. I planted creeping jenny at the edges of the stones and after a few years it has filled in all the cracks between the stones. I also have a wrought iron fence and two Emerald Gaiety Euonymus. They are low-growing shrubs with variegated leaves. I have one green and white and another green and gold. They like to grow up along the wrought iron fence and do well in shady areas. Other plants that have survived my lazy gardening are astilbes and ferns. Maidenhair Ferns are especially lovely.

  28. 8.25.15
    Camilla said:

    As always, such a gorgeous post! I’m really digging (ha ha ha) the hostas and definitely like the idea of having them closer together to look more like a solid fence.
    And the black plastic you put down to keep the dirt in looks really good. I really like it! It makes that section look finished and will be so good when you don’t have to worry about dirt running onto the sidewalk.
    This was such a nice little update, it’s exciting how much has happened in the last few months. Really feels like the house is starting to come together :)

  29. 8.25.15
    Susan C. said:

    Smoke trees are very pretty, but I checked and they may not be hardy in your part of the country. Mock orange would be okay, and smell great.

  30. 8.25.15
    C. said:

    Everything’s looking good, Daniel, so keep on adding and experimenting–that’s how you become a gardener! But one warning: late Summer/Autumn is NOT the time to prune shrubs that bloom in late Spring, like rhododendrons and lilacs. One of the best ways to prune these is simply to cut lots of branches in full flower, and enjoy them indoors. Then you can further shape them by pruning just after they finish blooming. Pruning now can actually limit or even eliminate next year’s flowers. Pruning almost any woody plant now will lead to the production of tender leaves that will sap the shrub or tree’s strength, and die back.

  31. 8.25.15
    C. said:

    Oh–just saw the other comments about pruning. Sorry, didn’t mean to gang up on you, but glad you got the message!

  32. 8.25.15

    Looks great!
    Maybe I’m too much of a farmer at heart, but I’m partial to edible plants and herbs. Could be a nice addition to your garden.

  33. 8.25.15
    Lindsay said:

    Some favs, all work well with part sun/shade:
    1. Hakonechloa-“Japanese Forest Grass”. I have one that’s acid green…bright spot in a shady garden!
    2. Japanese Painted Fern. Love these–purpley/silvery, divide ’em up!
    3. Heuchera-“Coral Bells”. Soooo many varieties and colors.
    4. Allium! Bulbs you can plant in the fall–big purple (or white) globes on tall stems. The blooms don’t last terribly long in spring/early summer but I love them. And they look great dried!
    5. More hosta! I agree you should get rid on the ones in the yard, too much of the same varietal for me. But you could always add others–maybe variegated?
    6. Wild ginger. Pretty ground cover but if your ground is too dry this might not do well. My creeping Jenny looks pretty awesome mixed with this.
    7. Japanese Maple would look pretty awesome too.
    Ok, I’ll stop now :-)
    P.s.-Oakleaf Hydrangea also bloom on old growth, so don’t prune till after they bloom. The blooms look great as they “age”–turn a pretty pink/russet color.

  34. 8.25.15
    Lindsay said:

    Astilbe, how could I forget astilbe?

  35. 8.25.15
    Lisa said:

    No plants to recommend, others have come up with great ideas. Only to say, you might want to think about more of the same, using plants in waves, and drifts, and building up height in the back of your garden with shrubs.

  36. 8.25.15
    Emma said:

    The garden is looking so great! Love the oak leaf hydrangeas and iris and the hosta hedge is a great plan. Rhododendrons might take a couple/few years to really fill in again, but definitely do well with harsh pruning.

    I would say keep the trees and try some fun shade perennials. I agree with all those who suggested ferns. There are so many types and they are all gorgeous. Some do fine in dry sites and some can only survive if they have a lot of moisture, so just do a little research before you buy anything. The classic big ostrich ferns would fit in well with your house and do well in dry shade. Two other great perennials for dry shade are Epimediums and Helleborus orientalis/Lenten Rose, both of which are evergreen to semi-evergreen (the hellebores more so than the epimediums). Hellebores also have fantastic super long-lasting flowers in late winter/early spring. A really cool perennial that likes slightly more more moist shade is Rodgersia–hard to find, but the leaves have amazing architecture and some varieties have bronze or burgundy tinged foliage. The flowers are nice too when they’re there.

    I have a million favorite shrubs, but I would recommend you check out winterberry holly (need at least one male plant) and ninebark.

    I also agree with the comment about planting in waves or drifts. Plants always look better in masses. Good luck!

    • 8.26.15
      Emma said:

      Oh and a traditional garden ornament like a stone birdbath or glass gazing globe on a pedestal could make a nice focal point. I’m not sure if such a thing would be at risk for getting pinched though.

    • 8.26.15
      Emma said:

      How many times can I reply to my own post without making me seem super obsessive? I just want to add that the trees on the left of the photos look like hemlocks, not pines, while the tree hanging over the back fence looks like a Colorado blue spruce.

      Happy gardening!

  37. 8.26.15
    Kate said:

    Daniel, I think I say this every time I comment (not often enough), but this is the best post ever. :D This time, it’s the best because I have been through (word for word), so much of what you have with your yard — same hosta and rhodo situations, too. And I still have a much longer way to go because our yard is larger, partly hilly, and overrun (vines, icky alien-looking tubular weeds, etc.) in several places.

    This post not only gives me hope and inspiration, but a deep respect for what you’ve done. And as always, a good laugh or three along the way. :)

    Ooh — if you have an Agway, or if your local grocer has plant racks out front to compete with your Agway (or local gardening center), pick up some end-of-season hostas that look pretty much dead. They’re half-price and sometimes even free. Unpot them, split the roots into threes or fours (a cleaver works great for this, and don’t worry about tearing off or saving leaves), plant them in early fall and cover them up with lots of mulch, and in spring they will jump up like they were born there. It’s almost like you planted hosta seeds in the fall — magic.

  38. 8.26.15
    Meg said:

    Oh please leave the creeping Jenny there! Remember the rule for perennials: sleep (year 1), creep (year 2) leap (year 3)! By year 3, the creeping Jenny will take over the ground space and you won’t have to mulch as much, except after last frost. The locust leaves will blend in. And you will get that great yellow pop of colour below your hostas. Just try it. If you hate it in two more years, then remove it. My two cents :) Fantastic job elsewhere. Year 3 will be your glory!!!!

  39. 8.26.15
    jessica said:

    I came by to suggest Hakonechloa macra – and I see I’ve been beaten to the punch by Laura. They can take a bit of time to grow in nicely but when they do, they’re very much worth it. There are two well known cultivars, ‘Aureola’ which is variegated and ‘All Gold’ which is a stunning chartreuse. Either of them will do well in your zone – I garden in southern westchester and ours are going strong.

    For garden inspiration, visit Wave Hill in the Bronx when you’re in the city. The gardens are stunning and you’ll come away with lots of great ideas.

    My latest plant obsession (well, one of many) are clematis. They’re not just your big purple flowers growing on a mailbox anymore. Check out small flowered clematis like Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ which has small bell-like flowers that bloom over a long season and will grow up a small bush or shrub quite nicely. I’m growing Clematis tibetana ssp. vernayii for the first time this year and it is absolutely covered with these striking yellow flowers right now. Brushwood Nursery is good for clematis.

    You’ve got a lot of good advice in here although some plants suggested will not be happy growing in your horticultural zone. General advice: double check those hort zones before you plant!

  40. 8.26.15
    Jada said:

    I’m not sure if this works the same in New York but have you tried visiting any wholesale nurseries? In Tennessee all that’s needed is a copy of your business license to buy from them. You may find better deals going that route but it’s just a suggestion. Your yard looks great and makes me want to get a plan drawn up for mine.

  41. 8.26.15

    Hi Daniel…loving it…why don’t you just move the hostas hedge you don’t like to the front where the hostas are you want to fill in more? not sure that sentence makes sense..but I wouldn’t go dividing the healthy looking hostas you already have there…trust me..they will grow big and fill in the space eventually but in the mean time move those other ones….

    Hostas aren’t my favourite but I have quite a few..just so easy to look after…sort of all purpose filler

    plant more lilac…can’t have enough of them…

  42. 8.26.15
    Tanja said:

    Finally! An update on your front yard. Thanks for sharing! Your place looks so lovely.

    Another plant suggestion – Japanese anemones. They are easy to care for and doing great in part sunny spots (they do love morning sun!).

    • 8.26.15
      Gillianne said:

      Yes! As soon as I posted, I remembered Japanese anemones. Thanks for mentioning them.

  43. 8.26.15
    Ashli said:

    Buyer Beware on Rosemary!
    It is a very pungent plant and the oils are easily released from the plant. I wouldn’t plant it where Meko had access to roll in it.

    Another herb suggestion would be sage. There are a couple of tall bushy varieties that will grow in your region, just be aware that thery become sort of tumble weedy over the winter, but are quite lovely up to the first frost.

  44. 8.26.15
    gretaclark said:

    It looks so beautiful. I love dogwood, but maybe for the backyard.

  45. 8.26.15
    Chris said:


    I was going to say three things but it looks like some of the other posters best me to some of them. I echo the lilac pruning advice,

    On Astilbies their blooms are long lasting and come in different colors. They do well/ok in dry shade and add interest mixed with hostas and ferns. There are some varieties now with various colored leaves adding additional interests

    Iris take a bit to establish but will. One of the biggest problems with Iris right now is Iris borer which is a pest from overseas that has no predators here and devastates Iris. Google it so you know what to look for. If you start to have problems nematodes (ie for lawn grub control works wonders)
    Peonies are fantastic and don’t give up. They take several years to get established but once they do its not uncommon to find peony plants living over 100 years. Our own property has an entire peony hedge that was planted in 1918 and literally almost maintenance free for many many years.

  46. 8.26.15
    Lisa said:

    Rereading the comments, wanted to chime in as another voice saying a big Yes to your hosta hedge. There’s a conceptual leap in gardening, in which plants level up from random pretty vegetation to true design elements, and that’s exactly what your hosta hedge would do. Sort of like a leafy carving on a column:).

    • 8.26.15
      Lisa said:

      Oh, and last thing, I promise:). Can you ask Lowe’s, given your relationship, to think about selling plants guaranteed not to have been grown with bee-harming systemic pesticides? Maybe even to come up with native plant palettes for various regions that they could promote? Say, 5-7 plants per area that are a “reference set?” Hehe, promoting an agenda like nobody’s business. Thanks:).

  47. 8.26.15
    Ella Moe said:

    Maybe some Naked Hanging Men for indoors? You did say you liked your men “thin and limp and sickly”.

  48. 8.26.15
    Franklin C said:

    while you were upgrading your yard, looks like your neighbors upgraded their grill

    • 8.26.15
      Daniel said:

      ha! It’s actually just new neighbors. :)

  49. 8.26.15
    Chaucea said:

    Lilacs LOVE to be pruned. If you ignore a lilac for too long, the chance of them producing flowers seems to diminish. This very thing happened to two huge and very neglected lilac bushes in the backyard that I pruned after moving into an old house. They hadn’t produced any flowers that year, but the next year, they explodernated! I had massive bouquets of lilacs in every room of the house. The scent was fantastically overpowering and I relished every moment of it! :D

  50. 8.26.15
    John said:

    I’d suggest that you plant a lot more densely.

    1. If your peony isn’t blooming, check to see how deep you planted it. The eyes should be only about 1-2″ below the soil. If you planted it too deep, now is the time to lift it. When you’re shopping for peonies, try to find the ones that are rated good for landscaping, they won’t flop over and won’t need support. They’re best purchased from a peony specialist, I like Hollingsworth. Also try some peony trees.
    2. You can get bulk packages of hostas from Mary’s Garden Patch, cheap!
    3. I think you could use some anemone, which many garden centers will be getting in over the next few weeks. I like Margaritte and Whirlwind.
    4. You need some grasses in there, provided you have enough light.

    Also get some zinnia seeds and maybe some white marigolds (unless you like the orange ones). They are super simple, just plant 6 seeds per foot in rows, wait for them to come up and thin to 1 plant every 8 inches.

    That’s my advice from New Paltz!

  51. 8.26.15
    Eileen said:

    Looking fab-u-lous! There’s some great advice in the comments too. I would caution against the woody Mediterranean herbs like rosemary and lavender in your area. After the last couple of harder than normal winters here in DC (zone 7), there was a massive die-back of those. Even whole hedges that had been established for decades. Lavender also breaks easily under snow. Around here butterfly bush (certain cultivars excepted) has been put on invasive species lists. While it does attract pollinators, since it is not native it’s like feeding them junk food. Oh, and beware of trumpet vine. My neighbors have one and I am constantly pulling it out of my yard (seriously aggressive deep roots and seeds everywhere – I pull and dig the same plants and there are always more). It has taken over my compost pile and rendered it useless, and bullied several of my plants to death.

  52. 8.26.15
    Tatiana said:

    I like sage! It’s got nice silvery foliage, tiny purple flowers and is virtually impossible to kill. Creeping thyme is a great ground cover plant. Queen Anne’s lace is super pretty and delicate.

  53. 8.27.15
    Cheryl said:

    Nicely done! Remember don’t go too crazy with the hosta hedge, they will fill in before you know it just like your neighbor’s. Soon you’ll be splitting them just to get rid of them because they are too big. Also, look into the variegated type if ypu want some colorful foliage. Good luck!

  54. 8.27.15
    Carin said:

    FYI, the best time to prune Lilacs is just after the bloom, otherwise if you wait to long you will be cutting off the following years blooms.

    The garden looks great. With more dividing, adding a few more plants, it will be full in no time!

  55. 8.27.15
    Jacquelyn said:

    Hi Daniel,
    The garden looks great! I agree with the anemone suggestion, this will give you a nice late summer-early fall bloom. You may want to think about Montauk daisy as well, which while a shrubbier more casual plant than perhaps your house architecture would dictate, also has a late bloom and is very hardy. I also like to use crape myrtle trees because I love the pink bloom (although the white variety is nice as well) and the tree bark is fantastic during the winter and would look great against the black fencing.
    I put in some weigela in 2014 and while it did flower this spring, in the past 2 months it has really taken off so be ready for it to spread.
    And finally, I echo the call for ferns. They spread quickly, and provide texture and architectural interest when mixed with iris, day lilies and hosta. If you have a very shady “what can I do here?” place in the yards, ferns and pachysandra may be your best friends. And yes, I like your idea to group the hostas together; a wave of the same plant is much more impactful than placing them throughout the garden.
    All of this is said with the assumption that you do not have a deer population….hosta + deer = some horrible plant that looks like celery sticks stuck in the ground.

  56. 8.27.15
    Jennifer said:

    I feel like someone mentioned Margaret Roach’s blog A Way To Garden on one of your previous garden posts, but if not, definitely check her out. Her zone is the same as yours. She’s actually having an Open Day on September 19th. I’d love to go (and only $7!), but living in Kansas makes it infeasible.

  57. 8.27.15
    Courtney said:

    Hey Daniel, perhaps someone already mentioned it, but I’ve had a glass of wine and don’t feel into wading thru the comments (but want to make sure it’s said):

    Irises often go dormant for a year after transplant. Many more will bloom next year, I’d bet. They aren’t dead! Leave them – hope it’s not too late.

  58. 8.28.15
    kmkat said:

    Coupla things:
    1. Honey locusts are nice BECAUSE of those tiny leaves — they pretty much disappear into the grass and you don’t have to rake them. (Unlike maple and oak leaves.)
    B. Baptisia (false indigo) is a native prairie plant, so as long as it gets lots of sun it should be maintenance-free. A former neighbor of mine planted one in her yard but removed it after a few years. Her landscaping was tidy and on the formal side, and the baptisia was… informal. Unruly, even. YMMV.
    iii. Plant suggestions: native geraniums (G. maculatum) are low-maintenance and pretty. They grow ~ 8-10″ high, with dainty pink blooms ~12″ high in late spring. Mine, planted in crap soil and with limited sun, have spread nicely to cover the ground in two years. They also grow wild at the edges of the woods here in n.w. WI. Astilbes are another attractive, low-maintenance plant. Nice foliage 6-18″ tall depending on the variety, spreads nicely; flower spikes in late spring/early summer generally pink, but also available anywhere from white to deep red. The spikes dry to brown and you can leave them for winter interest. Coral bells (Heuchera var.) come in a gazillion colors of foliage and size. They bloom at the same time as the others and have lovely foliage the rest of the year. Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) blooms in full summer with the most gorgeous saturated red flowers you have ever seen. All these plants prefer partial sun. For full sun, coreopsis, coneflower, ornamental grasses, old roses (NOT hybrid teas; too temperamental), bee balm (it tends to be vigorous, i.e., it might take over the world if you aren’t careful, but bees and butterflies love it), Oriental poppies (they make spectacular seed pods after blooming), and any of the campanulas (lavender or white flowers) are all good choices. Artemisia ‘Silver Mound’ is lovely all summer; just chop it back in June or so to keep it from getting leggy and falling over. There are a gazillion other artemisias; I used to have one that had silver fuzzy spreading leaves; it grew about 3″ tall and was a perfect border plant.

    Love your blog!

  59. 8.31.15
    Christy said:

    I second the black-and-blue salvia! The salvia are troopers and the hummingbirds and big fluffy bees absolutely love them. I bought a couple and grew one from two tiny seedlings from a friend’s salvia, starting in late June. After pulling them out of her garden, I stuck them in water for a couple weeks and when the root systems got bigger, I put them in potting soil for a couple weeks, and then put the whole thing in the ground. The one I grew is as big as the ones I bought and they have all been blooming constantly. They are inexpensive and since they are easy to propogate, you can get one and from one have many for $5-7. They are the most easygoing plants I’ve ever had.

  60. 9.10.15
    J said:

    Hi Daniel, rhododendrons love to pruned – please check out the factsheet and video on this link –
    Love J

  61. 10.1.15
    Lisa said:

    Daniel Daniel Daniel. Yours is my favorite of all the blogs. I check here pretty much daily for new content (because I’m too old school for RSS feeds or whatever), and it makes my day when there’s a new post. I’m like a dog with an exciting treat and have to immediately find some private place where I can enjoy it on my phone. And then will probably have to enjoy it again later on my computer so I can see the photos better. I figured I should send a little gratitude your way (but if you take this as a super passive aggressive nudge for more content that’s probably OK too. I’m from Seattle.)

    Love, Lisa

    • 10.2.15
      Daniel said:

      Awww, thank you Lisa! Hopefully things are settling down a little around these parts and I’ll have more time to post—I get so frustrated when the lags between them get too long, too! Thank you for sticking around and bearing with me!! :)