Best In Show. The Garden Will Tell You What Works.

This post is written under the confines of an imminent February snow and freezing rain storm by a gardener desperate for spring.

Grow. Love. Repeat.

As I’m pouring through the seed catalogues and making plans for the garden this year, I decided to be prudent (ish) and base my decisions on what is actually thriving in the new garden so far as opposed to everything else I wish would grow. For me, gardening is not about forcing the river but perhaps about sailing along with it, following its lead. I’m still adjusting to this very sandy soil and learning what it can and cannot grow.

These photos represent the best in show—many of the common perennials that snuck up and surprised me last summer with their gorgeousness.  Given their strength and robustness, it seems only wise to divide and germinate for more.

Bee On The Balm

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Bee Balm

As I’ve mentioned before, I fell madly in love with this purple bee balm and it was the mid-summer highlight of the garden. I’m also swayed by anything that attracts masses of bees and butterflies and this was definitely pollination central.


Hardy Hibiscus

I had never seen a hardy hibiscus until we moved here where they are a common sight in the local gardens. I found this plant struggling in the roots of the pussywillow tree and moved it to one of the  new (compost-rich) garden beds last summer. Sproing! It reached over six feet tall (and wide) and produced these massive globe blossoms one after the next, for weeks and weeks more.

The bad news is… this hibiscus is a magnet for Japanese beetles. They show up in gangs and devour the flowers. Mating and munching and mating some more. Such debauchery! My morning ritual involved taking a popsicle stick dabbed in sticky honey to push the little buggers into a soapy mixture of death. The hope is that the very mild winter last year caused the influx of pests and this more “normal” winter we’re having now will reduce the numbers this year. I’d really like a few more of these plants but not if it means hosting more beetles brothels .



When we were preparing to move from our old house, we were in a deep December freeze and any hopes of bringing favourite plants were sadly abandoned. Except a few I just could not resist. The summer before we moved, I fell in love with this one red clematis (that perfect red—not too light or too purple) and couldn’t stand the thought of never seeing it again. The day before we moved, I spent hours prying the shovel into the frozen, clay soil and managed to dig out a partial clump of roots. It was a hack job at best and I stored the poor plant on the porch of the new house, bundled in a baby blanket, expecting the worst.

Last summer it completely surprised me by springing to life and growing masses of new shoots and blooms. My baby not only survived but I’ve since propagated some shoots to have more loveliness throughout the garden.

Poppy Steals The Show

 Poppies Poppies Poppies

This is one of the best days in the garden—when the first red poppy busts out of its seed pod and steals the show.  The goal is to time the show stoppers so there’s always something demanding the spotlight. The giant red poppies have May and much of June fully booked.

LImelight Hydrangea

 Limelight Hydrangea

I found it at the side of the road in the garbage a few years ago. I had to move it several times at the old garden and now it resides in a bed by the patio in the new garden where it continues to thrive and bloom. I think this plant is the embodiment of forgiveness and gentle beauty. If my garden was on fire, this would be the first plant I’d save. Mind you, it seems to survive just about anything all on its own.



I rarely plant annuals but these are always an exception. I plant the seeds in large pots so I can easily protect the seedlings from the birds, and also move the plants around the garden where a burst of colour is needed. Before the beautiful blooms have even faded, the squirrels are out chomping on the seed heads like fast food burgers. The birds take the leftover seeds through the winter months. So many varieties, and I love them all.


 Allium Bulbs

Like any good gardener, I planted these bulbs in the fall and promptly forgot about them until the spikes were poking up in the spring. The massive purple blooms became the go-to place for the bees. I really love these bursts of strong colours amid the spring greens.


 Blanket Flowers

I started these from seeds from my old garden and they are very happy here. Blanket flowers tend to tip over and sprawl like a bunch of drunken crazies, but these ones actually managed to be somewhat upright. At least while they were having their picture taken. Blanket flowers are no big woop, but I think they will be a good ground cover here. It’s interesting how the sandy soil seems so dry (like beach sand) but some plants really enjoy it.


The next step is to look over the photos to find what didn’t thrive—all the good intentions that struggled, or faded and died. Those will go on my Not To Do list and I’ll move on to a few new experiments along with more of the tried and true.


  1. PepperReed says

    Lovely Garden! It’s always interesting to see what thrives and what falls away. I wish I could grow a big mass of poppies, but I’ve not enough sun in the majority of my yard (mostly urban shady clay). I like those hibiscus too, but usually just see the red ones.

    I live in zone 5 Lansing MI (just across Lake Huron to the west) and have a raised bed along our driveway that is sunny, with mostly sandy soil, and have quite a few plants that do well: Callirhoe involucrata (Winecups) and Eryngium Planum (Sea Holly), Sisyrinchium angustifolium (Blue Eyed Grass – lovely!), plus the usual low growing sedum, yucca and Opuntia (Prickly Pear Cactus). I’m going to try Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker) and Centranthus Ruber (Red Valerian) this year; some stuff works, but that spot can be so hot with the reflected light off the house and driveway that lots of stuff ‘cooks’.

    When we moved here 12 years ago, the front yard was fill dirt (from city work on the water connection) with a languishing few plants. It’s been an adventure filling in the space, moving things around to suit their needs and watching it all grow. I have loads of other plants that do well in sun/part shade, so if you’d like seeds or a plant shoot or root, let me know.

    • says

      Hi PepperReed,
      You’ve given me some ideas for more plants to try. Thank you. On the flip side, I’ve found red hot pokers like both sandy and clay soil so hopefully they’ll work for you too.
      Thanks for the seeds/shoots/roots offer. I will keep you in mind. It sounds like we have almost identical climates (which makes sense since you’re not so far away).

  2. says

    What a cool read Melissa. I have been working on my fiancee’s backyard for 9 years now and it has been a real thrill to plan a garden from scratch. A massive maple tree had mostly destroyed any green living thing within the drip zone. I have moved plants from sun to shade. I sat and watched for a few years where the sun and shade hit and for how long. It has been so much hard fun. I have just begun to tap into the resources online. I look forward to reading your blog and learning some skills.

    • says

      Hi Larry, I love hearing from someone who enjoys being in the garden like I do. Sounds like that maple tree knows who’s boss. I’ve got a few dominant trees and this year I’m going to see if I can find some large containers and try growing a few things near them that way. You never know what might work! Thanks for your note. If you ever want to share photos of your garden on the Facebook page, I’d love to see them.

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