Starting a new garden is both exciting and daunting. This one began with a large grass lawn and a few trees. Have a look at how it transformed year over year with the addition of flowering perennials, fruit trees, veggie beds, small ponds, raised beds, and garden art.
If you would like to see my first garden—the one before this one, which also started with a bare lot, the tour is here complete with a front yard vegetable garden.
Garden Photos Year By Year
Gardener | Melissa Will (Empress of Dirt)
- Ontario, Canada
- Hardiness zone: 6b
- Soil: sand sand sand
- Philosophy: Organic, no sprays, lots of compost, avoid invasive species, provide habitat, food, and nectar for wild things.
It all began with a sad looking patch of grass, a shed, a few trees, and an old swimming pool.
Coming from a small city garden where I had planted every square inch, I was happy to have a lot more space but, wow, it was intimidating to start fresh. I think it’s a bit harder the more you know.
A small space is much easier and less expensive to manage. And the thought of how many plants—and how much time—it would take to fill this new space seemed impossible. Especially as a frugal gardener.
But that’s how it was at the old garden too—just on a smaller scale—and it came together with time. So, this one would too.
Related: 12 Smart Tips for Starting a Budget-Friendly Organic Garden
No matter how impatient I feel I never want an instant garden like you see on the obnoxious garden makeover do-it-in-a-day tv shows.
It takes time to understand a space, find what fits, allow it to grow and change, and change with it. Plus, serendipitous finds come along in their own sweet time.
So, not quite sure of where things were headed, I started digging.
I remember exactly what I was thinking when I took this first photo.
1) I have no idea how to get started.
2) I really miss my old garden.
In fact, I realized a few months along that I was grieving for the old garden.
I expected to miss people and places when we moved away from our old home, but I really wasn’t expected to mourn for the garden.
In hindsight, though, it gave me so much experience and happiness, how I could I not?
A smart gardener will not create beds unless there are plants ready to go in them. And then there is me. I really needed the layout in front of me to guide my decisions.
I mapped out some in-ground beds and added a few boxes for that year’s veggie garden. I just so badly wanted things to be growing. They could be moved later.
The shed and old swimming pool are eyesores, for sure.
So, what do you find when digging sandy soil? Nothing!
In all the years I’ve been digging this yard, I’ve only ever found this doll’s foot and a few stones at most.
Progress! At this point I’ve added a few fruit trees, container plants, and some perennials. I was also madly starting everything I could from seed.
Related: How to Turn Lawn Into Garden Beds Using Sheets of Cardboard
Related: How to Start Seeds Indoors
The very basic shape I had in mind when I started the garden is beginning to appear. I wanted the view from the back patio to have the wow factor. It’s not there yet, but I see the bones in place.
There’s a small pond on the right side. The shed and swimming pool are still as ugly as ever.
True Confession: I don’t find many people who understand this, but I love winter more than any other season.
More specifically, winter with snow. It may be because I spent my childhood winters playing outdoors from sunrise to sunset. I find it so calm and beautiful.
After a few years you start to know who the main players will be—which plants will thrive and which ones will struggle.
In this soil, daisies, bee balm (Monarda) and coneflowers (Echinacea) spread like crazy. It’s a blessing and a curse.
You’ll notice the shed has been painted. Thank goodness.
One my daughters chose the blue color for the shed door. It’s called Jazz Blue (Glidden Jazz 30BB 10/337). It has since become a theme color throughout the space.
You can see how we did the shed makeover and painted the vinyl siding here.
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This photo was on a very rare day when I had cut the grass, trimmed edges, and applied fresh mulch. It’s so orderly I cannot believe it’s my garden. It’s the wedding day equivalent of a garden.
Some people see it and say I must spend all my time tending it.
But really, no. I probably spend an hour at most each week, on top of cutting the grass as needed.
The rest of my free time is spent taking photos and wandering around aimlessly. Watching birds and insects. Just being there. And making things. I’d rather build stuff than pull weeds.
The border looks pretty in this next photo but that was short-lived. The plants did not like the soil—perhaps it was a load of bad (composted) manure—and most had to be moved the following spring.
See Build a Mini Greenhouse From Windows
You may notice the board over the little pond in the next picture. I do that to give my fish a place to hide from cats and birds.
At this point I’m still figuring out the plants. It’s a happy jumbled mess. A few plants are growing way too high, blocking out others.
Gardening is always a work in progress. All journey, no destination: just a few rest spots along the way.
This was a big year for changes. See the pond on the left side? I built that by myself using a kit.
You can see how I did it step-by-step here (CLICK PLAY):
Which reminds me of the only good thing I have to say about sandy soil: you can dig a whole pond by hand in a day.
At my old garden (clay soil) it would have taken several days and would have broken several shovels.
The shed got topped with a giant bird nest and eggs. Funny enough, birds love to sit on those eggs.
Some flowers like bee balm (Monarda) are proving to be really aggressive. I like how they fill the space except they also choke out other more civil plants.
The area around the ladder is hummingbird central.
While the garden looks rather casual, one thing I am obsessed with is plant combinations. I like to position plants so they show each other off with their contrasting colors and textures.
My flower-mania extended to the mini greenhouse roof this year.
I used sturdy hanging shoe bags as planters. I normally wouldn’t splurge on annuals but we found several flats for $6 each so I could not refuse.
Tucked away throughout the yard are countless vegetables and fruits. I like to grow them in pots so I can move them around as needed. I always grow more than I need and give the surplus to neighbors.
Another favorite winter photo. As much as I love flowers, I love snow more. Nuts, I know.
I also love my tree of doves.
See Complete Backyard Garden Tour
Without a good location for a greenhouse, I opted to build one on the side of our covered patio.
Click play to see how I did it:
One thing I like in the photos but do not like in real life is yellow flowers. It’s not a color for me!
The year this was taken, I started relocating anything yellow to the back of the yard.
They were seriously interfering with my love of reds, pinks, and oranges and how they play together.
Each day when I wake up I take a look at the garden and usually snap a photo.
See the bare ground in the next photo where the lawn has been removed?
That happened one spring day after I took my morning photo and got it in my head that a big spiral of grass would be cool there. And, it would provide more planting space.
Again, the only good thing about lousy sandy soil is how easy it is to dig.
By summer it had filled in nicely.
I also added privacy fences on either side of the garden. You can see the raised bed with privacy wall here. And the second privacy wall here.
At this point the swimming pool had been removed.
This next pic has some favorite color combinations.
Each year I add a few new DIY garden art projects:
Rose campion is another aggressive plant. I love it but it reseeds like its pants are on fire.
It’s nearly impossible to transplant easily so I end up just tossing it in the yard waste pile, letting it reincarnate there.
Lots of plants cannot handle this soil, despite my best efforts to amend it each year, and they just die or disappear.
Others are too invasive and I pull them out by hand.
In fact, I pulled out so many plants this year that next summer will be a fresh start.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride so far. Sign up here the creative gardening newsletter.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
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