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From Nothing to Garden

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Kat Kinch sent in today’s photos of a garden transformation.

My mom, Pat, a retired teacher, was increasingly concerned that a huge, old red maple in close proximity to her house would one day end up in her bedroom in a summer storm. With no small amount of regret, she decided to have it taken down.

While she breathed easier when gusts arrived, the space the old tree formerly occupied was left an arid slope. She missed the leafy shade, and the dry ground and network of roots made new planting difficult. One winter’s evening over a bottle of wine, we dreamed up a solution: a large-scale pergola and a terraced slope, giving her the green, serene shade planting she enjoyed most, overlooking a full-sun level of low-maintenance, drought-tolerant perennials.

new pergola and garden with new plantingsThe design came to life with the help of a favorite local contractor, who was able to get the job done in fall 2020 despite the pandemic, sourcing big beams and adding creative shapes to the pergola structure. The site was mulched for the winter and ready for spring planting in May 2021. By good luck, the plant delivery arrived just in time for my mom’s birthday, which we spent getting the perennials and one tall Amelanchier canadensis (Zones 4–8) into the ground with the help of my friend Heather.

garden full of purple flowersThe lower level close to the driveway features a “creek” of Salvia ‘Caradonna’ (Zones 4–8) (our small town riff on the Lurie Garden’s salvia river in Chicago), punctuated by Veronica longifolia ‘Charlotte’ (Zones 4–8).

white flowers with purple flowers in the backgroundWhite echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Zones 4–8), and Phlox ‘David’ (Zones 4–8) also punctuate the salvia river, all surrounded by plentiful strawberries as ground cover. (After a long-running battle, Mom ceded the berries to the chipmunks.)

the garden in bloomWe added two bareroot plum trees in the fall, supplied by a local fruit and nut grower, providing bookends of height.

light purple flowers amongst a sea of green plantsOn the sunny front part of the upper level, garden chives (Allium schoenoprasum, Zones 4–8) are interspersed with Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia, Zones 5–9).

delicate white flowersMom’s favorite gaura, Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’ (Zones 5–9), floats above it all.

vine growing up and over the pergolaThe pergola creates a sheltered retreat, and the big support beams have had various climbers, the most successful proving to be sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora, Zones 4–9) and a hardy variety of hops (Humulus lupulus ‘Cascade’, Zones 4–8) that are now spreading contentedly across the overarching structure.

blue flowers in the gardenAt the far side of the upper level, a hot spot of full sun for most of the day, false indigo (Baptisia australis, Zones 3–9) has made itself right at home, stretching to mature size in its first year.

completed garden in full bloomThis garden has changed a “nothing,” hot space into a calm oasis full of green, white, and blue tones, lively with pollinators, requiring minimal supportive watering and low-key weeding  Mom is well-equipped with a hori-hori knife, and the few dandelions that poke up their heads are swiftly dispatched. She can use her pergola garden for active gardening when she wishes, but it is designed to be primarily a place to relax with a coffee and an excellent view of the butterflies and bees visiting the flowers below.

 

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