Ready to Landscape for Spring!

On Monday I told you the story of The Retirement Garden Project and the state of the garden at the beginning of the project, before we broke much ground. Today I’m going to show you where we are at today, 9 months and a very weak winter later. On Friday, I will be bringing you THE MASTER PLAN for the rest of the project. Be excited.

The Retirement Garden Project

I am so very proud of this curvy garden path feature.

Let me preface all of this by saying I am an extremely novice gardener, but a fantastic researcher. I have a whole tome of gardening knowledge in my head and at my fingertips, but little practical experience. I have found gardening tips and advice to be more contentious and contradictory than religious discussions in a barbershop, so who knows what to believe.

I know there are armies of you out there that know the hell out of what you’re doing in the dirt, so I want to crowd source this sucker. If you keep reading all the way to the end, I’ll tell you how you can be my hero and be a part of making my lovely parents’ retirement dream garden come true.

Let’s take a circle around the garden. The descriptions are underneath each picture, and I’ll tell you what direction I was facing, for solar purposes.

The Retirement Garden: Spring

Garden Project 1

Front yard, facing west

  • The hibiscus we planted last year does not seem to be coming back yet, but hopefully it will spring up soon.
  • There is a random bright orange lily with the craziest-looking bulbs I have ever seen that I found under a bunch of coneflowers elsewhere in the yard. I stuck it over here because I thought it would look great next to the bright red of the hibiscus.
  • That damn periwinkle and verrigated groundcover just will not stop. We’re going to do our best to dig it all out, but some of the plants transplanted from this area seem to have brought a little of the evil with them. Anyone know how to get rid of it for good?
  • Last year we got this little castor bean seedling. Within a month this annual was  6 feet tall and wide, with a 1″ diameter trunk and it was still growing. It had huge, glossy leaves the size of a serving platter. We are definitely replanting that (three of them together, in fact!), as it so nicely covered the gas meter.
  • The hosta situation on this property is out of control. They grow and fill in so fact and big that we need to do some serious thinning and removal. Just the one over here is two feet tall when it’s growing, and it overhangs the driveway.
  • The Prairie Fire grass is a mix of new and old. We had three plants that had been dying in the shade of weeds, groundcover and the coneflowers. Once we moved them a little more into the sun and gave them some space to breathe, they came back strong. We bought another couple of them to fill out the area.
  • You can also see at the lower right the grassy entrance to the garden path that is the feature of the front yard.

Garden Project 2

Front yard, facing northeast

  • On the right is a butterfly milkweed. Its bright orange buds are just beautiful and they are extremely attractive to pollinators. We have a dozen more plants starting under the grow lights in the basement.
  • This damn rosebush sits really close to the driveway, and when it is in full bloom, is slightly problematic when parking. It’s big enough that moving it would be hell, and the blooms are a bright enough shade of magenta to fit into the front yard scheme. So it stays. It also looks like we forgot to clear out the dead annuals from last year. I have to get on that.
  • My parents were convinced they couldn’t grow daffodils, because they had tried and failed once before. Seems they were wrong, because the four varieties we planted last fall seem to be doing great. They’re starting to bloom right now.
  • These clearings on the path are my favorite part of the whole garden. When everything fills in and the plants get tall and bloom, I can go and lie down in the middle of one of the clearings and no one will even know I’m there. Hermit outdoorsy heaven.

Garden Project 3

Front yard, facing southeast

  • There are those same daffodils again.
  • We have so many daylilies it is unreal. I split up maybe 5 of the 47 plants scattered around the yard to make this big sweep through the middle of the garden here. They should fill in nicely.
  • I have had my heart set on a Japanese Maple for the front yard since the beginning of this project – I knew the deep red leaves would look stunning fanned out over the garden. This one (a Bloodgood) we got at Home Depot for $25. It came home in the Ford Focus, it’s that small. I was worried about how it would winter after being planted late in the fall, but I saw buds this morning. It’s alive!
  • More freaking hostas. We can’t get rid of them fast enough. There were also some crocuses hiding under there, as I found out last week.
  • My parents want to cut this stump down a little and put a tabletop on it. I think this is really weird. Table or stump it? Vote in the comments!

Garden Project 4

Front yard, facing southeast

  • Some more daffodils, just a different variety. I know they are labeled Day Lilys (and I know it is “daylilies”, but I am at school right now, and can’t fix it until I get home at 9:30 tonight. I was very tired when I put these photos together last night).
  • Some of this zebra grass was rescued from the ground cover over by the picture window, some was purchased and planted last fall. I want to build a little bit of weathered-looking fence over there to keep it from growing too far over the sidewalk.
  • The Oriental poppies in the ground now, but they are getting started in the basement.
  • We bought a Strawberry Fields Yarrow plant last summer with these beautiful red/yellow flowers. I don’t know if I was supposed to deadhead it, or if I deadheaded it properly. We’ll see if it lives.

Garden Project 5

Front yard, facing west

  • This damn verbena. It doesn’t have flowers, it’s just a giant weed tree thing, and it’s totally wrapped around the poor birch tree there. Anyone have a suggestion for getting rid of this thing?
  • I don’t know if the birch can be saved.
  • Coral bells and foamy bells confuse me. Depending on the varieties, they need full sun to full shade. These big coral bells with the soft, fuzzy, tea-colored leaves were languishing and cooking in a sunny spot in the yard, but when I moved them under the birch, they really came back to life. We bought some foamy bells to accompany them.
  • Surprise pretty pink sedum! This had gotten totally hidden. It will be moving to the back yard shortly.
  • The Stella d’Oro are in pretty good shape, but we might as well move and divide them. It’s been awhile. We totally didn’t get to those last fall.
  • The coreopsis are so full of grass, they may be unsalvagable. They’re cheap and they come in a ton of varieties – perhaps we’ll mix it up and get some new ones.
  • These are the only peonies on the property that seem healthy. They are light pink, so they would not go well in the front yard, but I don’t know that there is enough sun in the back yard with the other pastels for them. How much sun do peonies need?
  • More daylilies. Lots of them.

Garden Project 6

Front yard, facing west

  • Ever more daylilies. This whole strip is only 5 plants, divided.
  • We have six Cheddar Pink dianthus (carnations) right along the edge of the garden. That white circle to the left of them is part of the sump pump, located right in the middle of the grave. We have filled that thing in with dirt so many times – let’s see if we threw enough in this time. Don’t want to drown the carnations.
  • Mom thought I murdered the little barberry, but I saw new buds forming this morning. It lives too! Only problem is, we have no idea what kind of barberry it is, and some varieties can grow freaking huge. It is also covered in thorns. It used to be located under the low kitchen windows, because when our dog rocky was alive, and there were fireworks, he would shove himself straight through the screen to get inside. Old dog died a few years ago – we’ll see if we keep this thing. It is pointy.
  • I’m pretty sure this is maiden grass. It has a deep reddish-purple tinge to it and long fan-like tips. It will look gorgeous half-disguising the entrance to the front yard secret garden.

Garden Project 7

Side yard, facing northwest

  • We have, for a long time, had this little trooper of a purple clematis growing and climbing directly above the AC unit. I have no idea how it has survived, but I will be moving it to the calm shelter that is the “next to the shed” area. I have heard they can grow in sun or shade, and I would love to see clematis vines crawling over the shed.
  • Dude, the mess. It is a mix of grass, peony stump chunks (we transplanted some, but we seem to have left pieces behind that are sprouting again), daylilies and weeds. At this point, we’re not even trying to save any of it. Papa Bear will be going John Henry on it shortly.
  • Stupid non-blooming rosebush that always manages to get me with pointiness. I am going to kill you. Yes I will.
  • Yesterday we spent the day clearing and mulching this area and planting the spring peas. Hopefully the mulch will kill the weeds before we have to plant the rest.

Garden Project 8

Back yard, facing west

  • That verrigated groundcover out front seems to have spread itself to other places in the yard accidentally through the transplanting of other plants. This is the only place I put it on purpose, buecause nothing else really grows underneath the lilac.
  • This area is part of the drainage swail between the properties, so I can’t imagine the ground has many nutrients left, and under the lilac there is almost no sun. So…hostas! Can’t kill ’em!
  • Apparently my father tried to eradicate the grape hyacinth growing all over the yard years ago. They are like gremlins though. I dug up hundreds of them and just sort of tossed them over here. We’ll see what happens.
  • I am so excited about the future wisteria arbor. First, we need to build an arbor that separates the side yard from the back. Then, plant a couple of wisteria and let their invasive vine nature take over. It will smell amazing and be so gorgeous I can’t stand it.

Garden Project 9

Back yard, facing south

  • The lilac tree is technically in the neighbor’s yard, but the branches are mostly in ours. It should be blooming next month. Can’t wait.
  • I moved and divided the bluebells from next to the patio, where vegetables will soon be growing, to over near the property line. I’m aiming to have a little bit of a plant privacy fence.
  • Yet another variety of daffodils in one of the sunniest spots we have in the back yard. It’s also windy over there, and the first daff to spring up broke off. Boo.
  • In front of the daffodils are the crocuses. I think I will have to fill in other plants around the bulbs, but I don’t know which ones yet. Annuals might fit the bill.
  • We had two spirea plants elsewhere in the yard, one in a sunny spot, one not. The sunny one is the one big enough to see in this picture, but I hope the other one will catch up.
  • The blue fescue grass is just adorable, all short and stumpy and technically a ground cover (not invasive though). It should fill in the area quite nicely. Eventually.
  • On either side of the cut-through I left to the other yard is the feather reed grass. It has a slight silvery blue tint to it during the main part of the season. I can’t wait to see it shimmering in the sun and breeze this summer.

Garden Project 10

Back yard, facing southwest

  • This area is pretty much the same as the last, except there are peonies as well. This isn’t the absolute sunniest spot we have, but it does get a good bit. Behind the line of rocks is the berm that is forming from all of the grass we dug up. Maybe one day it will break down, but if not, whatever. That used to be the rock pit we trained the dog to do his business in.

Garden Project 11

Back yard, facing southwest

  • There is mostly a whole lotta nothing back here right now. Some of the hostas we transplanted around the trees, because the tree root systems are so intense, I don’t know what else would grow there.
  • A little further from the tree is a kind of expensive hydrangea that might be dead. It did terribly last year when we bought and planted it, but I’m convinced it’s not the sun issue. The neighbor two houses down has a spectacular hydrangea up against the north side of her house, and it is flourishing in the shade. Does anyone know for real how much sun these things need?
  • There will be a gnome home built at the base of that tree right there.
  • Also, there is a ton of the non-flowering invasive asshole honeysuckle lining the whole fence. I think the best we can do is keep it trimmed and toss a lot of the extra daylilies back there. They can survive anything, and it will add a nice pop of color. But wait, the daylilies are red and orange! That won’t go! Who has some suggestions for pastel-colored plants that grow in Zone 5 in little to no sun?

Garden Project 12

Back yard, facing northwest

  • That back corner seems to call for something big and impressive. Shrub or tree-like. I have not made up my mind on anything. Suggestions?

Garden Project 13

Back yard, facing north

  • This entire fence line used to be all overgrown daylilies. We cleared some out, but there are a lot to go. These are the orange ones over here.
  • This lily. Seriously. It’s a light, clear, saturated pink, and you can legit smell it from the patio. It drips with sticky flower whore nectar. And it is putting up shoots. I didn’t kill it! Mom was convinced it was supposed to be dug up for the winter.
  • The sedum from the front yard will be going right over here.
  • There were a bunch of purple coneflowers in the front yard that didn’t match the color scheme up there, so here they go. Unfortunately, they seem to have brought some of that verrigated ground cover with them.
  • More crocuses!
  • I love the Obedient plant, so named by its remarkable ability to let you bend its flower plumes any which way, as if on wire. Florists love it for that reason. It has a tendency to self-seed like a horny rabbit, so we’ll see if we can keep it from taking over.

Garden Project 14

Back yard, facing northeast

  • We will be putting another wisteria arbor over here.
  • The only thing currently in the ground over here are the crocuses, and maybe some hosta remnants next to the house.

Garden Project 15

Back yard, facing northeast

  • We have a ton of columbine, including seeds for a green and white “Lime Sorbet” variety. The healthiest columbine we had in the whole yard were growing over here, so we moved them all to this corner.
  • There was a big patch of Jacob’s Ladder in the front yard, but it’s a blue/purple color. To the back yard you go. I split it up into a ton of clumps, and now I’m just letting them fill in.
  • Right in front of the corner window I planted some of the pink garden phlox that was growing wild through the fence. It attracts the biggest, bumbliest, slowest moving bees I have ever seen. Not the bees you run away from, because they are sooooo not a threat. They seem to be just taking a drunken stroll from flower to flower. Now the mutant wasps whose nest I disturbed in the columbine corner, and who may still be lurking somewhere? Those you run from.
  • More daffodils, yet another variety.
  • This is a different variety of coral bells from the ones in the front yard. These have green leaves instead of orange/red tea-colored ones, and they are much smaller and shorter. They also seem to like sun more. Weird little tuber plants.

Garden Project 16

Back yard, facing northeast

  • This area is to be an extension of the vegetable garden. Right now it’s a big old mess, with lots of stuff to clean up. The only edible-ish thing in there right now is a little Lavender, of which there is more sprouting in the basement.
  • I did not plant these daffodils, but I seem to have missed them when clearing out this area last fall. They will be moving as soon as they’re done flowering.
  • This is the only nice rosebush in the yard, with the exception of the one next to the driveway. The flowers are a pale cream, but it does not put out many of them.
  • Then we have the mystery bulb pit. There were so many random bulbs I found throughout the property, and I remember we had irises and other nice flowers around at some point. So I threw them all in a hole. We’ll see what they turn into.

Garden Project 17

Side yard, facing east

  • This area is just…perplexing. Dad has thrown a ton of gravel and lava rock down here over the years to keep the mud pit at bay, but now we’re at a point where we have to make it workable. I don’t even know where to begin to dig all of this out, or what we’re going to do for a pathway. That’s okay, we have some time before we have to decide that.
  • Also, wisteria arbor. Win.

Garden Project 18

Side yard, facing east

  • This area is so long-neglected, we may have to clear cut it. There are some salvagable flowers in there, like Black-eyed Susans and red daylilies. It is, however, sheltered from the wind,with some decent soil, and it is nice and shady. One day I would love to make this a Hellebore specimen garden, but for now, it just has to get cleared out.

We made it all the way around! To anyone I know who is wondering why they did not see me last summer and fall and why they may not see my much on nice days this year, this is why. Remember where this project was when we started?

Papa Bear and I are going to be so ripped and tanned in time for the wedding again. I just have to be careful about scratches and cuts and bug bites.

Now I have a question for you. Do you want to help me bring this project to completion?

It’s easy, and you wouldn’t just be helping me, you would help everyone else reading.

I need your best gardening secrets. I threw out a lot of questions in this post, so if you have answers, tips, or suggestions, will you please leave them in the comments? I want this garden to be shaped by the Project Community.

Want to be an official part of Project Community? Join us here.


  1. Andrea says:

    That is quite the project! For pastel shade loving plants I suggest astilbe, bleeding heart, toad lily, hydrangea and lily of the valley. Can’t wait to see your master plan! 😀

    Also, not to be a stickler for details but, butterfly bush and milkweed are not the same thing. And swamp milkweed is pink to red, not orange. Sounds like what you’ve got is butterfly weed.

    • Natalie Webb says:

      See! This is why I need you guys. Changing that little mislabeling…

      I want to give hydrangea another try back there, but not with a big, expensive plant this time. Man I hope that thing lives, it cost $50. Perhaps it is time to try grafting from the neighbor’s plant. Bleeding heart, yes, totally. We used to have some over on the side, but right under the dryer vent is not a good place for it. We will do better when we get more. We used to have Lily of the Valley, but my dad thought it was a weed and managed to eradicated it. Alstibe an toad lilies are going to have to be tried as well. So very pretty.

      Thanks Andrea!