The Island Bed

 I will sheepishly admit that I don't remember what year my family and I moved into this house, but I'll guess it has been close to  25 years since we migrated here from the house next door. The island bed in my back garden was a lawn and the neighbors behind me to the west had a solid row of trees along the fence -birch, Japanese maples and 2 miserable Leylandi cypress, along with the damn Ash tree which still lives on. There was a lot of shade. Birch, cypress and maples are all long gone, and as of this spring so is my 30+ year old Liquidambar. I can't tell you what a thrill it was to get rid of that hellacious tree. It brought glorious sun into areas of my garden that had been subject to chronic flopping and stretching for years -much to the irritation of this gardener.
   I started digging out lawn for what I now call the Island Bed just a few years after we moved in, once my children had moved on from grass-romping, and  have been slowly expanding it ever since. The lawn is now nothing more than a narrow path that circles the bed-gets little water, no fertilizer and an occasional 'mowing' executed with a battery string trimmer.
 As the area has expanded the plantings have changed, and this year I undertook the most serious renovation since I first started the bed.

 The Island Bed as it appeared in 2009. I was still heavily into roses.

 I have no fear of removing mature shrubs and the Rosemary seen on the upper right in the above photo was the first to go. It was rapidly overwhelming the space and I was ready for a change. Last fall I removed all three of the mature roses and the gold mound Spirea on the lower left .Some smaller plants went too, and by April of this year I was left with this. The curve of lawn on the lower right is now gone.

Open ground !

By the time June rolled around things had started to fill in and I began to dig out more grass. I was feeling pretty satisfied and as I expanded the bed I was plotting more moves. My goal was to lower the sightline and be less reliant on flowers for color-although there are plenty of flowers here, including a few clumps of lilies.

 This photo was taken last evening.  The most significant change in this garden is that it is much more dynamic-every month brought an evolving palette of color and texture, and it is the best fall garden I think I have ever had . The previous iteration was quite static.

 A few of the players :

Euphorbia 'Blackie'

Salvia chamaedryoides 'Marine Blue'

Aster 'Purple Dome' . Put in 3 and they have made me very happy.

 I decided to replace this Persicaria with Cistus 'Mickie' . Because so much of this bed is mostly herbaceous I felt it needed a couple more evergreen plants to give me something besides mud to look at in winter. 'Mickie' is already planted at it's base but I am hoping I can figure out a new position in this bed for the Persicaria. The bees love it. If I dig  out a little more lawn and move some smaller plants out to the edges there might be a way to squeeze it in.

 This NOID Hebe is another evergreen that holds the fort down over winter. Not a very clear photo, but Geranium 'Ann Folkard' has a symbiotic relationship with the Hebe-she drapes over in an elegant way.

Geranium 'Anne Folkard'

Pennisetum 'Bunny Tails' with 'Persicaria 'Golden Arrow'

Sedum 'Matrona'

Euphorbia 'Blackbird' in the foreground with Asters framing the view.

 Chasmanthium latifolium and NOID Aster.

 I still have more room ! I plan to dig out another foot to the left. This is shaping up to be one of my favorite renovations of the last few years. I made more considered choices than I usually do and bought plants for specific spots-a departure from my usual buy-now, find a spot later school of gardening.It was fun to bring plants home and actually know exactly where they were going to go.  (disclaimer: a few have already been moved) Of course my frenzy of late summer/fall plant buying has assured that I still have plenty of plants without designated homes.


  1. It is wonderful to see your garden, you post about it all too rarely. It's gorgeous. Just admit it!

    1. I pledged last year to post more about my own garden-I'm slow to execute. It' a great way to keep track of changes. I'm renewing the pledge.

  2. I love the energy you got from the 'Bunny Tails' grass - that's a Pennisetum I'm not familiar with but will definitely look for. The mix of purple and red colored flowers is wonderful too. I'm futzing with one of my beds as well. I've moved a lot out but so far only brought in 3 plants and I'm utterly stymied as to what to use to fill out the space.

    1. Kris, if you can't find P. 'Bunny Tails locally let me know-it's always around up here and I'd be happy to mail you one. I'm trying really hard to be more deliberate when I do these renovations. I have a landscape design board on Pinterest where I put photos of gardens I like and designers I like . I'm also working on flagging my own photos that I have taken of gardens that I really love and are practical for my climate.

  3. Really shows the thought you've put into it! Gorgeous fall garden.

    1. It's only been in the last few years that I've really tried to consider fall when planting. It's not just a tree thing-grasses are key.


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