The Story of a Garden: Year One

This past weekend we celebrated one year in our home. Inside, there are still a couple boxes that have never been unpacked (mostly books, and they haven’t been unpacked because we still have no bookshelves). But that’s neither here nor there. What I want to talk about is the outside of the house. The outside is hardly recognizable to what it was a year ago. And I mean that in all the best ways.

Here’s what the house looked like when we moved in.

a picture of a house with plants sketched in

My vision for what it will eventually look like. For more on my garden planning, check out this post.

My goals for the outside of the house were to:

  1. Install a sprinkler system
  2. Install sod
  3. Plant some trees and shrubs
  4. Build some garden boxes

I’m happy to report that all of those goals (and more) been achieved!

And here’s what the house looks like today. It’s starting to look like the plan…more or less. It will be a few years before the trees and shrubs reach their full heights.

Here’s the rundown on how those goals were accomplished:

The sprinkler system has shown to be a bit of a pain at times, but I think all the kinks have been worked out (fingers crossed). We opted not to do the installation ourselves. I think overall this was a good decision; we may still be installing it had we done it ourselves. But, I do wish I would have been more micro-managing and vocal at the beginning to make sure the sprinklers were installed where I had expected them to be. But, I wasn’t, so some sprinkler heads are closer to the property borders than I anticipated which then changed some of the other planting plans just a bit. Live and learn, I suppose.

One of the many pallets of sod that was laid in record time, thanks to all the neighbors who showed up.


Here we have grass! In this picture I had yet to plant any trees, shrubs, or other herbaceous perennials. The neighbors hadn’t put up the fence yet. And we still had that annoying and ugly green pipe sticking out of the ground.

The sod installation went much, much quicker than anticipated. We live in a great neighborhood and so many people showed up to lend a hand that we had it all down within three hours. Because of some trouble with the sprinkler system the grass has had some tough moments where I wasn’t sure it would pull through. And there are a couple spots where we had to replace some sod. But overall, it has done quite well and I’m glad we went with sod rather than seed.

They were barely more than sticks when we planted them this spring, but over all the fruit trees seem to be holding their own against the weeds and the heat.

First thing this spring, before the sprinklers were finished and sod laid, I planted three bare root fruit trees: two apples (a Cortland and Newtown Yellow Pippin) and a Bartlett pear. The Cortland apple has been looking a bit sad lately – I think the hot summer with no rain was a bit hard on it, but I’m hopeful it will pull through to next year. The Newtown Yellow Pippin has been feasted on by grasshoppers recently, which makes me quite upset, but it’ll survive. I’m a little worried that the pear got some fireblight – I know it’s been a problem in my neighborhood – but I’ll prune off those branches in late winter and we’ll see how it does.

The back yard when we moved in.

The back yard now. The huge pile of dirt is gone. Grass is planted (though struggling a bit). And we have trees. We also still have lots and lots of weeds.

In addition to the fruit trees I’ve also planted two ornamental/shade trees: a hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’) and magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’). And this morning I just bought two more – an Autumn Brilliance serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) and an Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) – that I have yet to put in the ground. As far as shrubs go, last year when we first moved in I planted two elderberries (Sambucus nigra) and a smokebush (Cotinus coggygria), not where I wanted them to be permanently, but they needed to get in the ground to survive the winter. They are still in a temporary home near the back kitchen window; I didn’t want to move them this spring when the yard was in such commotion, and now I don’t want to move them until they are dormant – decrease the transplant shock and all. This year, I’ve added a flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), a lilac (Syringa sp.), and a forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia ‘Northern Gold’) to my collection.

Going above and beyond my tree and shrub goal, I’ve also planted a variety of herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses: goldenrod (Solidago), coral bells (Heuchera), carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans) columbine (Aquilegia sp.), black-eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia sp.), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Husker’s Red penstemon (Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’), and an evening primrose (Oenothera missouriensis).

I may have had a late start, but I did get some veggies planted in the new garden boxes this year.

Thanks to my husband, I had two garden boxes to grow vegetables in this summer. Unfortunately, only one of them performed (marginally) well; I’ve had a great crop of basil, a handful of jalepeno and Anaheim chile peppers, and my tomatoes are growing, just not ripening. I think the manure/soil mix I used in them must have been high in salts. I should probably do a soil test to make sure, but I might also just try planting again next year and see how it goes.

Here you can see the rock river before the bark was added on the bare dirt to try and help keep the weeds down.

On top of all the planting we’ve done (are still doing), we also added on a side drive-way to the east side of our house – nice for additional parking, or a shady place to dine al-fresco in the evening. And I got the rock river (mostly) finished in the large parkstrip out front; I’ll probably be adding rocks to it forever, because when I dig a hole to plant in I inevitably carry the rocks that I don’t want to go back into said hole out to the “river”. The smaller section of parking strip still has a bunch of leftover gravel from when they did our driveway extension, so we need to clean out that mess before I can finish up the river there.

If you’ve made it all the way to the end of the post, you should win an award! All in all, I am quite happy with the progress our yarden (yard+garden) has made this summer and I can’t wait to see how it evolves and grows next summer.


How did your garden do this year? What were your major successes? Or failures – they are learning experiences, too. Tell me in the comments below.


  1. My tomatoes have been very slow growing and ripening this year, and I’ve talked with others who have been experiencing the same, so there could just be something about this year. But everything else did wonderfully well.

    • I’m sorry you’re having tomato troubles too! I know you always make salsa, so I hope you still can! I’m glad the rest is growing well though.

  2. Your yard is looking amazing!! You guys have been busy this year. I love the how the river rock turned out!

    • Thanks Elaine! It’s definitely a work in progress, but so much better than it was a year ago. We don’t have the big dirt pile for your kids to play on next time you visit, though. 😉

  3. Happy Anniversary! I’m impressed with your before and afters. So many “new” homes around here are still just dirt and weeds … 1, 3, 7 years later. So good work!

    • Thanks – there’s a lot of houses around here that are just dirt and weeds too. But I wanted to be able to enjoy being outside 🙂 There’s still a lot of work to do, but we’re getting there.

  4. One of my favorite gardens was the one that was 1/2 a girly garden and 1/2 a man’s garden. It wasn’t so much the whole design of it, but there was a combination of the yellow hellebore, orange sedge, pink tulips and ‘Carmel’ Heuchera. It would only look good for a very short period of time, but the effect was impressive.

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