Sunday, June 25, 2017

Before & After

Hi everyone! Before you read any further, I have to warn you that some of the photos in this post aren't pretty. I'm showing garden areas that were such failures that I got rid of them. My hope is that the "After" photos will make up for the ugly "Before" pictures.


I'm sure all gardeners must do it: make too many garden areas to take care of, get totally overwhelmed, and need to reduce some that aren't working. I've been reducing this year, as I've showed in some of my last posts.

A couple of posts ago, I included a list of my 37 (!) garden areas, ranked from best to worst in terms of their beauty and ease of maintenance. Those that scored the worst were generally those farthest from my house, and this spring I eliminated or reduced a number of those areas.

Those downsized areas are shown below on a map of my gardens, marked with large numbers on the map:

I drew this map in 2014 (so it doesn't show two newer garden areas at the top of the map: the redesigned North Border, and the new Iris Border). I'll have to draw another map later this year, because the following areas have now been eliminated:

1. The bed around the gazebo 
2. Parts of the bed around the garden shed
3. The ends of the Rainbow Border
4. The bed around the LP tank
5. The large area behind my house next to the Yellow Garden
6. A bed we made around a Forsythia shrub next to our driveway.

Here are a few Before & After photos of five of the areas to show my progress (I'm still working on number six):

1. The planting bed around the Gazebo 

I almost never go out to the gazebo at the far south end of our property except when I'm mowing near it -- it's more of a feature to look at and only occasionally sit in. So grass and weeds crept in and took over the beds. I recently removed the plants and shrubs and moved them to other areas that needed more plants.

WAY BEFORE: It looked so nice and so easy to maintain back in 2014....
BEFORE: Aagh! By last August it was in shameful condition. The floor needed to be repainted and weeds and grass were taking over the planting bed.
AFTER: Much better. Gazebo floor painted and all the plants removed, except a honeysuckle
vine on the back side. The grass has continued to creep in from the lawn -- which is now a good
thing -- but we'll remove any weeds and seed more grass seed this fall. 

2. The bed around the Garden Shed

This bed was just too large. I made the bed in order to make it easier to mow around the shed and under the two trees next to the shed, and to dress up the rather plain shed with plantings. BUT, because I rarely saw the back side of the shed, weeds and tree seedlings took over back there.

WAY BEFORE: Nice and tidy back in early 2014, right? What could go wrong?

BEFORE: By August 2016 the hostas had filled in pretty well, but so had a fair number of weeds and volunteer trees. Also, the old pear tree has been ailing for a few years now and several limbs have died or fallen.

BEFORE: This disgraceful view of the other end of the shed shows just how bad the weeds became last year, especially at left, in the mulched area behind the shed.
AFTER: Last month I dug out the weeds from either side of the shed door and outlined more manageable small beds with edging strips. I'll leave them empty this year to spray any remaining Creeping Charlie that I didn't get, and plant the beds with a dense planting of perennials and annuals next spring. To the left of the shed, I dug out the tree seedlings from under the large tree and mowed off the weeds -- in early autumn we'll till and seed grass there.

The view from the other side of the garden shed shows how the shape of the bed has changed. From our house (from left), this bed doesn't look any smaller than before, but it will be much easier to maintain now that I have consolidated the hostas in the remaining bed.

3. The Rainbow Border

This border was too long and not densely planted enough. It was 70 feet long, too long to weed all in one session, so I usually gave up three-quarters of the way through. The far end was therefore a total mess of grass and weeds. I put the last 15 feet back to grass, and also eliminated another ten feet from the beginning end (the left).

BEFORE: This photo, also taken in 2014, shows the entire length of the Rainbow Border. 

AFTER: A long-distance view of the new, shortened Rainbow Border, with the ends removed. It's now probably only 50 feet long, instead of 70 feet -- a more manageable size. (There are a few gaps in the border due to problems last year with invasive perennials; I'll fill in those gaps this year and next spring.)

AFTER: The far end of the border, showing the large section seeded back to grass. This end is at least 15 feet shorter.

AFTER: Much more manageable.

4. The LP tank area

WAY BEFORE: In spring 2016, the magnolia and flowering almond looked pretty nice planted in this mulched area.  Our LP tank and a large willow shrub are to the right. I thought about planting a few patches of dark pink tulips to bloom here at the same time.

BEFORE: Aagh!! Because the bed is on a slope and the wood chip mulch washed off when it rained, it was hard to keep weeds from growing here later in the season, as shown last August. It may not look like it, but I weeded this area a number of times last year and my husband sprayed the area repeatedly, all to no avail. Too much work; it was time to go back to grass.

AFTER: After I dug out the flowering almond shrub, my husband sprayed, tilled and seeded grass here. Much better.

5. The bed behind the house

This is the largest area that I eliminated. I made this area into a garden bed in 2014 because the ground was settling over the old cellar that is beneath the square part of the bed and I scalped the grass every time I mowed it before. But I never really figured out what to plant there, besides hostas and daylilies, and, of course, weeds took over.

By last year, the cellar below the bed was leaking was leaking pretty badly and looked like it might collapse. Last fall we had someone with a backhoe scrape all the dirt off the top of it, seal it with flashing and tar, and re-cover it with soil. They leveled the soil, and I hope it will be easier and less scalp-ey to mow now that we have grassed it over again.

BEFORE: I wasn't sure what I should do with the back of my house -- the area is so ugly, with the A/C unit and at least seven vents of various sorts jutting out from the back wall. I tried to make it prettier with daylilies and hostas, but they only bloom for a short period, and then weeds took over. Back to grass. 
BEFORE: Another view, further down toward the Yellow Garden, at far right. Uggh.
AFTER: This spring, I dug out all the daylilies and hostas, and my husband seeded the area back to grass. I planted a narrow strip of hostas along the house to make mowing easier. This area is never going to be attractive, what with the AC unit and seven vents coming out of the wall -- maybe some day I'll think of something more attractive to plant against the house, but for now, the hostas will do.

(BTW, those hostas are practically indestructible: I dug them out last fall, but didn't know where to plant them, and I ended up leaving the clumps sitting by the side of my garage ALL WINTER -- we had -10°F in December -- and they sprouted this spring and look great a month after planting them. Now that's a tough plant!)

AFTER: Much easier to maintain. 

I feel much better now that I have mostly finished these downsizing projects -- I'm thinking I might eliminate one more area this autumn, but otherwise I will see how much work it is to maintain my remaining gardens for the next year or so. Next summer I can decide whether there are any additional garden areas that I would be better off without.

It's so easy to bite off more than we can chew, but having reduced some areas is allowing me to focus more on the areas that are successful, and make them even better.

Thanks for reading -- I know the photos were hideous and the stories of failure and laziness were hardly inspiring. I appreciate that you read it!

Next time I'll show some pretty flowers and some of my most successful areas, I promise! -Beth


  1. Beth, the pictures were not hideous, in no way, shape or form! How many times I've had to do this same thing, and should continue to do so as I age. I well know the feeling of adding 'just one more bed' to cover up something ugly and the thought, 'Oh, it won't take me that long to weed it' only to find out, I really don't need the extra work. I applaud your honesty and your knowing when to say enough is enough, for I've been hanging on to several areas that should have been gone years ago.

    1. Karen, Thanks so much for your understanding words -- it makes me feel better to know that I'm not the only one who gets ahead of herself. Thanks for reading. Best, Beth

  2. 37 separate beds!?!? WOW! That would be a LOT of work to maintain! Good for you to realize that it's just too much work. I am at the point where I think about putting in new beds (I have a GREAT plan for the side lawn!), but then I remember how hard a time I have keeping up with what is already here! Being nearly 53 and doing a 99% of the gardening here by myself, I have to think of what I realistically can handle! This is a great post that will get a lot of us thinking! Thanks for writing it, Beth! (Oh, and I LOVE the gazebo! I don't suppose you could move it closer to your house so you'll use it more?) -- Kimberley

    1. Hi Kimberley, Yes, 37 beds is slightly ridiculous -- I don't know how I got in this situation (I guess I love to design new areas, but don't enjoy maintaining them nearly so much...). I hadn't thought about moving the gazebo closer to our house, but it looks so pretty out on the edge of our property, "a shining white gazebo on a hill," so to speak. But thanks for the suggestion! And thanks for reading :-) -Beth

  3. Your comment "Those that scored the worst were generally those farthest from my house, and this spring I eliminated or reduced a number of those areas." makes a lot of sense to me as well... over the years my thought has been to draw myself and visitors to the far reaches of the gardens but that just doesn't happen and those areas are always the first to fall into disarray... my approach has been somewhat different than yours in that I am trying to develop mulched conifer collections in some of those distant corners.... I might add that I take issue with the people who seem so anti-lawn.... I can understand the thought that 'the perfect lawn' may not be the best thing for the environment.... my solution is to mow longer and try to use milorganite monthly (4% nitrogen)... we had a bus tour yesterday and many commented on the beautiful lawns... it just so happens that there are lots of weeds in those lawns but the grass is overpowering many of those weeds... I very seldomly do a Weed-B-Gon touch-up here and there if a small area starts to be overcome by weeds but to be honest... perfectly maintained and herbicided lawns lead to plant losses in the gardens... especially magnolias... I did hope to treat dandelions in the ditch along the county road by the east gardens but never got around to it this spring... I realized that the 'dreaded' dandelions really only bloom for a short while and having them along the perimeters isn't all that big a deal in the overall scheme of things... withot the definition creates by swathes of lawn, these gardens would lose a lotof their beauty... one of my biggest fears is allowing myself to remove too much grass... take care Beth and I hope you will visit again soon... we are looking forward to an amazing lily season this year!! Larry

    1. Hi Larry, That's a good suggestion about the Milorganite -- I've read about other people who use that and swear by it. I agree about the anti-lawn zealots. I suppose in places like California, lawn may seem like an expensive, unnatural thing to maintain, but here in the Midwest, we get enough rain to grow one naturally and it's really the easiest thing to cover the yard with. I'm glad people no longer feel pressured to have a lawn if they don't want one, like some people living in suburbs used to feel, but you should have as much lawn as as you enjoy having -- and I agree that flower beds look best set off by areas of nice lawn. I think we're at the end of a pendulum that is beginning to swing back -- people always go overboard, all or nothing, and the anti-lawn sentiment is undoubtedly due for a waning to a more normal acceptance that not everyone needs to do everything the same way, and regional differences count for something. Thanks for reading Larry -- I hope you are well. Best, -Beth

  4. Beth, I take my hat off to you. If someone had 37 garden beds, we would call it a municipal park. I envy your Hosta wrangling; here they form what slugs and snails call "breakfast". I have to cultivate them in pots surrounded in copper tape and give them a leaf massage if they are to thrive. Great idea to take an honest look at bits that are not working. Your approach is much better than a whimsical swipe, which takes a lot longer. The rainbow border is glorious - only 50 feet long - where do you find time for the rest? Regerds, Debbie

    1. Debbie, "municipal park"... :-) I guess I do like living in a "park-like setting," but yes, 37 beds is ridiculous. I'm sorry you have so much trouble with hostas -- they're pretty much the boring, go-to groundcover for shady areas around here. But I'm sure you can easily grow many other things that would need to be heavily cosseted (or totally impossible to grow at all) here. I guess that's what makes the world -- and reading garden blogs -- interesting: the many regional difference in how we do things. Thanks so much for stopping by! -Beth

  5. Hi Beth,
    you have my respect for running a very large garden area. I can't even imagine to take care for 37 large beds. It ist very understandable that your are downsizing a bit and I think you handle this very well. Your garden ist very beautiful. Mine is very, very much smaller and nevertheless I have some corners that have to be done...

    Greetings from Birgit