Garden Planning and Dreaming

Happy New Year, dear readers!  Where we live, early January can be dark and dreary – which makes it an excellent time for setting plans for the year ahead – and for dreaming.

This year, I will be reworking a large planting area in our garden, and I’m excited about the possibilities.

I tend to be drawn to traditional English garden designs – especially those that balance the informal look of perennials with the structure of hardscaping, hedges, and potted topiaries.

One garden I really love is Butchart Gardens near Victoria, B.C., which my Mom and I visited a few years ago.  I took lots of photos, and recently I’ve been scrolling through them to get design ideas.

So I thought I’d take you there with me now.  Are you ready to escape reality for a while?  Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and prepare to be magically transported to spring!

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A Stroll Through A Beautiful Spring Garden


Butchart Gardens

Of course, Butchart Gardens is a much grander scale than the space that I am redoing, but I can still look to it for inspiration.

For its hardscaping – which provides year-round structure and interest,

Butchart Gardens


Butchart Gardens


Butchart Gardens

Its serene water features,

Butchart Gardens



Butchart Gardens

The spectacular use of color,



Butchart Gardens


Butchart Gardens


Butchart Gardens

And the sheer abundance and scale of the place.

Butchart Gardens


Butchart Gardens

This is not a garden to hurry through, because sometimes the beauty is hiding the smallest details.


Blooming spring bulbs adorned the garden when we visited, but I have no doubt that, once they faded, something equally spectacular took their place.

But now it’s time to travel back to reality and talk about . . .

When Good Gardens Go Bad

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with this planting area in my back yard.  It looked harmless enough in spring and early summer.  And, being in full sun, it was well located.

garden planning

So every year I fooled myself into believing that this would be the year it would stay manageable.

But, no matter how hard I tried, by summer’s end it always looked like this,

with drifts of overly prolific plants fiercely competing for space.

Obviously, plants thrive in this area.  And, to a point, I did appreciate their exuberance (especially the Joe Pye) and the fact that the bees liked them so much. By fall and winter, the area always looked terrible, but I left it alone because the seed heads from the perennials were a natural food source for the birds.

But in gardening, there is a thin line between charm and chaos.  And this area had crossed that line.  Things were out of control, and it was bringing me despair instead of happiness.

This past fall, I finally started to do something about it.


Taming The Beast

This past fall, we had a feeding station set up for the birds.  So I didn’t feel bad about cutting all those gangly perennials down to the ground.

Once they were cut back, we hired a landscape crew to dig up every plant in that area except the boxwood hedge and the madrona shrub.  (You can see the madrona’s twisted red bark to the far left in the photo below.)

You can also kind of see from the photo that this area is vaguely in the shape of a heart – which I never noticed until it was cleared out.

The crew even removed and replaced the stone border to get at plant roots under the stones.  Their truck was piled high with plant roots by the time they were finished.

Then I covered the soil with leaf mulch that Chris had made by mowing over leaves with the lawnmower.  (He does this every fall, and I use the mulch in various planting beds.)

garden planning

It doesn’t take long for this leaf mulch to break down, but it will hopefully prevent soil erosion over the winter, inhibit weed growth, and add natural nutrients to the soil.

One caveat to creating your own leaf mulch is that not all leaves are beneficial to the garden.  And diseased leaves should never be used.  So it’s always good to do a little research first.

Design Goals

The planting area will sit vacant until spring.  But, so far, my goals are:

  • Make it bee-friendly and bird-friendly again – but not so crazy crowded;
  • And this time, do a better job of containing it and giving the area more structure – perhaps by extending the short boxwood hedge;
  • Plant for a succession of blooms and color from early spring into fall; and
  • Have some kind of statuary piece or large piece of garden art as a central focal point.

Right now I’m thinking of something similar to this (please disregard the house in the background, which I am not tech savvy enough to get rid of).

This is just a rough draft and isn’t even to scale for my planting area.  No doubt the plan will be tweaked many times before the project is actually completed.  I may include some ornamental herbs or vegetables.

And it’s highly unlikely that I will end up with such a fancy fountain as the centerpiece.  I may even try to salvage the decaying planter and base that is there now.

But for now, it’s fun to plan and dream.

Books On English Gardens

These books look like wonderful sources of inspiration.



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6 Replies to “Garden Planning and Dreaming”

  1. I am right there with you. Dreaming of when I can have my flowers again. I have the hardest time with January through April here in the midwest. Dark cold days are the worse. I had to smile when you went out for drinks on the patio. It is amazing what we have to do for a little getting out of the house these days. Let’s hope the new year bring better numbers with the virus and we win this war on Covid so life as we once knew it can resume again. Happy New Week. xoxo Kris

    1. Thanks Kris! It’s true, we have to get pretty creative these days to break the monotony. Hoping all of this will be a distant memory soon, and we’ll have sunshine, companionship, and travel again!

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