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The Big Picture: An Overview of My Garden

January 11, 2011

During the garden season, when I’m working in, thinking about and writing about my Maine garden, I tend to focus on one area at a time. But during the winter, when I am working on the garden of the imagination, I find that it helps to step back and look at the big picture.

imageAs you can see in the aerial view (from Google Earth), my house (on the upper far right) is one of a cluster of houses on a dirt road in a rural neighborhood that, like most of the state of Maine, is heavily wooded. Except for the cleared area immediately around the house, most of my 1.5 acres of property is covered with trees.

The diagram below shows the cleared area around the house, with the various garden areas diagram

A Virtual Tour: The Garden of the Present

If you approach on the dirt road in July, you will be greeted by the cheerful yellows, reds and oranges of a row of daylilies growing at the front of the property. Daylilies growing along the front of my property (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

When the daylilies are not in bloom, the focus of attention as you approach my house is the circular bed that marks the turn from the dirt road into my driveway.  More than any other part of the garden, this flower bed changes moods as the season progresses,

Circular bed in June (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) … from soft pastels in June,
to strong contrasts in July, Circular bed in July (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
Circular bed in August (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) to a predominance of yellow and white in August.

As you proceed up the driveway, there are old-fashioned orange daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) and Coreopsis verticillata (tickseed) naturalized at the edge of the woods to your right.

Tawny daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) naturalized along the driveway (photo credit: Jean Potuchek Coreopsis verticillata naturalized along the driveway (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

The large open area to the left of the driveway (the “front yard”), which slopes upwards toward the house,  is largely undefined. It has a row of scraggly, unhappy lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) directly behind the row of daylilies, a Forsythia that glows with bright yellow flowers in spring, a mock orange (Philadelphus) that blooms outside my bedroom window,

Forsythia (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Mock Orange (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
and yellow hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) that carpets the ground in summer. Mouse-ear hawkweed blooming in front yard (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

As you reach the top of the driveway, you have two choices. You can climb a flight of stairs to your left up a fairly steep slope to the main entrances to the house, or you can proceed up a shorter set of stairs straight ahead that lead into the back garden.

The back slope (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) If you go up the longer flight of stairs, the main garden interest is the back slope to your right.  This garden area is dominated by a large rhododendron at the top that spills pink blossoms down the slope in late spring  and by wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) that have been encouraged to naturalize on the bottom half of the slope. Surrounding and interplanted with the rhododendron and strawberries are a pleasing jumble of hosta, Tradescantia virginiana, Siberian irises (Iris sibirica), Coreopsis verticillata, daylilies (Hemerocallis), balloon flower (Platycodon), oregano, and chives.

If you follow the pathway around to the left at the top of the stairs, you come to two unremarkable flower beds at the front of the house. The iris bed shines in early June when it blooms with two different varieties of old-fashioned blue and violet Siberian irises and Tradescantia virginiana ‘Zwannenburg Blue.’ The bedroom border is an unsatisfying hodge-podge that I am slowly dismantling as I move plants from this area to other parts of the garden.


Back garden entrance in July (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Without doubt, the best part of my garden is the back garden, which you enter by taking the short flight of stairs at the end of the driveway and following the paver and gravel walkway. The back garden is currently made up of three flower beds: the deck border, which runs along the full length of the walkway between it and the house, the blue and yellow border, which sits opposite the deck border along most of the walkway, and the fence border, which runs perpendicular to the walkway.

Deck border in early summer (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) The deck border is in the shade of the house for part of the day, so it is planted with shade-tolerant plants like hosta, astilbe, heuchera, and hardy geranium, as well as with Siberian irises, daylilies, goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) and a mass of Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’ above the retaining wall at the sunny end of the border. The predominant colors of this flower bed are pink and lavender. It’s appearance is soft and peaceful, and foliage is a major presence.

Blue and Yellow border in high summer (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) The blue and yellow border, across the walkway from the deck border, gets more sun and has more emphasis on flowers. Here, the blues of Iris sibirica, Tradescantia virginiana, hardy geranium, perennial flax (Linum perenne), Delphinium, and Platycodon grandiflorus (balloon flower) combine with the several large groupings of yellow daylilies, with the yellows of Coreopsis verticillata, Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower), Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ and native goldenrod (Solidago), and with the chartreuse blooms of Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle).


Fence border in July (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) The fence border is the newest flower bed in the back garden, having just been completed in summer 2010. It is a smaller flower bed than the others, but serves a number of important functions, including screening the clothesline from the deck, creating a sense of enclosure in this part of the garden, and tying together the deck border and the blue and yellow border by repeating colors and plants from both. The fence also provides a place to grow climbing plants, including clematis and morning glories. The fence border still had a gawky, adolescent look in 2010, and I’m looking forward to seeing it mature.

Future Projects: The Garden of the Imagination

Like all gardens, mine is always growing and changing, and I always have more garden project ideas than I can possibly carry out in the foreseeable future.

Site of the planned serenity garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) You may have noticed that the garden diagram at the top of this post included a notation for another area, the serenity garden, beyond the current back garden. This serene woodland retreat is part of the garden of the imagination. Right now, it exists only as a few stakes in the ground to mark its boundaries, a series of photographs showing patterns of light and shade, a growing  list of plant possibilities, and some wonderful images in my mind’s eye. My major garden project for this winter is to transform those ingredients into a plan on paper, and I expect to begin digging and planting this new garden area in summer 2011. This project, which will probably take 2-3 years to complete, will also involve creating a sense of seclusion for this part of the garden by adding some plants and garden structures to separate it from the clothesline area and the the driveway beyond (see My Not-So-Secret Garden).

While this project is being completed, I also expect to put an addition on the front of my house, and this will create both the necessity and the opportunity for a complete re-landscaping and new garden design at the front of the house. The row of scraggly lilacs will go, as will the bedroom border, and both the forsythia and the mock orange will have to be moved. The circular bed will stay, and I hope that the new front garden will include revised versions of the iris bed and the row of daylilies at the front of the property.

As I look at the big picture of my garden, I can see enough garden projects in the garden of my imagination to keep me going for at least another decade!

38 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2011 6:31 pm

    I love the circular bed that changes colors with seasons…and I definitely would take the path to the back garden…I was so drawn there and enjoyed the beautiful garden beds…didn’t want to leave…thx for letting me visit

    • January 12, 2011 9:45 pm

      Donna, The back garden is where I hang out in the summer. I sometimes take my computer and telephone out onto the deck and turn it into a garden office — but it isn’t always a good way to get work done, because I get sidetracked by gazing at the garden. I do love that image of the path drawing a viewer into the garden; I used that one as the cover of my calendar this year.

  2. gardeningasylum permalink
    January 11, 2011 6:32 pm

    Jean, You have a lovely property, and I love what you’ve done with it, especially that bed with the delphiniums and daylilies – yummy! It’s nice always to have new projects and areas to work on – who wants to be finished?

    • January 12, 2011 9:50 pm

      Cyndy, I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. I agree that a garden is never “finished,” but as I get older, I’m going to need to rethink what kinds of projects I can take on. I once calculated that, in the creation of the deck border and the blue and yellow border, I had hauled and dug in 1 ton each of manure and compost! I’m not sure how many more years I’ll be able to do that kind of heavy lifting. Although, when it comes to outdoor work, I am definitely my father’s daughter, and he was going strong on heavy-duty projects well into his seventies.

  3. January 11, 2011 6:51 pm

    wow Jean you’re so incredibly organized. So many great ideas and thoughtfully carried out. I’m terribly impressed since I have a zillion ideas it seems and scraps of paper floating about office and home with jotted plants and scribbles. I completely understand the thought of the time needed to carry out your plans. After last summer I’m beginning to see just how long it could take me to carry out my multiple plans.

    • January 12, 2011 9:56 pm

      Marguerite, I’m not the sort of gardener who begins with a grand design for the whole property. I’ve developed my garden one flower bed at a time, and a lot of the success has been luck and serendipity. The time dimension is particularly important for me because I do my gardening work alone. Sometimes I look out at the back garden and am amazed at what I have created there in 10 years. The deck border went in in years 1-3, the blue and yellow border in years 3-4, the walkway and stairway down to the driveway took another 4 years (5-8), and then the fence and fence border were the projects for years 8-10. Whew! I think if I had envisioned that many years of work when I began, I might have been too discouraged to continue — but focusing on one flower bed at a time has made it doable for me.

  4. January 11, 2011 7:26 pm

    I really appreciate the overview of your garden. Your property is lovely! Good luck with all your projects. I especially like the idea of your serenity garden and look forward to seeing its progress. Projects never end in a garden, do they? I suspect that when I am ninety, if I’m alive and able, I will still be out there planting flowers and trees, my mind swirling with ideas for the next season.

    • January 12, 2011 9:58 pm

      Deb, I’m excited about the serenity garden and I’m really looking forward to getting started on it in earnest this year (after thinking about it for a long time). I don’t know if I’ll still be developing new garden project when I’m 90, but I think my current plans will take me to 75!

  5. January 11, 2011 7:38 pm

    I was smitten by the blue and yellow garden, the first time I saw it. It is still my favorite online image.

    • January 12, 2011 10:17 pm

      Allan, the blue and yellow border seems to be the most photogenic part of my garden, and I love it. I must admit, though, that when I’m out in the garden, it is often the deck border that mesmerizes me. There’s something about it that is so calming, a meditative feel that I think may actually lower my blood pressure. It’s that same quality that I’m hoping to capture in the new serenity garden.

  6. January 11, 2011 7:57 pm

    Your flower beds are exactly the sort I want; beautiful, informal and generally lovely. I hope one day to be able to post pictures of similar flower beds.

    • January 12, 2011 10:43 pm

      Soren, What a wonderful compliment! Thank you.

  7. January 11, 2011 8:43 pm


    What a great entry! I feel like I understand your garden so much better, and in a way, I understand you. It seems like every gardener has some big picture in their head, and this post gave me a peek into yours. I particularly love the aerial and the plan–the landscape architect in me says “oh, now I get it”. I’m sure this entry took some effort. A big thank you for sharing it. The property is lovely and the garden makes it all the more endearing. Your themed gardens have inspired me.


  8. January 11, 2011 8:49 pm

    The garden looks great Jean, love the drawing of your property.


    • January 12, 2011 11:30 pm

      Thomas and Eileen, I’m glad that you enjoyed the satellite image and the drawing. I often find graphics really helpful in getting an understanding of something. (I love maps.) I’ve been wanting to create a graphic of my garden for a while now; the problem has been that I can’t draw worth beans. So it was great to find the satellite image of my neighborhood on Google Earth and then discover that I could actually zoom in on my house and property. Amazingly, you could actually see my walkways and the outlines of my plantings in the satellite image! So I printed it out, used a dark marker pen to outline the important features and then traced them onto a clean piece of paper. You would have laughed to see me creating a light box for the tracing by placing a glass plate on top of a large flashlight. But, hey, it worked!

  9. January 11, 2011 9:04 pm

    Your gardens are beautiful, and I hope you won’t take it the wrong way if I say that what I really covet are your native woods. I can create beautiful gardens on my property, but I can never duplicate the undisturbed, majestic PA woodland that was here ever so long ago (although I try). In Maine, at least on my island, the combination of plants in the woods is more beautiful than anything I could ever create. Are your woods still thriving or have they been destroyed by invasive plants like all the woods in SE PA?

  10. January 11, 2011 9:58 pm

    Jean, How lovely! It is great to see the complete overview this way and I would agree you have a large imagination, plenty of land and many years to fulfill your dreams. You do have thousands of trees all around you! Wonderful!

    • January 13, 2011 8:41 pm

      Carolyn and Carol, I love the woods around my house. When I looked at the property, it didn’t have any garden (except for a few shrubs dotted here and there); the previous owner was not an outdoor person at all. It was the woods I fell in love with and the sense of quiet seclusion of being tucked away in the woods at the end of a dirt road.

      Carol, I used to think I might like to make some new perennial gardens in areas that are now wooded, but I’m now committed to leaving the woods untouched and focusing on plantings in the areas that are already cleared.

      Carolyn, The woods are relatively healthy here. The invasive plants we have are mostly seen along the side of the roads (especially purple loosestrife and Japanese knotweed); I’m not aware of a big problem of invasives in the forests. The forest problem here is with tree diseases and pests. The one I’m most concerned about is the Hemlock Woody Adelgid, which attacks and kills Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis); the woods around my house are pine/hemlock forest mixed with deciduous trees.

      • January 14, 2011 10:41 am

        Jean, I planted a row of hemlocks at the bottom of my property, the place that all the water drains to and the only location that can be described as moist. They have not been bothered by wooly adelgid the way other hemlocks on the property have although I have seen adelgids on them. I think many of these infestations occur when the tree is stressed for other reasons, in the hemlock’s case, lack of water. I would be more worried about the stresses of acid rain on your trees.

  11. sequoiagardens permalink
    January 11, 2011 11:34 pm

    Hello Jean, and greetings across the miles that can sometimes seem so short… thanks for this post – I was right there in your garden and – more importantly I often think – with you in your mind as you plan and dream!

  12. January 12, 2011 1:47 am

    Jean, i am overwhelmed by the size of your garden, which you change with different character depending on seasons. Do you have help in the preparation? It surely takes lot of man-hours!

    • January 13, 2011 9:19 pm

      Jack and Andrea, thanks for visiting.

      Jack, I had been thinking about this post for a while (I’ve also used it as an update to my “garden tour” page), but I think your post that showed all the different parts of your garden inspired me to get moving on it.

      Andrea, I have done almost all the work on the garden myself, and it has definitely been a lot of woman-hours! Fortunately, my sandy soil is easy to dig — but, at the same time, because it has so little organic matter in it, I have to add tons (literally) of manure and compost. I now have a truckload of compost delivered each spring. During the garden season, I work on healthy bones by wheeling a loaded wheelbarrow around, and I keep my heating pad by my bed for relief of my aching back!

  13. January 12, 2011 10:15 am

    I love the colors you have in your garden. Your circular bed is so well planned for the changing seasons. It looks beautiful!!

  14. January 12, 2011 10:31 am

    It is fun to see how the parts fit together, and change skilfully thru the seasons. Mine just takes me by surprise. The blue and yellow border is definitely one of the stars of Blotanicalland!

    • January 13, 2011 9:08 pm

      Amy and Diana, I loved your assumption that I skilfully planned the circular bed to change through the seasons. LOL. In truth, it was one of those wonderful bits of garden serendipity. When my garden presents me with pleasant surprises like this, though, I do try to learn from my happy accidents so that I can repeat the effect more intentionally elsewhere.

  15. January 12, 2011 5:49 pm

    aloha jean

    and happy new gardening year to you! i also loved your overview and the various gardens that you have established…i also love the google earth photo – wow! it does look like alot of fun with your new planned gardens….what a big task! i look forward to seeing your progress or at least photos of the ground breaking 🙂

    • January 13, 2011 9:12 pm

      Noel, Aren’t the Google Earth photos amazing? When I first looked at it last year, the satellite photo of my neighborhood was several years old; but when I looked again recently, lo and behold, it was a photo taken this past summer. I couldn’t believe how much detail I could see when I zoomed in on my property. I’m sure I’ll be able to provide photos of ground breaking on the new serenity garden this summer; we’ll see how much further than that I get.

  16. January 13, 2011 11:15 am

    Isn’t Google maps great, I often use it to get a good birds eye view of clients gardens when designing.

    • January 13, 2011 9:30 pm

      Sunny, I can see what a great tool this would be, especially if the photo was recent. I was absolutely blown away that I could actually see the flower beds and the walkways, and even the piles of paving stones that I’d had to move to have work done on my septic system and hadn’t put back yet when the picture was taken!

  17. January 13, 2011 4:48 pm

    What a lovely spot you have, and I so enjoyed the virtual tour. I look forward to see the transformation of the serenity garden… looks like the perfect place for a seating area. I love the inviting pathway to the back garden as well as the shady deck border and circle garden. Like you, I have much to accomplish this spring as well. It seems I can never accomplish as much as I would like. 🙂

    • January 13, 2011 9:33 pm

      Liisa, You’ve had a lot on your plate, but I imagine that, like me, you’re looking forward to some time to work on garden projects this spring and summer. BTW, the mayapple you gave me will be part of the planting in the new serenity garden.

  18. January 13, 2011 8:42 pm

    I do hope you’re at work on a book – a garden journal that will capture your musings!
    It’s not just that you’re ambitious, but you are also so clearly organized and accomplished in the garden realm (as well as in your chosen profession).
    Sorry I don’t have more time to comment. There are simply not enough hours in the day.

  19. January 13, 2011 9:37 pm

    Alice, what a nice thing for you to say! I do have vague ideas about a book of garden essays, but it’s not yet at the stage that I would describe as “working on it.” I see it as a project to take up when I retire from teaching three years from now. When I started blogging, it was because I wanted to write about my garden for an audience, and I’ve found that I really enjoy this sort of writing. As I move toward retirement, I’ll be doing some more thinking about the form a book might take and how to give it some kind of coherence. Thanks so much for the encouragement; it means a lot to me.

  20. January 14, 2011 8:41 am

    Gardens of the imagination keep all of us aging gardeners young.

  21. January 14, 2011 2:53 pm

    A beautiful tour of your garden Jean. Isn’t Google Earth fun? I was feeling overwhelmed, and frustrated at the progress in our orchard last year. Then I compared the current GE image to one from just before we moved in. I went from overwhelmed to smug and happy in about 2.5 seconds! A new addition sounds exciting. We not adding on, but have been excavating a sinkhole in front of the house (the front ‘garden’ is no more), and we’re remodeling part of the house this year. It’s amazing how fast builders can remove any trace of greenery in the garden. Once they’re done though, like you, we’ll have a blank slate to start over with, which is quite an exciting prospect!

  22. January 16, 2011 7:17 pm

    Oh, I had so much fun touring and looking around at your gardens! Finally a little time. I often look up my old house in Maine on satellite. Yes, woods, woods, more woods. So fun to see yours. Your gardens are beautiful. I envy those delphiniums. I can’t wait to see the secret garden reveal itself! And the new addition!

  23. August 16, 2013 7:34 pm

    Wow, so glad I stumbled across your beautiful blog!


  1. Eight Years of Garden Growth | Jean's Garden

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