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End of summer in a first-year garden: the good, the bad, and the ugly

It’s mid-August and the summer is winding down. Mornings have a bit of a bite to them and some of the trees near us are starting to turn. I’m not ready for my first summer in this house and garden to be over yet, but admittedly Autumn is my favorite season of them all.
I thought now would be a good time to do a recap of what I’ve done in my first year with this garden and what I think my successes and failures were. You may want to start with this post for photos of how everything started before I got digging!

First: the good!


The flower bed next to the arbor is looking okay. Obviously I need to plant something around the irises on the left, as they start to look pretty raggedy. I think in general I need to focus on foliage next year, so that I have mid-to-low growing plants with interesting foliage that lasts through the fall and keeps things looking cohesive. That said, I think it’s looking pretty good for a first-year bed. Next year it will fill out much more and have that cottage garden look that I love.
You can’t really see the elderflower bush in the middle of all those flowers, but it’s growing very well and is starting to put out berries which is great for a first year plant!


The wildflower patch is looking very yellow with all the black-eyed susans- hopefully they come back next year! There are still poppies, too, and it looks like some flowers may put on a very late summer appearance. I’m very pleased with this experiment and will definitely be repeating it around the garden next year. Behind, you can see our forsythia has gone wild again. We need to trim it back one last time before frost starts hitting us hard.


Here’s a view of the overall area. I think once I get that fence line planted up with tall flowers or shrubs, the garden will be much improved. I need to plant around the cupola and work it into the wildflower patch somehow- not sure how to do that yet. I also need to plant around the patio, but we’re considering building a pergola there one day so I might just wait until we’re sure what our timelines are.


The butterfly bush is nice and big for a first-year planting too, which is wonderful. This is a variety that isn’t invasive, and I love the perky white blooms. I would definitely like to plant another one on the other side of the garden, or maybe out front.


The shade garden is hugely improved from it’s previous state, though it’s still a little rough around the edges. I’m quite pleased with the progress though, and am dreaming of the day it’s full of lush ferns.

Now for the bad:


I don’t know what I was thinking with this front bed. It’s in a weird spot, it’s just floating on its own, and all the plants in it are tiny and dying. The ground here is thick with maple tree roots, and so the plants here need much more water than the ones out back. Unfortunately, my hose doesn’t run this far, and I haven’t felt like carting watering cans out here again and again. The hydrangea on the right seems to be doing pretty well, surprisingly, but otherwise it looks bad. I’m not sure what I’m going to do here, but I’m pretty bummed out about this and mostly wish I’d just left it well alone. I’ll probably just sprinkle a ton of wildflower seeds here and maybe dig some shallow beds to line a grass “pathway” from the front porch.


This is another thing I jumped on too quickly. I thought I could mulch this area with just the pine needles, but they shifted a lot with the wind and the layer of mulch probably wasn’t deep enough to begin with. Now I have this monstrosity. I still have a big pile of mulch left, so I think I’ll lay down some cardboard and then mulch on top of that and hope to keep at least the front part looking neat.

And here’s the ugly: the not-bad, but not-yet-good:

The beds by the house are looking pretty lackluster. I focused on the shrubs and didn’t bother with anything else, so I’m not surprised they don’t look great. On the left is a lilac and on the right is a hydrangea. Next year I’ll be filling this in with a bunch of flowers and it will look much better!


This area is a jungle! You can see my post here about rescuing the tree. On the far right is another lilac, and to the left of that is some cottage garden flower seed mix that I sowed way too late in the season. I didn’t really expect it to do much of anything, but it was a $5 experiment and it looks like at least some of the flowers will bloom very soon. I’m not sure if any will come back next year- we’ll have to wait and see. To the left of those is WEEDS and a honeysuckle that we thought we killed but we didn’t (I’ll probably train it to grow along the fence if it’s not going to die) and a couple irises that I got from a neighbor. This area has a lot to do to make it less wild, but it’s certainly better than it was, and I don’t mind wild so much.


My herb patch is also very ugly. The sage has grown like crazy (I love it!) and the oregano is totally hidden. The parsley is also huge, and the chives, which I never use because Jeff can’t eat onions. The tomato is not doing well- we got one ripe tomato a few weeks ago and nothing since, and the other I pulled because it looked diseased. I bought both from a vendor at our local farmer’s market - never again!
I have big plans for this herb patch! I’m very excited about herbs, especially perennials, and I hope to expand this garden greatly next year. For now, it’s pretty ugly though.

Overall, when I look back at where I started, I think I’ve come a very long way in just one growing season. I’ve learned a lot (especially about what I do and do not like!) and will be posting more about that soon.