New Gardens: An Overview

– Posted in: New House, New Gardens

In October 2011 our family relocated to a house and land about twenty minutes from our former location. The old house and the new house are both in rural areas, although the new location is less densely populated and more wooded, and generally quieter, with less traffic.

The General Prospect

The most noticeable change for us is the view. Our former home faced a field leading to a little brook valley, and wooded hills rising up behind. We had a view, a vista.

autumn hillside

This is what we saw from the kitchen door at the old house.

At the new house, the woods starts directly across the street.

This is the view out the kitchen door at the new house. Pretty, but no long line-of-sight.

At the old house, the view to the back was more obstructed, but still allowed the eye to travel.
trees in a field

When the trees were bare, it was even easier for the eye to travel up the hill at the old house.

view of snowy backyard

From the back deck of our new house, your gaze once again meets the edge of the woods.

I’m not saying this is bad, just different. If you are familiar with Julie Moir Messervy’s design archetypes, you might say we went from an island vantage point–being in the middle of an open space–to a harbor vantage point–enclosed and surrounded by the woods. Some family members really miss an expansive view of the sky and often walk down the road to a farm where the pastures and fields enable them to enjoy such a view.

The Lay of the Land

line map showing landscape features

A map of the house and surrounding landscape. The arrows indicating slope all point downhill. Click on the image to enlarge.

The house is situated on land that slopes from front to back, dropping steeply down from the driveway and then sloping much more gradually to the brook in back. After that, the slope once again rises. There is another brook that travels under the road and forms the northern boundary of our property. These two brooks merge and flow into a culvert just off our property. In general, the side brook has more water than the back brook. This past summer, the back brook went dry, and the side brook was reduced to a trickle. How our ten-acre parcel fits into the surrounding area was aptly described by my son:

…here the property sits at an odd place in the lay of the land. It rests in a crook of the hill’s shoulder, so it seems when you stand there you might be situated within a small enclosed valley. The reality is, you are perched near the top of a hill and if you fought your way through the scrub and trees to the western rise nearby, you would find in due time the land falls off quite sharply, and steeply, to open on a vast valley, far greater than you would expect. But that valley, or the descent to the north if you follow the creek, are both well beyond the ten acres. Here, with all of that unknown, it seems you stand in a small dish of a valley, the hollow of a hand sheltered from the bigger world.

The Landscape

As best as I can infer, the former owners viewed the landscape as a way to set off the house and not much more. When we arrived, there were foundation shrubs along the front of the house, a bed of ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva) along the side and a few shrubs and hostas edging the back. Most puzzling to me was a scrubby area of shrubs and saplings on the northwest side of the house.

shrubby area

Almost all the vegetation growing in this area could have been planted by birds eating fruit or seeds.

Given the manicured look of the rest of the landscape, this spot looks like it was not mowed for years and the birds planted most of it. It doesn’t seem to serve a function in the landscape, and the slope doesn’t seem as steep as some other areas of the lawn. It is a favorite place for the birds waiting for their chance at the feeder, and it has a lovely patch of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in the spring.

The one area that you could have reasonably called a garden when we moved in is this steeply sloping area by the carriage barn.

weedy ornamental garden

This area had seen better days by the time we looked at the house for the first time, but it was clearly intended to be an ornamental garden.

The real estate copy referred to it as a perennial border, but there are a lot of shrubs in there, and it really doesn’t border anything. Since the slope is its defining characteristic, I call it the slope garden.

The Soil

The soil is rocky clay.

shovel in soil

When you stick a shovel in the soil, it lifts up in chunks.

rocks laid on the ground

You don’t have to work hard to find rocks here. These were laying on the surface and laid over a muddy area to provide better footing.

It’s even rockier and clayey-er than our previous house. Although, after more than twenty years of rock-picking and soil-amending at the old house, perhaps we really don’t remember precisely how bad it was when we first moved there. At any rate, drainage is poor. In the woods we have a lot of moss growing, and after a heavy rain, there are puddles in the lawn.

First in a Series

This is the first in a series of posts about my thoughts when designing new garden areas and revamping existing ones in our new location. In the coming weeks, I hope to describe many of the areas labeled on the map. My goal today is to give you a point of reference when I talk about various areas of the garden. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Joseph Fainaccio March 10, 2013, 7:38 pm

Kathy, I applaud your desire to transform the existing soil structure and develop it into the garden setting that you’ve envisioned. That is a very challenging thing to do. So I too will look forward to seeing how to develop the garden areas of your new property.

Marcia Meigs February 21, 2013, 12:14 am

Well, Kathy, in spite of the clogged view you have a lot of good material to work with, I imagine, and as know, this is a good time to pick out the best trees and shrubs for their good branch structure and form, as well as species. You could end up with some nice firewood by next winter…smile.

Those woods really need opening up and then you could see what plantings would enhance the trees and shrubs that are left.
I did not see you at the Ad Chapter meeting, but I think you would have liked the Storm King film which might have some application to your development of the wooded area.
Good luck and looking forward to sequels.

Kathy Purdy February 21, 2013, 9:06 am

Yes, I was sorry to not be able to attend the rock garden society meeting. The woods across the street are not ours to thin, but I could thin them in the back. I think development of a system of paths would come first.

Charlie February 19, 2013, 12:49 am

I spent the past 4 years landscaping my yard and garden. It has been a lot of work, but when I sit on the deck and look out on how it has changed it is very satisfying. The journey has been amazing, as it will be with your project.

Success will be part planning and knowledge, and part of it will be good fortune.

allan becker February 17, 2013, 3:20 pm

My best wishes to you on tackling the challenge of the new home landscaping project.
Thank you, also, for introducing us to Rundy. He would make any family proud.

John February 14, 2013, 7:41 pm


Congratulations on your new space. I look forward to watching the vistas evolve. You certainly have lots of space to work with. I tend to feel more anchored with a barrier like the woods (I like having barrier screening to create a controlled focal area). I’m sure you will come up with something wonderful. I will stay tuned. Thanks!

Diane C February 14, 2013, 5:33 pm

I echo the comments of others. I’m really looking forward to see what you will do with the possibilities.

Donna@Gardens Eye View February 12, 2013, 6:54 pm

Kathy I look forward to your series about your new landscape…that is quite a bit of land that has such wonderful potential.

Deirdre February 12, 2013, 5:48 pm

In your shoes, I’d read everything I could get my hands on or by Humphrey Repton.

Dee Nash (@reddirtramblin) February 12, 2013, 3:35 pm

I like how we can truly “see” your garden’s layout and the situation of the house too. Thank you so much. Cool map also.~~Dee

Alison February 12, 2013, 2:36 pm

I really enjoyed this look at the lay of the land of your new house and garden. I’m looking forward to more. That feeling of being enclosed in the middle of a deep forest is very much like our first home and garden on the east coast, which bordered on protected wetlands. I liked it, but I can totally understand the need for a larger view.

Pat Webster February 12, 2013, 10:07 am

Kathy, I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series. You’ve given us such a clear idea of your starting point that it will be even more interesting to follow the progress. As a new blogger, I have a lot to share about my garden, how I’ve developed it so far and my plans for the future. Trying to tell the whole story in a post or two doesn’t do it justice: a continuing series is the answer. Keep it coming!

Lynn February 11, 2013, 11:05 pm

Kathy, I would miss those long views, too. This is very exciting to see what plans you have for your new ecosystem. I love your son’s description as well. Not many people give their surroundings that kind of attention.

Donalyn February 11, 2013, 9:27 pm

So organized, Kathy! I look forward to seeing it in person again, once you have some parts more to your liking – it is a beautiful spot, even if it is a bit more closed in.

Robin Ripley February 11, 2013, 8:56 pm

I’m impressed with the detailed map of your new house/garden. I really should try to do something as detailed as that so I don’t just go plopping things down after buying them on impulse.

Gail February 11, 2013, 7:45 pm

Kathy, Your map and description really help me visualize your garden. Thank you. I totally relate to the soil composition! Rocks and clay! Tell your family members who miss the long views that I sometimes feel like the trees are closing in on me during the summer months. gail

Layanee February 11, 2013, 6:40 pm

I love that open view of the first picture but a quieter road is always preferable for life IMHO. Can’t wait to see the garden evolution.

Ilona Erwin February 11, 2013, 5:50 pm

I love the idea of starting things, and a new garden is always exciting, but I am at the age where the prospect of carving out gardens in a large acreage is very different than when I was younger.

You plans and property look very promising, though. I think I will enjoy it vicariously… the way I most like to work these days!

Frances February 11, 2013, 3:48 pm

Thanks Kathy, for this detailed explanation of your new property. It is so exciting to begin a new garden, the possibilites are only limited by the land itself. It is very good to have a nice set of before pictures, something to compare back to as the years of gardening progress.