As part of my ‘divide and conquer’ advice in my previous post I thought I’d tell you how I began to convert a really plain and homely back yard into something we could enjoy.  When we first moved into our ‘cottage’ (28 years ago) the back yard was filled with grass/weeds and the bedding areas were bare except for several trees along the back fence.  I have always enjoyed working in the dirt but I confess this yard was a little overwhelming.  I don’t have ‘before’ pictures so you’ll just have to take my word for it, it was pretty ugly.

Not my 'before' picture but very similar

Using my divide and conquer philosophy I decided to focus on the side yard (part of the back yard) which was the first thing you saw when you went out the kitchen door.  Mind you, we had no extra money for someone to come in and revamp the space so I started slow.  I sat down with my pen and pad and analyzed the space to try to figure out how I could add some charm without breaking the bank.

Similar to the first arbor we installed

The first thing I did was to put a wooden arbor on my Mother’s Day wish list (which happened to be about 1 month after we moved in).   My husband bought the arbor from the local nursery and it was very affordable—all I had to do was paint it white (it was stained with a redwood stain).  I placed it so that when we looked out of the dining room window you saw this cottage arbor.  I planted 2 1-gallon snail vines on either side and was amazed that by summer’s end they had covered the arbor.  Note, the arbor is no longer the focal point in that location, a Smith & Hawkins teak bench was the replacement some years later.

Cottage garden look - Salvia

When I found plants on sale I would pick up plants that met my cottage garden criteria, i.e. penstemon, roses, lavender, loubelia, maiden hair fern, azalea, camellia, English daisies, pincushion ‘scabiosa’ and foxglove, to name a few.  I amended the soil with a compost blend (you can find this at the home improvement stores and nurseries) every time I planted something new.  This will greatly improve your chances for success.

A bird house from the K-Mart Martha Stewart collection was mounted on a post and still provides home to wren families that visit our yard.


My point is that in about 6 months the area I had decided to start on was l0oking 100% better than it did upon our moving in.

Don’t be discouraged, if you don’t know for sure what kind of garden you would like to plant, visit the library or stop in at the bookstore (the ones where they invite you to sit and look at magazines) and start getting an idea of what kinds of plants you love and can maintain.  You can do this!  If you have questions feel free to contact me or your local nursery.  Enjoy the season and happy planting.

You can create your own Private Garden with time and patience