We’ve worked on a number of big projects over the last several years, but my favorites are the gardens and paths that we have created throughout our property. We have done all the work ourselves by hand using only the natural materials that were already here, so the only actual cost has been our time and lots and lots of hard physical work.

Most of these gardens and paths grew naturally out of landscaping issues, like the retaining wall we built to extend an area of our back yard that was previously a steep slope.  The crew who dug the foundation for our house had left us with dozens and dozens of large boulders, so we used them as the base and support for the wall.  We worked on the wall as we had the time and eventually extended the yard outward by about twenty feet. The retaining wall itself is about sixty feet long and we built a garden for hostas in this twenty by sixty foot area at the top of the wall.

The “soil” is some we made, a combination of our aged compost and leaf mold. I planted some ground phlox and yellow flowering sedum along the tops of the stones, and the sedum has spread almost out of control. The ferns are wild ferns, and all of the sedum growing in the stones or at the base of the wall “planted itself.”

The area at the base of the wall just naturally became another garden, and a path in front of this garden grew out of our need to connect the two levels. To keep the weeds down, we cover the paths with wood chips that we make ourselves from downed limbs and branches. There are always plenty of those.

This shows a small part of the upper level hosta garden at the top of the stone wall. All of the hostas are divisions of plants I already had or were grown from seeds I had collected. On the lower level, there is a garden, a path, another garden, and a brook, and then the grassy area you can see in the distance.

This is another area of path and more gardens on the lower level.  I often use these areas as “growing gardens” to give young plants a chance to mature and as a place to put “extra” plants that have grown where they shouldn’t have grown, so the look changes over the years as I move plants around.  I try to keep everything weeded and somewhat under control, but the overall look is very casual.

Large masses of flowers are growing all along the paths. There is always something flowering from early spring until early fall, and always lots and lots of color. All of the golden glow and bee balm and most of the other plants started with just one or two small transplants. You can see how enthusiastically they have spread.

These foxgloves were originally grown from seed that I collected but now they reseed themselves year after year. This is one area where I don’t cut down the seed stalks because I want the foxgloves to spread. Sometimes I’ll add new groups of foxgloves by broadcasting seeds over an “empty” area.

We left all the wildflowers that were growing in these areas and gave them better growing conditions, so they too have multiplied and spread. This wild ginger was already growing around this huge rock.  I gave it better soil and every year there are many more plants.  Can you see the wheel in the background?  We dug it up one day while we were digging rocks out of one of these gardens.  It is a very old wheel… eleven iron spokes… and seemed to deserve its own place.  I have two other sets of very old wheels… these are both two wheels connected by an axle… and they are in other parts of these gardens.

It gets dark in the woods at the far edges of the paths long before it gets dark in the open areas. We often take walks in the evening, and somehow we always seem to end up wandering through these gardens just before dusk, listening to the frogs and birds and wild animal sounds all around us and watching as the night closes in.

It’s a great way to end the day.