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.

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You guys are amazing!!!!!!!!! I am very impressed with your ingenuity, hard work and your beautiful results. You must have a gorgeous yard. I look at all these pictures and yearn to have something similar. Thanks for sharing.


That first picture of the stonewall is just beautiful. I wish I could see it in person.


I’m speechless. What a beautiful yard and garden. I would love to have something like that in the future. Right now though I live in an apartment and I can only dream. Thanks for sharing so much of your home and your life.

Thomas P.

I’ve heard of green thumbs – but you must have green HANDS! Wow wow wow wow.

Kara D

All I can say is wow! I’d love to be able to build my own stone retaining wall. I have a crumbling one in my back yard and estimates to rebuild it are in the thousands of dollars! Very beautiful gardens.


Oh my! I could wander through those paths for long periods of time!!! Beautiful! Beautiful!


Wow! Simply beautiful! And, the fact that this was all done by things and seeds/plants you had on hand is amazing! What a great place to unwind and enjoy nature!

Pam M.

All I kept thinking was WOW and how your hard work shows…the garden pictures were inspiring and tranquil Thank you so much


Hi Shirley, you are amazing- what a beautiful place you live in. I wondered if you were willing to share how you built your rock wall? We have a lot of rocks we’ve pulled out of an area of our garden that I would love to use in just this way to create a little nook or two :) (adding this to the plethora of other jobs we need to do!!) Your blog is fantastic and a great inspiration- thank you for sharing these snippets of your life. Louisa, Kapiti, NZ

Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)

Thank you! Louisa, it’s getting cold and we’re heading into winter now, but the next time we make a wall, I’ll document the process.


I love what you have done! I would like to have more paths and weed control throughout more of the wild areas we have. It just takes time. I’m workikng on it.


Your gardens are just beautiful. They look very natural, restful, and colorful at the same time. Rock walls rock! I want to build one. We have a lot of rocks.

My gardens are somewhere between under and out of control. It’s always nice to see neat ones. You’ve worked hard and accomplished much. Thanks for sharing!


Gorgeous! I’m inspired.