Heather and her husband Kevin bought their 19th century home in a beautiful areas of Vermont. Over several years, they have transformed their half-acre into truly picturesque perennial gardens.
Heather and Kevin's gardens are great examples of using perennials to solve garden challenges. All of the gardens on their property are part-to-full shade gardens. Everywhere you look on the property, there is a garden with a different objective. They planted to reduce mowing and runoff on a sloped area by their mailbox, to hide an unsightly oil cap by their house, and found the right plants to line their sloped back yard. Each individual garden fits together perfectly to create a cozy, private oasis.
Heather gave us a tour of her garden on an early morning in late July, at the peak of her gardens. You'll even find plant lists that you can use for your own garden planning!
As soon as you pull up to the front of the home, you’re greeted by a spectacular display of full, colorful perennial gardens. Heather says these gardens were original to the home, but have been through a few different iterations since they moved in.
In the beginning, they added a variety of shrubs and trees, include Juniper, Boxwood, and a Crabapple Tree, to give structure and bring the garden up in height.
A few years later, disaster hit and they lost their main plumbing line in front of their home -- and in the middle of the harsh Vermont winter. “We had to rip out most of the front garden, and you can’t do much with plants in January, so we made a pile to keep them warm in the vegetable garden,” says Heather. “We couldn’t plant until the following spring, so we had no lawn and no garden. We essentially had to start over.”
They rebuilt the front garden using some of the plants that made it through the winter, a variety of purchased shrubs, and offshoots of divided perennials from other areas of their garden. That project took the entire summer, and involved hauling in a lot of soil!
The results are stunning. The garden has a classic elegance, and features a variety of easy-to-grow perennials that thrive in partial shade. Several years later, the shrubs and trees have filled in, adding just the right amount of height to the garden. Perennials fill in underneath, leaving little room for weeds. Heather fills in the front gaps of her gardens with annual Begonias, which provide a season-long display of color and help reduce weeding.
Perennial Garden To Skip Mowing
Driveway Garden Objective: To eliminate the need to mow a steep area on the side of the home, to add interest along the driveway, and to reduce water runoff.
Heather says the garden by the driveway was one of the first projects Heather and Kevin tackled when they moved into the home, out of necessity. “We started adding to this garden because we didn’t like to mow that area at all,” Heather explains. “It’s really hard to mow, and it’s under a pine tree, so everything is hard to grow there. Plus, it’s on a slope, so all the water runs off.”
To give structure and decrease runoff, they added a retaining walls to the area. They connected the existing Lilacs on one side of the bed to the existing creeping Phlox that elegantly hangs over a concrete retaining wall at the end.
Several years later this garden is full, colorful, and one of Heather’s dog Sally’s favorite places to run around in. It’s a true testament to the easy-to-grow varieties in it; they seem to be holding up just fine
Side Gardens Fill Shaded Corners
Side Garden Objective To fill shaded corners, add charm with pots lining the concrete staircase, and hide the foundation with easy-to-grow perennial plants.
Heather also added perennials to a garden in front of their red barn. This essentially makes it so each building on the property is softened with landscaping. The bright red barn is the perfect backdrop for a variety of Begonias, Lavender, Balloon Flower, Lilies, and Daisies.
A perennial garden wraps along the side of the house, featuring more easy-to-grow perennials in a shaded corner that needed some sprucing up. Everywhere you look on this side of the house, there is something fun to discover. Easy to grow Begonias planted in pots add some extra color to the garden, while the back garden calls to you from every part of the property.
A Shady And Relaxing Backyard Garden To Attract Pollinators
Backyard Garden Objective: to provide a sense of intimacy in the backyard, to create a boundary in front of a steep bank, and to create a beautiful space that can be enjoyed by the family and visiting butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
This garden spans the entire back of their property, lining a steep bank. Although you would never guess, these are actually the newest gardens on the property. Heather says she started just two years ago with gardens along the house to hide the foundation and an oil cap. After that, things just took off.
“I just kept expanding,” says Heather. “I tested to see if Astilbe would do well, then Hostas, then Geranium and Lamium -- all the things that I figured would grow but you never know because we have clay soil.” Heather says they mixed in several yards of compost with their existing clay soil and things are growing just fine.
As she finished the gardens by the back of the house, Heather set her eyes on the steep bank at the back of their yard. The long garden along this steep bank is the showpiece of their landscape. Framed by an arbor on the right, which her dad built, and tall Hydrangea on the other, the garden spans the entire length of their backyard. Heather says this garden was a lot of work, but that she finished it all in one season. The garden design is simple and repetitious, which is what makes it such a calming feature in their shaded back yard.
Heather's 5 Tips For A Well-Designed Shade Garden
Heather has been in the garden industry for over a decade, so it’s no surprise that her landscapes are as spectacular as they are. She says a lot of the ease of designing the gardens at her home are that they all serve a purpose, and are planted near a a structure or landscape feature that helps to anchor the gardens in the landscape.
She also had inspiration from a client’s garden she worked on several years ago. “A client’s garden in town was so cute, cozy and private, you wouldn’t even know there was a main road right next to it,” says Heather. “ I loved the texture and feel of the garden, and it looked really polished. I was her gardener and I didn’t have to weed it; so I loved that it was easy, but looked really nice.”
Heather is quick to say that she wouldn’t necessarily call her gardens “easy,” which I think is pretty apparent after several hours of photographing without a weed in sight! But she does say they are easier than others. Heather chooses plants she knows will work in her shade garden, such as easy to grow Hostas, Daylilies, Begonias, and Bee Balm. “I only like to garden in the shade, so for me it’s fun to work in the backyard. It gets about 4 hours of sun per day, so most of the day is shaded and easy to work. It’s just enough sun that we can pretty much grow most things,” she says.
Heather’s 5 Tips For Garden Design:
Choose easy-to-grow plants first. Heather likes to choose plants with proven success stories like Daylilies, Hostas, Bee Balm, and Hydranges.
Decide the purpose of the garden. All of Heather’s garden serve a purpose (to line the back of a steep bank, to hide the foundation, reduce mowing, attract pollinators, or even as simple as to add beauty).
Plant. You can never have too many plants! If garden beds are full, containers are an easy way to experiment and add color.
Divide, move, and replant. Nothing is ever permanent in Heather’s garden. She digs things up and move them every year.
Don't forget to enjoy your garden! Adding seating, such as chairs or a picnic table, will give you a space to relax and enjoy your garden after all the hard work.
“Gardening absolutely my passion and my hobby. People always ask me, “Why do you have so many gardens? How do you keep up with them?” I garden because it’s easy for me and I don’t find it stressful. It’s my number one thing I do every week. My husband likes riding bikes, I like to spend hours hanging out in the garden. And I have pet hummingbirds so I love sitting out there and watching the hummingbirds. Gardening also feeds into my cut flower addiction.
Heather’s love of gardening is obvious as you walk around her property and her family enjoys the fruits of her labor often, sitting at the picnic table out back or on the floating adirondack chairs. “It’s just so private and cozy,” says Heather, “it’s a great place to sit out and have a cocktail at the end of the day.”
Annabelle' Hydrangea is famous for its huge, snow-white blooms and excellent cold hardiness. This shorter variety grows 3 - 5 ft tall and flowers reliably, even after severe winters and intentional pruning. Its enormous 10" blooms and ability to adapt to both cold and heat have made 'Annabelle' one of the most popular hydrangeas in the country. (Hydrangea arborescens)
A sturdy and compact hosta, 'Halcyon' has blue, heart-shaped leaves with heavy ribbing and towers of lavender flowers. A handsome choice for the shade garden, 'Halcyon' is an exceptional way to add texture and dimension to plant groupings. A first-rate perfomer in containers. (Hosta)
Add bold, bright color to a shady spot in your garden with our Astilbe Mix. 'Deutschland' Astilbe's pure white plumes are lovely in the moonlight, 'Montgomery' Astilbe has feathery, magenta-crimson blooms and 'Rheinland' Astilbe adds graceful pink plumes to illuminate the shade garden. Also known as False Spirea, our Astilbe Mixture is deer resistant and amazingly easy to grow. Make sure to plant extra, as these blooms make for gorgeous summer bouquets and last all year long if dried. Astilbe makes a bold statement on their own or paired with other shade-loving perennials, such as Hostas and Columbines.
The Variegated Hosta Mix combines color-coordinated shades of green, yellow and white, making an attractive, tapestry-like groundcover for shady areas. Known for their tough, easygoing ways, hostas are an ideal choice for poor soils and weather-prone areas and will spread and multiply if you let them. One of the most low-maintenance perennials you can choose! (Hosta)