Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Time in a Garden

– Posted in: Garden Design

Front path April 19 08 and early Aug 05

Of all the many skills we gardeners have to learn, one of the most challenging – as well as the most valuable – is the ability to see into the future. We need to be able to predict how fast a plant will grow, so we can figure out how much space to give it at planting time. We need to be able to envision what shape it will ultimately have (or can be coaxed into), so we can figure out if it will be suitable for a particular site. And we need to be able to guess when it will be at its peak, so we can select partners to complement its beauty. Being able to predict the future isn’t a skill we can pick up in just a few hours, or even a few seasons. It’s a learning process that lasts as long as our gardens do.

Fortunately, we have some help in all of this. We can refer to the writings of other gardeners to find out how tall and wide a plant is supposed to get, what shape it’s supposed to have, and when it’s supposed to bloom. The tricky part is reconciling all these facts about what a plant is supposed to do with what it actually does in our own gardens.

Gardener: “Look, you stupid plant – this book says that you grow 2 feet tall and bloom in June. But you’re already 3 feet tall, and you’re not showing any signs of flowering, even though June is almost over. What’s up with that?”

Plant: “Plants don’t read books. Duh.”

I guess I shouldn’t be knocking books as a source of knowledge for gardeners. That’s what I started with as a teenager, after all – with Ortho’s All about Perennials and the Bush-Browns’ America’s Garden Book – and now I write books of my own to share what I’ve learned over the last 25+ years. But you can’t beat the value of seeing for yourself how plants really grow in your particular area, by visiting other private and public gardens as often as you can as well as experimenting with and observing plants in your own space. And now, we have the wonderful world of garden blogging, which allows us to make virtual visits to other gardens in our area. Find a local garden blogger who regularly participates in Bloom Day, and you’ve found an invaluable resource for predicting bloom times for plants in your own garden.

Stipa tenuissima in July 07 Nov 07 Dec 07 Feb 08One of the best ways to learn how to look forward, though, is to look back. And this is where a camera becomes one of the most important tools any gardener can own. Taking pictures of the same space, the same combination, or the same plant though one season, and over a period of years, provides a custom-made visual record that’s priceless for honing your planning skills. You still can’t get too complacent, thanks to the vagaries of weather patterns, pests, and other variables that can affect growth rates and bloom times. But if you’ve already figured out the basics of spacing your plants properly and choosing appropriate companions, then dealing with these variables becomes more of an interesting challenge than an additional frustration.

So this month, how about sharing some of your stories about the influence of time on your garden?

  • Tell us your tale of woe about drastically underestimating how fast or big a plant would grow, and what you learned from the experience.
  • Did you inherit an overgrown garden when you moved into a new home? Fixing someone else’s mistakes can be just as valuable a learning experience as fixing your own mistakes, without the added misery of having inflicted the problems on yourself. Tell – or even better, show – us how you reclaimed the space.
  • Did you remember to take “before” pictures the last time you started a new garden? Shoot some new ones from the same angle to show off its progress. (Most people would call these “before and after” pictures, but “after” implies that something’s finished, and we gardeners know that our work is never done!)
  • Is there a particular plant or part of your garden that you photograph frequently through the seasons, or over the years? Put some of the images together into a photo progression to show how it changes.
  • Tell us about your own ways of learning about how plants and gardens change over time. Do you keep detailed written or visual records of the heights, widths, and bloom times of your plants over the years? Is there a public or private garden that you’ve found especially useful for training your eye to see how plants and plantings mature?
  • On a more philospohical level: Are you a “now” gardener or a “later” gardener? Do you prefer to pack plants in for an immediate effect, then deal with moving, removing, or replacing them often? Or do you plan your plantings for the long term, giving them all plenty of space to reach their potential and finding ways to fill around them in the meantime?

Side garden with arch Sept 07 to Feb 08If you’re new to the GGW Garden Bloggers Design Workshop, here’s how it works: Write a post on anything related to time in the garden on your own blog and give us the link below, or simply leave a comment if you don’t want to do a separate post. If you’ve written about the topic in the past, those links are equally welcome; it’s not necessary to create a new post to participate.

I’ll gather all of the links into one summary post for easy reference. It’ll go up on August 29, so please get your links in by the 27th if you want to be included in the wrap-up.

If you’re interested in checking out previous Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshops, you can find them here:

Panicum virgatum Heavy Metal Sept 07 Dec 07 and Feb 08Paths and Walkways
Fences and Walls
Arbors and Pergolas
Color in the Garden
Container Plantings
Front-Yard Gardens
Stone in the Garden
Decks, Porches, and Patios
Garden Whimsy
Trellises and Screens
Water in the Garden
Sheds and Outbuildings
Incorporating Edibles
Kids in the Garden
Labeling and Record-Keeping
Pets in the Garden
Wildlife in the Garden
Water-Wise Gardening
Made for the Shade
Front Yards Revisited
Designing with Bulbs

Don’t forget that you’re all welcome to go back and add links to these older posts at any time.

And if you’re on Facebook and enjoy the Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshops, please visit our GBDW page and become a fan!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Nell Jean -- seedscatterer August 3, 2009, 10:00 am

Fifty Years of Change

An excellent example of how dramatically time can change our gardens!

Carole August 3, 2009, 11:27 am

Photographs at various times through the seasons are a great idea. I use this method in addition to journaling. Several years ago I purchased a 10-year garden journal which I’ve been maintaining ever since. It’s great because I have 10 years of a particular date on the same page, so I can track bloom time, fruiting time, etc. and see if it’s consistent through the years. Your design workshops are a great idea. Thank you.

Good suggestion, Carole – journaling is a great way to keep track of changes over time. For anyone who’s interested in the topic, here’s a link to our previous GBDW on Labeling and Record-Keeping.

Lisa at Greenbow August 3, 2009, 9:24 pm

Nan, I did a post about the North side of our house. It is interesting to see how things have filled in and changed.

A perfect example of how quickly a planting can develop, Lisa. To help others visit, here’s a direct link to your post Time in My Garden.

Randy August 4, 2009, 9:11 am

Most of our readers are well aware of our story already, but for participation purposes here is a post I did this past February. I hope it fits your topic.
Further progress on our 18 month old garden can also be seen in this post.

Thank you, thank you! What a wonderful story. It most certainly does fit with this month’s topic.

Randy August 4, 2009, 9:22 pm

Nan, I’m glad you liked it I wasn’t 100% sure it was appropriate for the subject. 🙂 And, thanks for paying us a visit. Have a good week.

Susan August 5, 2009, 11:51 am

Your workshop is a fun idea. Glad I stumbled upon it at Lisa at Greenbow’s blog.

Thanks for joining us, Susan! Your post is a great contribution to this month’s theme, and to our previous Front Yards topic as well.

David August 7, 2009, 1:28 pm

Great workshop idea- here is a link to my post

Thanks for the opportunity to share my garden and my blog.

Maybe you don’t have all of the “before” photos that you’d like, David, but you certainly have enough to show the amazing transformation of your backyard. I’m impressed with how much you’ve managed to pack into it!

Ramble on Rose August 10, 2009, 4:14 pm

Great topic! Here’s my post:

Thanks for joining us again this month, Rose. Looks like your hard work and patience are starting to pay off!

Jean August 12, 2009, 6:04 pm

I did a series of posts back in January about our backyard makeover showing what our yard looked like before and after the makeover. There are 4 posts and the first one , entitled “New Beginnings”, is here:

There is so much to learn as you make big changes and then look back at how they worked out. Thanks for the great idea.

A great series, Jean – thanks! Readers can easily find all the parts through your “Landscape Makeovers” tag, but I’ll also give links to the individual posts in the wrap-up.

ESP August 15, 2009, 3:44 pm

Hi Nan.
Here is a “Time” post in the Patch. Fun topic.
I hope my prematurely aging cactus face
is not too disturbing!

I was going to say that your posts never disappoint, Philip, but I have to say that I *was* a wee bit disappointed with this one: when you mentioned “my prematurely aging cactus face,” I thought you were preparing us for a self-portrait. Just kidding! A must-see post, as always; thanks.

Genevieve August 16, 2009, 11:13 am

Hey Nan,

I really enjoyed this one – it was so much fun going through all my old photos and seeing some of the ways they changed over the seasons and years.

Terrific post, Genevieve! You’ve given us some great examples of why planning ahead for plant growth is so important for good design. And I love the idea of pairing Rozanne geranium with the blue hydrangeas.

healingmagichands August 17, 2009, 10:01 am

Here’s another one for the series of Time in the Garden. I just crafted a post about the changes Jim and I have wrought in our back yard, specifically how what I refer to as the Hosta Dell has changed. It is now a whole lot more, as you will see when you visit there.

I also have a post that shows the development of part of phase 2 of the same garden.

If you are interested, you can visit my January/February 2009 archives and find a lot of posts showing how the second phase grew.

Wonderful! What a great accomplishment. I think your choice of “The Havens” as a name for your home space is perfect: such a beautiful spot you’ve created.

healingmagichands August 17, 2009, 10:15 am

Wait, wait. . . here’s another one. This post contrasts before and after of the whole 2 acres. I forgot I did this one.

I’m so glad you remembered and shared this post. It’s hard to believe that you’ve fit in all of this in just 2 acres!

Debbie August 19, 2009, 7:45 am


What a great idea for a design workshop. I had a lot of fun looking at the photos of my new sunny border and they definitely confirmed I’m a ‘later’ gardener.

Welcome to GGW, Debbie! Your sunny border is already off to a great start. It’ll be exciting to see the same view a year from now.

VP August 20, 2009, 1:15 pm

Hi – I think my open garden blog (a virtual visit to my garden with lots of extras!)which I produced last year has some good before and after photos for you 🙂

More specifically within the blog you have:

This shows you the blank canvas we started with and how we went about designing our garden. There’s lots of pictures of the grass we started with!

I also did a tour round the garden:

The panoramic shots are 70-100 photos stitched together to try and give you more of a feel for being in the garden.

So, the first article shows you photos from the summer of 2000 and the second article is from 2008.

I hope you like the view 🙂

Thanks for the reminder, Veep! These posts are perfect for the time topic. Hey, did you ever explain anywhere how you made the panoramic shots? They are very cool.

VP August 20, 2009, 5:48 pm

Oh and I forgot to say…

Last year I did a ‘very long time lapse’ project on both my garden and allotment. I took a photo every fortnight of them both. I alternated top and bottom views for the allotment and around 4 different viewpoints for the garden. Not very interesting for most blog readers, but interesting for me to see how the garden changed over the year. It made me realise some of the projects I needed to do this year 🙂

You can see all the entries under my blog label:

Great, Veep – thanks for sharing this link too.

Michelle D. August 20, 2009, 8:40 pm

Hello GGW and friends,
Today I visited a garden that went through a radical transformation 7 years ago.
I posted the before photographs along with some soon after construction photos and photos showing the landscape 7 years later.

In a word, Michelle: WOW! Thanks so much for sharing this link to your project. I can’t wait to see the before and after of the backyard project.

Craig @ Ellis Hollow August 21, 2009, 7:49 pm

Hi Nan: Tried something a little different this month. Video of a couple of scenes through the season so far. Can’t wait to incorporate the fall scenery and some snow scenes into them:

Wow, Craig – wicked cool! You’ll have to leave us a note when you update the videos. Thanks for linking to the directions, too!

Pam August 23, 2009, 12:37 am

Hi Nan,
My tastes have definitely changed over the years. The faster time goes, the more I value slow-growing plants. Maybe, by the time I’m too old to garden, all my slow-growing dwarfs will have knit together to make a maintenance-free garden … On second thought that’s not too likely. That I’ll be too old to garden someday, that is. Here’s my post:

Talk about gardening for the long term, Pam! I’m sure you’ll be amply rewarded for your patience.

Laura Livengood Schaub August 24, 2009, 7:04 pm

Hi Nan,
Seeing into the future, the trickiest thing for a new designer (and potentially most embarrassing down the road!) I recently wrote a blog post about my audacity in planting giant (clumping, mind you) timber bamboo in my tiny backyard; file under ‘chances a designer will take for themselves only!’

I think the results are worth every minute you’ll put into the editing, Laura. What a magical space you’ve created!

Heirloom Gardener August 25, 2009, 9:33 pm


You’ve already seen this post about my four-year makeover of the Front Garden, but it’s the best “time series” I’ve got at the moment. If I have time before the deadline, I’ll try to update it or come up with something new:

-Heirloom Gardener

Thanks for the link, HG!

David August 27, 2009, 12:11 pm

If you don’t mind another post…
Here is a link to my blog with the story of a neighborhood project- a tiny public native plant garden that is a project of mine and my wife.
We planted this park in July of 2008 and you can see the changes in just one year.
Again, I wish I had taken more before pictures. Someday I will learn.
Thanks again for the opportunity to share.

Always great to get a link from you, David. It’s a terrific story in its own right and a great addition to this theme too.

Kate August 27, 2009, 9:24 pm

I’m only just beginning, so have mostly “before” pictures, but I’ve written about my “later” gardening style with a few photos of a garden in progress.

Thanks for the inspiration.

We’re delighted to have you join us, Kate! This post will be a valuable part of your garden’s history as you evolve as a gardener. You can never have too many “before” pictures.

Heirloom Gardener August 28, 2009, 6:38 am


Please ignore my prior link. You can use this updated posts with before and after shots of the Front Garden and the Egg Garden from 2004 and 2009:

-Heirloom Gardener

Super idea to gather the links into one post for easy access, HG; thanks!

patientgardener August 29, 2009, 6:25 am

Like VP did last year I have been taking photos of my back garden at the end of the last 6 months and posting them on my blog. Here is the link for August and the post contains links to the previous months. I think that when I have done 12 months I might have a go at do a slide show on each bit of the garden to show how it changes during the year.

Thanks so much for the link, Helen.

VP August 29, 2009, 12:15 pm

Hi Nan,

No I never did explain how I put those panoramas together – I’m so glad you asked 😀

Firstly I very carefully took lots of shots of the garden from 1 viewpoint starting at the top left and working down to bottom right of the scene. I made sure all the shots were overlapping. It’s a similar approach to the work that David Hockney’s done in the past with polaroid photos if you’re familiar with that at all? There’s about 5 ‘rows’ of photographs from top to bottom for each scene and 70-100 photos in each panorama I put together.

I then took out a 30 day trial subscription to some photostitching software I wanted to try out. I was also using my Open Garden to try out lots of other things and see just how far I could push a blog!

I simply told the sofware which shots to load up for each scene and it then did all the work!

I saved it in my photo folder and then did a very light cropping to get rid of some black areas around the edges of the stitched photograph.

I’m not familiar with Photoshop et al. (as I like to use ‘undoctored’ photos wherever possible), so there might be a way of doing this with that kind of software too.

Hope that makes sense!

Absolute sense – thanks so much! I’m going to add a note to the wrap-up so others can find your instructions.

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