Late summer of last year, we had just completed our DIY planter boxes for the back patio – all 37 linear feet of them! – and after a consult with a local nursery, we felt pretty comfortable bringing in soil, planting and mulching in September. We’ve never been much of green thumbs, but since living in this house, we’ve had a lot of fun learning, thriving, failing and trying our damnedest. It felt scary purchasing the soil and perennials – a mini investment, no doubt – and living in a part of the country with exceptionally cold winters had us worried about the raised planters we had to have.
During our design consult, we were given a tip that could potentially save us from heartache in the spring, and that was to insulate our planter boxes. Quite literally, we insulated them with multiple layers of thin foam! The bottom of our planters are open to the ground below, and our hope has always been that our garden will grow deep roots and return year after year, stronger, messier and more entangled as the seasons go by. The thought of a lush, overflowing garden in our backyard makes us smile, so imagine our happy surprise when our plants came back!
Chicago had a streak of exceptionally warm days in late winter / early spring, and after noticing the first pop of green push through our soil in March, we’ve been obsessively checking on all the plants’ growth. The good – scratch that, great! – news is that almost everything did come back. The somewhat bad news is that we lost a few, but even we were impressed with the speediness of the survivors. These photos were taken last week, and already, our garden is taller!
We received a handful of requests on a garden update, so today, I thought we’d poke around the planter boxes with a little update of what’s thriving and what was replaced.
‘Pinky Winky’ Hydrangea
Our hydrangea is nestled in the corner of the garden, and she was one of the first to sprout green leaves. We had to cut back one dead branch early in the season, after which, she sprang to life and hasn’t stopped since.
We chose about three different varieties of stonecrop, and they have easily doubled in size since last year. The leaves are full and thick, and it will be fun watching the flowers bloom in their mix of colors. These guys were some of our favorites last season, so to see them come back with such force has been the best surprise.
We chose these for their whimsical ball-like purple flowers (they’re very Dr. Suess-esque!), and when not in bloom, they look like grass. Tall, strong grass. We were warned that they have the potential to take over the garden, but so far, so good. They have expanded in size since they died back in the winter, but we honestly can’t wait for the day that these boxes are bursting!
We have a love/hate relationship with these guys. They steal our hearts when they’re in bloom, but until then, their thin, pointy leaves remind us of weeds. We’re keeping our eyes on the prize, and although they seem to be growing slower than the rest of the garden, we’re looking forward to seeing the first blooms.
We were certain that we had lost this one. While the rest of the plants were showing growth, this one remained underground, and he wouldn’t budge. One day, when Scott was out watering the plants, he pointed out that there were no less than 10 purple sprouts pushing through the soil – seemingly overnight! They doubled in size nearly every day, and now there are countless stalks! We were impressed. Well done, baptisia.
I mentioned last year that I was on the fence about the clematis. It’s a fast grower, but the leaves have always felt a little weed-like to me. Scott loves them, so I promised to give them a chance; who knows, maybe they’ll grow on me (heh)? In the fall, they’ll sprout white flowers, and by then, we’re hoping our entire modern trellis will be covered!
Ceratostigma | Lavender
We’re hoping these plants pull through! Below, the ceratostigma is on the left (a blanketing plant with blue flowers), and the lavender is on the right. When planting the lavender last year, we crossed all our fingers that they would come back, and they are, but very, very slooowly. We lost one of them in a different planter box, but this one is trying his best. Come on, guys, you got this!
Sky Pencil Holly
We chose these evergreen plants for their skinny width and potential to grow nice and tall. They flank our fireplace, and while they are alive (no brown branches), they seemed to have thinned out. They’re looking scraggly right now, but just a few days ago, Scott pointed out that there are teeny, tiny green buds lining the sparse areas. Time will tell.
Blue Rug Juniper
We purchased four of these plants to fill in areas were we lost a lavender, ceratostigma and an echinacea or two. We like that they’re evergreen, and our hope is that they’ll continue to spill out over the planter box ledges, breaking up all the wood. The two you see below have grown quite a bit since we planted them just a few weeks ago!
Another evergreen, we purchased two of these yellow shrubs to replace rhododendrons. Our poor rhodos began fizzling out in the cold, and right before we pulled them in exchange for the gold juniper, they were nothing but dead sticks.
Last but not least, this mini rose looking plant replaced a ceratostigma that didn’t make it. I’m not sure what it’s called (help?), but we really liked the shape of the leaves and the pale pink flowers!
The patio has already seen a few other changes, and there are a few more to come! It’s been a bit too cold to enjoy it as much as we’d like, but we have a whole summer ahead of us. Bring it on!