Living Scrapbook: My Little Side Yard Garden

This seems to be a banner year for my little side garden.  Virtually everything is in bloom or promises to in short order. The tiny plot is small and shady, but full of wonderful memories.

side yard garden

Side yard garden darlings: petal pink azalea, budding Jasmin, blue fescue, white and purple alyssum, pink azaleas camouflage the meter

When we bought the house 18 years ago, the narrow space between our house and the neighbors was in sad neglect.  A ragged shrub divided the property line, creating a dark, narrow opening between the garage and the gate to the back yard.  In short, it was a pass through

The side yard was low on the list of household projects since we didn’t spend any time there. Of course, if you garden, every bit of available soil eventually meets the wandering eye.  What if we…

So when the neighbor asked if the shrub could go, the answer was a resounding yes!  Between households, there were five children, all under the age of ten so I suggested a ‘children’s garden.’  It would be a place for them to play, plant and experiment. A small wooden bridge, once in the backyard, spanned the tiny space and unified the area.  I relocated my dinosaur topiary and Mike transplanted a pair of azaleas from the back yard. The kids loved it. At one point my six-year-old decided to dig a ‘hot tub’ in the middle of the garden.  Shavings of sidewalk chalk turned into magic dust, as long as you believed. I miss those days of wild imaginings.

planting the children's garden

Planting the children’s garden

digging in the dirt

Digging in the dirt

Within a few years, the neighbors moved away.  Our boys got older, the bridge began to rot, and the garden morphed again.

As it turned out, the little bridge proved to be an excellent hiding place for snails.  I’ve never seen so many of them congregated in one place. Out it went.

We planted sunflowers in front of the lemon tree, but it eventually took over.

I planted Alyssum from starters and a bag of wildflowers.  Just enough came up to fill the garden that summer, but just as quickly, they died off in late fall.  I added a few begonias, transplanted overgrown fescue from the fairy garden, and eventually the baby tears meandered over the exposed dirt and made themselves at home.  Our dwarf lemon tree moved in at the edge of the garden and agreed to stay.

sunflowers take off

Sunflowers take off

measuring the sunflowers

Measuring the sunflowers

Our little patch of garden makes me smile. It feels like a living scrapbook of our years in this home. It mirrors the ebb and flow of life.  It’s also a reminder of the joy to be found in a tiny patch of dirt.

view from the gate

View from the gate

view form the neighbors side

View from the neighbors side

Fescue, Alyssum, vinca, and the trunk of the lemon tree

Fescue, Alyssum, Vinca, and the trunk of the lemon tree


We have a patch of earth that we share with our neighbors, affectionately know as the children’s garden.  It’s evolved over time from a large, overgrown shrub, to a variety of plants including some transplanted azaleas, a dinosaur topiary and an assortment of experiments.  This time last year, my son wanted to turn the plot into a “hot tub” so he happily dug down as deeply as he could, before eventually abandoning the idea.

This past spring we planted a row of sunflowers, as close to the border as possible for maximum sunlight, then filled in the area behind them with a packet of wildflowers from our local nursery. The birds and squirrels helped themselves early on, leaving the earth pock-marked with overturned pockets of soil.  Here’s what survived:

Children's Garden

Bagby Garden

It’s been a joy to share in the Bagby School Garden experience these past few years. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Donna Boss since 2007. Donna and one other parent pioneered the school garden. They rallied volunteers and donors along with the school custodial staff, and with a day of sweat-equity, gave birth to the Bagby Garden and Outdoor Classroom.

Donna Outside the Garden Shed

A handful of parents turn out once a month and we collectively share and instruct eager students in the joys of planting, watering, harvesting and tasting the fruits of their labor. Students are inquisitive and willing to try new things. Green soup anyone? Kids covet the rakes and watering cans along with the over-sized wheelbarrow. At the school’s Open House my own children were proud to show off what they planted. Budding gardeners take pride in what they grow.

Bagby Garden

In addition to planting and harvesting, we have a chance to look at bugs, read stories and make garden-related crafts. One of the more popular Garden Fridays included a pumpkin raffle. Our first pumpkin harvest yielded several beautiful specimens. Other years, we supplement from a local patch. One afternoon, my garden duty was babysitting a pair of mantids (praying mantis) from curious but occasionally over-eager hands.

Pumpkin Raffle

Each summer we sign up to take care of the garden for a week. It’s my secret pleasure having the garden all to myself for that week. During the teaching Fridays my role is to instruct, not to plant, water or weed. It’s not always easy when you have green blood running through your veins to step back and let others do all the work (and have all the fun)!

Happy Gardener

My son graduates this year and a whole new crop of students will take his place. We’re both ready for new experiences and growth, but I’ll look back wistfully on my time in this lovely garden. It went by too fast.