Blue Castle Garden: Year 1

In 2005, Blue Castle Garden came to life. Even though the house wasn’t built yet, the decisions made in this year laid a critical foundation for the garden to come.

Many difficult choices included selecting a lot, choosing a classic and timeless house exterior, enlarging key windows and checking on construction. This planning, coupled with preparing to move, made for a very busy year.


Selected a Flat Lot with Back Alley Access

The first and most crucial design decision for Blue Castle Garden was selecting a workable lot. As I couldn’t afford a complex retaining wall system, a flat lot was essential.

Many homes do not have back alley access. Thankfully I was able to find one, making garden construction easier.

The grade for homes along my street is gradual, with just enough slope to ensure adequate rain water drainage during thunderstorms.

Considered Orientation and Lot Shape

Choosing a house facing east left the back yard with afternoon and evening sun when I would be home after work to enjoy it. North or south orientations can leave one yard largely in shade, especially on narrow lots.

Selecting a rectangular lot over a pie shaped lot maximized my design options in the front yard. This lot shape also eliminated excessive snow shoveling in winter that comes with corner lots.

Evening sunlight shining on the back of the house.

Chose a House Design with a Garden in Mind

An empty lot gave me total freedom in my design. In cold climates front or back garages are appreciated, however, I decided scraping ice off my vehicle for the rest of my life was a worthy exchange for the additional garden space.

From over 200 blueprints, I selected a small home with a classic exterior style. The design contained ample windows to look out onto the front and back yards.

My house foundation just after it was poured. You can’t get a blanker slate than this!

Picked House Colors to Suit Garden

Of critical importance was choosing between a warm (brown) or cool (grey) color scheme. Since I absolutely love how green plants look against grey fences, it wasn’t a hard decision to make.

These were the final house color and finishes I selected for the exterior. They would harmonize perfectly with my future grey fence and dark grey pergola.

Enlarged Windows to Increase Light

My one splurge was enlarging and upping the insulation value on a few key windows. The extra light enabled me to grow a wider variety of houseplants in our cold, dark winters.

Enlarging this window also provided better views of the back yard.

Decided on a Low-Maintenance Entrance

To cut down on future wood repairs, I chose durable concrete steps. Plain, but they can be easily dressed up with planters. I’ve never regretted this decision.

To date this concrete step has required zero maintenance.

Checked on House Construction

It’s important to check on the construction of a new home to catch errors before they become permanent. I headed off a few major problems by visiting my new home every 2-3 days.

A house starts to feel like a home when you visit it this often. 


Catching Construction Errors in Time

The astonishing speed at which trades complete their work meant frequent visits weren’t always enough to catch all errors. Thankfully these errors were minor. 

A common error was electrical switches in illogical locations which the electricians were more than happy to move.

House and Garden Decision Fatigue

The downside to building a new house is the sheer number of decisions to be made quickly. Heavy demands at work made choosing insulation thickness, shingle and siding color along with all the interior finishes feel overwhelming. 

Even the bar pattern in these windows was a decision that had to be made.

Visualizing Blue Castle Garden

Looking through a window onto a blank, debris covered lot made creating a lush garden seem impossible. It stretched the imagination. 

The bleak beginnings of Blue Castle Garden.


House Building is Incredibly Fast

From the time I signed my final paperwork to when I had the keys in my hand was only 10 months. Construction continued rain, snow or shine. 

Since most construction took place over winter, heaters were extensively utilized.

House Construction is Fascinating to Observe

Watching a house being built from the ground up is certainly educational. I learned a lot from this process that later helped me in my professional career. 

The wooden skeleton lying under my walls.

Construction Professionals are Super Friendly

A huge highlight was meeting many of the construction professionals that built my house. Everyone was friendly and willing to answer any questions I had about the construction process and the work they were doing.

This was the typical response when I visited my home while it was under construction.


Year 1 was where it all began. In my wildest dreams I never visualized Blue Castle Garden as it is now. My initial vision was far more modest, far more earthbound to the gardens I had been exposed to.

But, by the same token, I’m glad I couldn’t see ahead to all the years of crushing failure and bitter disappointments I would face in getting there. If you knew the pain involved in reaching your goal before you started, would you ever have the courage to begin that journey?

It’s a good thing for the existence of Blue Castle Garden that I was never given that choice.

This post is part of the Blue Castle Garden Timeline series. 

About Jolene

I’m an avid gardener whose mission is to bring more beauty into the world. I believe that with the right information anyone can create their own lovely, small garden paradise.

When I’m not gardening you can find me exploring the Canadian Rockies. Learn more…

Jolene Rempel on Cirque Peak, Banff National Park.

About Jolene

I’m an avid gardener whose mission is to bring more beauty into the world. I believe that with the right information anyone can create their own lovely, small garden paradise.

When I’m not gardening you can find me exploring the Canadian Rockies. Learn more…


Blue Castle Garden: Year 2

Blue Castle Garden front yard flowers, bushes and trees.

Blue Castle Garden: Front Yard Plants – Entrance Area

Pocaterra Ridge: Balanced on a Knife-Edge