Blue Castle Garden: Year 10

In 2014, the garden began its transformation. Not fully completed for another seven years, it was finally on the right path. Weeds were beaten back and mostly conquered.  

Construction work included a difficult repair job on the wooden retaining wall. Foundational bushes were added throughout the garden and a devastating snowstorm in late summer broke a prized tree. 


Fixed Faulty Retaining Wall

The shared retaining wall with my neighbor began to lean several years after installation by their builder. After dismantling the retaining wall, we discovered the posts were only 2′ (61cm) deep, not 4′ (122cm) as typically required. To make matters worse, they were encased in large lumps of concrete. 

The leaning posts seen from my side and my neighbor’s. 

Deepening the holes for the new posts.

Removing lumps of concrete poured by the builder was the most difficult part of the project. 

In lieu of concrete, the posts were tamped in with heavy clay using a blunt tamping bar. 

Leveling and tamping in new posts (left). Existing stub posts were shimmed to align with the new boards (right).

Fence panels required minor adjustments to fit between the new posts.

The Great Battle of the Weeds Waged On 

The weeds were winning until I finally admitted defeat and brought out the big guns (aka Roundup). Hand removal of closely embedded weeds can damage plants while careful application of a chemical control will only destroy the weed. 

There were far more weeds in the flowerbed than plants.

Weeds smoothered the gravel, impossible to remove by hand without damaging the pathway.

This year’s new crop of weeds from last year’s seeds.

Added Bushes and Trees to Garden

I had neglected bushes and smaller trees with my obsession with flowering annuals and perennials. All bushes were planted with their mature sizes in mind to avoid crowding out neighboring plants. 

Most of the bushes were 3x larger in a few years. 

A row of bushes created a boundary between my yard and the neighbor’s.

Two Sutherland Caraganas were planted to create a future privacy screen. 

Three Peking Cotoneasters were planted along the house, creating a lush green backdrop for the dry streambed. 

Bushes were added to the peninsula flowerbed. 

Installed Metal Scroll Bench

A metal garden bench was placed under the Showy Mountain Ash to create a focal point from the bridge. Its black color blended with the rest of the garden.

It eventually became a favorite perch for birds.

Tested Hosta for Hosta Virus X (HVX)

A serious hosta disease was discovered that eventually causes unsightly leaf discoloration. I tested my hostas to see if any were infected and now practise careful sterilization when trimming my plants. 

A leaf sample was mashed up in the laboratory test kit.

This was my only infected hosta, denoted by the second red bar on the test strip. 

Completed Tool Shed

After repairing the retaining wall, the tool shed was stained in shades of grey and completed.

Shingling the tool shed.

Enhanced Front Entrance Pot

Needing more height in the front entrance area, a folding obelisk was added to the existing pot. 

Prince Charles clematis was the first of many vines tested in this location. 

Purchased Award Winning Irises

It’s astonishing how many gorgeous color combinations tall bearded iris come in. Rarely available in florist shops, they are tough, drought tolerant plants. To access more unusual types, I ordered award-winning iris from the largest US grower, Schreiner’s Iris Gardens,

Huge, healthy iris rhizomes.

Unusual Dividing Line Iris.

This unknown iris purchased in a prior year is similar to Happy Again Iris.

My favorite unnamed deep purple iris from an earlier year. 


Deer Destroyed Columnar Mountain Ash Tree

My slender Columnar Mountain Ash tree in the front yard was catnip to the deer. In mid-August, in only one night, they ate nearly every leaf and snapped off the top 1/3 of the tree.

The Columnar Mountain Ash thriving before the deer attacked.

Herds of deer roaming my neighborhood do tremendous damage to gardens. 

Encountering Rocks

When digging deep holes for bushes and trees, it wasn’t unusual to still come across large rocks. 

Rocks this size can stunt root development. 

Garden Struck by ‘Snowtember’

Due to close proximity to the Canadian Rockies, Calgary experiences wild and fluctuating weather patterns. Among the most devastating are late summer snowstorms occurring before leaves have fallen. Dubbed “Snowtember” this storm left an estimated 1 million trees damaged or destroyed in the city.

Photos taken just one day apart. 

Late summer garden the day before Snowtember.

Overnight snowfall bending branches.

The streambed area before and after the storm. 

Fernleaf Caragana Tree Broken by ‘Snowtember’

Lacking structural strength, the Fernleaf Caragana broke under the snow load. Too disfigured, the tree couldn’t be salvaged.  

Before the storm, the tree was showing great promise. 

The Fernleaf Caragana, heavily weighed down with snow. 

Fine needle-like foliage captured snow all too well.

Large, primary branches snapped close to the main stem. 


DIY is Sometimes Preferable

In hindsight, it would’ve been easier for us to build the original retaining wall than to correct the builder’s mistakes. Oftentimes it’s better to learn the skills and do the work yourself so you know it’s been done properly.

It took tremendous effort to remove these concrete lumps. 

Some of the concrete lumps we dug up while replacing the retaining wall posts.

Carefully Monitor Early Snow Events

During early snow events, I now set an alarm and wake up every hour throughout the night to brush off my trees, even in my pajamas. Better a little sleep loss than to lose a prized tree that took years to grow.

A massive limb ripped from a stately, mature tree.

Even mature trees cannot withstand heavy snow loads when fully leafed out.

Fall is Hit and Miss

We rarely experience proper fall colors before a severe frost freezes the leaves, turning them prematurely brown. This fall was a welcome exception.

Showy Mountain Ash and Swedish Columnar Aspens glowing in the evening sun.


It was incredible how quickly a disaster can turn around once you know where you’re heading. Not having a timeline for completing the garden greatly reduced my impatience and frustration. 

I took time to ponder plant decisions, researching and only introducing what had a high probability of succeeding. This approach led to far less disappointment and failure. 

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 11

Blue Castle Garden front yard flowers, bushes and trees.

3 Beautiful Ways to Gift Wrap Amaryllis

Jolene Rempel overlooking frozen Barrier Lake from Prairie View Trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

Prairie View and Heart Creek: Frosted Peaks from a Cliff Edge