Blue Castle Garden: Year 5

In 2009, the yard was a fully planted garden filled with flowers. Testing a wide variety of plant species provided a quick education on what can grow in a challenging Zone 3 climate.

Other accomplishments included laying a winding flagstone pathway, building a bridge and dry streambed, completing the front gate arbor and staining the wooden fences and structures. 


Purchased Ceramic Pots and Patio Furniture

Simple, classic pots and furniture were chosen for the patio areas. Because of our frigid climate, the ceramic pots were stored indoors over winter to prevent freezing and cracking.

Grey, brown and black didn’t clash with the future grey fence.

Added Obelisks to Large Ceramic Patio Pots

To add height and lushness to the small patio, obelisks were sunk into the largest ceramic pots. These allowed vines to climb skyward, breaking up the plain fence bordering the patio.

Black-eyed susan vines and morning glories thrived on the obelisks.

Amended Soil in Flowerbeds

Before trees were planted, the soil was further amended with large amounts of peat moss and mushroom compost. A rented rototiller made mixing quick work.

Bags of mushroom compost from a local grower.

Rototilling peat moss and compost into the flowerbed. 

Planted Major Trees

After the soil was amended, all major trees were planted in front and back yards. Smaller sizes were selected to reduce transplant shock.

Digging a hole for the Swedish Columnar Aspen tree, later removed in Year 8.

Newly planted Showy Mountain Ash tree.

Three Swedish Columnar Aspen trees planted behind the pergola.

Constructed and Stained Front Gate Arbor

Using AutoCAD, a smaller version of the back gate arbor was designed for the narrow front gate area. Staining was completed by late summer.

In later years, it was restained darker for better contrast.

Built Bridge and Dry Streambed

A bridge over a dry streambed provided a transition from the side to back yard. This feature funneled excess water from the roof downspout to the side of the lot, improving drainage. Initially built with a pea gravel layer, it was later relined with thick pond liner in Year 13 to better separate the rocks from the soil. 

Red sticks marked the future bridge location.

Tamping in the support posts for the bridge.

Completed bridge with a pea gravel lined streambed.

Larger rocks lining the streambed (left) and later in the season with plants (right).

Newly stained bridge looking towards the back yard.

Constructed and Stained Back Yard Trellises

Two skinny trellises were built on each side of the back window to provide greenery in the narrow streambed area. These replaced planting a large, dense tree which could block light into the house.

Grey vinyl lattice is virtually maintenance-free.

The completed trellises would be restained darker in Year 12.

Stained Patio

To seal and protect the wooden patio it was stained a medium grey. For greater contrast with the fence, it was later restained a darker color in Year 12.

Most of the greys in the garden were too close in color. 

Laid Flagstone Pathway in Side Yard

Replacing the temporary sidewalk, a rundle flagstone pathway was laid. No rocks were cut but closely fit together and allowed to ramble. This created different sized planting pockets for a variety of shade plants.

This side yard is only 5′-4″ (1.6m) wide.

Plants quickly grew, creating a lush pathway in only a few months.

Laid Flagstone Pathway to Back Gate

Rundle flagstones were laid to visually anchor the gate and create a mud-free path to the back alley.

Stones were roughly placed and adjusted over several days before laying. 

Stained Pergola and Back Gate Arbor

Several colors were tested on the pergola and back gate arbor before staining. In Year 12, both structures were darkened to improve color contrast. 

Testing out different greys on the pergola posts. 

The darker pergola color gave the illusion of greater distance. 

Stained Fence

A good start was made on fence staining which continued the following year. Light grey stain created a mellow backdrop for the green plants.

Fully covering the wood required two coats of stain.

Created Front Yard Gravel Path

To improve access to the plants, a gravel pathway was added to split the wide front flowerbed. Small rock pebbles laid directly on the dirt eventually led to serious weed issues. In Year 14 it was replaced with paving stones.

Excavating dirt to outline the pathway.

A bit stark without plants to soften the edges.

Looking better by late August. 

Installed Stone Bench

An elegant stone bench in a classic style was added to the front flowerbed, providing a strong focal point from the house and street.

While rarely used, the bench is beautiful in photos.


Biting Off More Than I Could Chew

Working on too many fronts left projects incomplete for years. This resulted in moving construction materials, like flagstone and sand, from location to location.

Piles of material were ugly eyesores and dangerous tripping hazards around the garden. In hindsight, it would have been better not to plant until construction was completely finished.

Moved many times, this pile of sand was only used in Year 14.

Flower Gardens Require Tremendous Maintenance

Many of the plants I grew this year were typical flowering plants grown in English cottage gardens. Never mentioned in books I read was how much deadheading work was required.

Flowering plants like sweet peas, rudbeckia and blanket flower will go to seed if spent flowers remain. Short lived flowers may last only a day or two, needing frequent upkeep.

It can be tricky reaching into the middle of a flower thicket to remove spent flowers.


Plants Don’t Always Perform as Expected

A shock to me was how plant tags, books and online information varied from the reality of the plants in my garden. Some didn’t flower well, quickly became ratty or self-seeded prolifically. Many annual plants only matured and flowered in August, leaving the garden empty for much of the season.

Even by July 26 the plants were far from maturity.

Expecting masses of yellow flowers as shown on the tag, instead I got silvery leaves.

Evening Scented Stock, beautiful early in spring, quickly becomes ratty.

Sunflowers often appear as bouquets on seed packages, unlike the reality.


Much of the work was done the wrong way due to my inexperience. Poor plant selection, wrong materials, incorrect tree placement and attempting too many projects at once ultimately led to disappointing results. 

While progress appeared to be happening, many projects were redone in future years. It started to dawn on me that I might not have my perfect garden paradise in just a year or two.

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…


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Blue Castle Garden: Front Yard Plants – Entrance Area

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Paradise Valley and Sentinel Pass: In the Presence of Giants