Blue Castle Garden: Year 9

In 2013, I decided not to bulldoze Blue Castle Garden off the face of the earth. It was a difficult decision to make knowing that changing course and correcting my many mistakes would take years. 

With time away in the mountains, I began to see what I had missed all along. With renewed purpose and clarity, I set about transforming my failures into what Blue Castle Garden would eventually become.


Removed Underperforming Plants

My view of plants changed 180 degrees this year. Anything that was aggressive or freely self-seeding, went. Silver? Gone. Insipid, mediocre or leggy? Banished. Plants requiring extensive staking were on notice – one more year to improve or you’re out.

My mom was such an encouragement to me this year. I was devastated by how awful the garden looked and paralyzed by the enormity of the task. She frequently came over to pull countless bags of weeds, help me evaluate each plant and pot those to give away.

My lovely mother being my personal hero. Not a word of complaint or “I told you so” but all the help I needed with huge doses of positivity. I truly won the parent lotto. 

Started Eradicating Weeds

It boggles the mind just how quickly weeds will grow in fertile soil when left undisturbed. I grew lush dandelions many would covet for salads and vibrant thistles florists would love in bouquets. I was clearly an exceptional weed gardener. 

When a garden is left for just a couple seasons untended, the worst consequence is the sowing of thousands of weed seeds. Even with consistent effort, it took over 3 years to eradicate these weeds and their progeny from the garden. 

This reminds me of the abandoned venues from the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. It’s got the same sad, desolate, overgrown look.

Not only weeds took over, even good plants poorly positioned and neglected became overgrown. I felt like Indiana Jones hacking through the jungle getting to the back yard.

Improved Garden Planning

Prior to this year, I winged it when arranging plants in my garden, assuming it would all work out. Now I began to add them to scale and in their exact locations on my garden plan. 

This section of my garden blueprint shows the plants at their mature sizes and precise locations in the streambed area. 


Feeling Like a Failure

This kind of a train wreck can feel utterly embarrassing, particularly if you’ve had some success early on. What can you say to people who ask about your garden? I felt massive shame admitting it was a total disaster.

There were still solid structural elements hidden beneath the mess.

A few perennials bravely peeking out.

The streambed was choked with weeds. 

Plants fought each other for space. 

The bridge obscured by toppled delphiniums.

Feeling Overwhelmed by Tasks

So much work! Hours of it! The entire garden was coated in weeds and I didn’t know where to start. My mom’s advice was to avoid looking at the enormity of the task and instead focus on filling just one bag of weeds. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. 

Delphiniums poking out from among the weeds. 

Dandelions and quack grass infested both the lawn and flowerbeds. 

Feeling Like My Dream was Out of Reach

I had read the books, looked at the magazines and still failed. Where do you go from here?

Yarrow behaves like a second cousin to dandelions. It self-seeds like crazy. 


Free Plants are Easily Given Away

Through my work’s Buy & Sell board, I gave away plants by the carload. To be kind to the recipients, I only gave away plants that were healthy, disease-free, resistant to pests, non-invasive and didn’t self-seed. It’s unkind to transmit your gardening woes to others.

Nana Dwarf Arctic Willow has lacy foliage that catches the wind.

As beautiful and healthy as the willow was, its fine texture and future size didn’t suit my plans.

Taking a Break Gives Fresh Perspective

Giving your mind a rest by focusing on something entirely different can remove the negative emotions from a difficult situation. A summer spent hiking in the Canadian Rockies left my frustrations behind and ultimately led to gardening breakthroughs. 

Looking down on Lake Annette in Paradise Valley, Banff National Park, Canada.

Majestic mountains surrounding Paradise Valley, Banff National Park, Canada.

Standing on the shore of Lake Annette in Paradise Valley, Banff National Park, Canada.

Looking down the valley from Rae Glacier in Kananaskis County, Alberta, Canada.

Canoeing through Weaselhead Flats in Glenmore Reservoir, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Fall colors in Sheep River Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada.

Sheep River Falls in Sheep River Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada.

Mount Sarrail towering over Rawson Lake in Kananaskis County, Alberta, Canada.

Sentinel Pass overlooking Paradise Valley, Banff National Park, Canada.


After great reflection years later I believe this was the key point when I finally became a garden designer and not just a plant collector. Only with hitting a brick wall and failing miserably could I begin to see clearly.

Blue Castle Garden would have never reached my vision for it if it had sailed on in mediocrity as in the previous “good” years. I had to stop prioritizing individual plants and instead focus on the overall design. This year was the cure for that.

At the time I felt like an abject failure. But I believe this is the most encouraging post on this website. If I can turn around a garden so entirely off the rails as this one was, so can anyone willing to do what is hard, but necessary.

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 10

Blue Castle Garden front yard flowers, bushes and trees.

Blue Castle Garden: Front Yard Plants – Entrance Area

Jolene Rempel on summit of Mist Mountain in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

Mist Mountain: On Top of the World