5 Easy Ways to Make Your Backyard Garden the Envy of the Neighborhood

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Sometimes all it takes is a lifelong love for gardening to cultivate a career. Chris Day has done just that, and is now expertly tending The Gables at Chadds Ford’s ground by planting, watering, maintaining and keeping an eye on it all to create breathtaking results.

We caught up with Chris, who started out simply working his own personal garden, to glean tips for those of us who lack the green thumb, as well as those who have more than a passing interest in landscaping. Check out these five simple tips for growing an enviable garden.

How did you come to landscaping?

I’ve been working on my own personal garden, so I’ve had no formal schooling other than various workshops provided by Wild Abundance and Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, both out of North Carolina. Although these deal more with foraging and wildcrafting, they’ve been helpful in building my experience with plant identification. I’m familiar with vegetables and herbs, and have begun to spend some more time with ornamentals.

What are your top tips for a beautiful home garden?

The first would be to know your piece of earth. The type of soil and the amount of sunlight will determine which species will thrive in which parts of your space. For example, the soil on my property contains a large amount of clay, so I needed to either choose hardier species, such as shrubs or other woody plants, or dig out plots and fill them with a more appropriate growing medium. Also, much of my property is shaded by a canopy of trees, so I had to carefully choose which spots would receive the longest sun exposure to sustain any fruiting vegetables or flowers requiring more light to bloom.

The second would be to familiarize yourself with the plants you wish to grow. Aesthetics and what your neighbors think isn’t going to cut it all on their own. If you’re going to put your energy into it, then your garden should be with you for a long time, and you should love what you plant. So consider what’s going to feed your personal enjoyment. Knowing your plants also will help you decide where to place them in your yard, and the amount of water and nutrients they will require. I’m more familiar with growing vegetables and herbs and can tell you that even if you’re looking for a more ornamental approach, then it’s worth taking a look at herbs such as calendula, chamomile, borage, coneflowers, lavender, comfrey or bread poppy. They all add interesting foliage and uniquely beautiful blooms to any ornamental garden. Other plants with gorgeous blooms include peonies, lupine, columbine, foxglove, irises, lilies or the ever-popular sunflowers, which contain a variety of sizes and colors. Some shrubs with attractive flowers are various species of ninebark, lilac, elder, flowering dogwood, hydrangeas, forsythia, beautyberry and of course, roses. Azaleas and rhododendrons are also popular, but keep in mind that their nectar is toxic to bees, whose presence are essential for many of the other plants you may be growing in your garden. If you’re like me and your colder months could use a bit of color, you could plant witch hazel, which, depending on the variety, can bloom from October to mid-March.

Lastly, I recommend consistency in watering and keeping unwanted plants from crowding the soil. This can be done easily by mulching and installing a drip irrigation system.

What’s your advice for novices interested in upping their gardening game?

Take an active interest in your space so you stay engaged in your progress. Make a place for rest or to just sit and read in your garden. Decorate and personalize it with benches, arches, birdbaths — even gnomes, if that’s your thing. Whatever your tastes, make it your space.

I also would recommend starting with perennials; they’re more sustainable, both for the soil and for your wallet. Some simple plants to start with — the “set ‘ems and forget ‘ems,” if you will — include hostas, lilies, hydrangeas, ferns, wild rhubarb and hellebores (also known as lenten rose or Christmas rose). Hellebore is a good plant for beginners, as it takes to various soils rather quickly, provides green foliage all year round, blooms anywhere from late January to February and typically remains in bloom through midsummer. This gives your garden color when many gardens lay bare waiting for the spring.

Anything else you’d like to tell home gardeners?

I’d just like to restate: Know your space. Take a lazy day off and watch the sun move across your property. Dig a hole and have a look at your soil. Grab an inexpensive soil tester from a Lowe’s or Home Depot and see what nutrients your soil needs. Make it your own and you’ll love it for years to come.

The Gables at Chadds Ford is nestled in the heart of the historic Brandywine Valley. Our combination of fresh seasonal cuisine, rustic yet elegant charm and enchanting outdoor dining will keep you coming back time and time again. The Gables is also the perfect venue to host your next special event, whether you are planning a wedding, rehearsal dinner, baby shower or corporate event.

Nina Malone

Featured photo: Pixabay; all other photos: The Gables at Chadds Ford