Shortly after we purchased the 1876 Fixer Upper at auction in November 2018, we started thinking about our new wreck of a side yard and what to do with it. We set out to articulate what inspired us as gardeners and what opportunities existed in the small space of the new yard.

We spent a lot of time at the dining room table on our iPads with all of our gardening books and magazines and the landscape journal of the home in which we were still living. We started by making lists of the flowers and plants that were special to each of us. Some were plant materials we had used and enjoyed in the past, some carried memories of our childhoods, and some were plants we simply just wanted to try. We were going from shade-loving garden areas in a wooded lot to a small urban side yard offering full sun. Endless possibilities for two Purdue University Master Gardeners!

In addition to the plants we thought we wanted in the new yard, we also identified what we didn’t want. GRASS. We gave our lawn mower to our son and began researching pea gravel courtyards.

We also made lists of other elements we wanted to include in the garden areas such as color, texture and fragrance, shrubs, bulbs and cutting flowers, iron and art glass. And if we could fix our broken recirculating fountain – water!

Armed with pencils, graph paper, and measurements of the new yard space, we went to work defining our vision. We determined several garden areas within the project.

View of Sullivan House, Talbot-Hyatt House and Schofield House from second floor gallery of our 1876 fixer upper. (Sullivan House stone smokehouse in foreground)
  • Sullivan Smokehouse Stone Wall Garden
    This is my special garden. The color and texture of the Jeremiah Sullivan House’s smokehouse wall is amazing, and it screams cottage garden. Hopefully not an overgrown messy one, but a beautifully soft and fragrant garden with pink shrub roses, peonies, day lilies, Siberian iris, Russian sage and more. The far west end of the stone wall area narrows from 5.5 to 3.5 feet wide and will be planted with hollyhock and sunflowers to peer over the garden wall.

    When we visited the FDR Presidential Library gardens in Hyde Park, New York in 2007, I was struck with the simple beauty of their combination of pink roses and Russian Sage. Now I get to create a spot like that in my garden space!
  • Courtyard Garden
    This is the garden where Ken will make his mark with hybrid tea roses, mountain laurel, azalea, and astilbe beds. It’s also the garden that will feature a metal orb atop an antique millstone surrounded with herbs in spring/summer and mums/ornamental kale in fall. Look for the art glass in this garden area also.
  • Hentz Alley Garden
    Hardly more that a few patches of dubious quality dirt, this alley strip “garden” alongside the north wall of the house is really just a tiny beautification project. The 2nd Street Carriage House behind us has lovely alley flowers, and we felt terrible that our section looked so sorry. The fun part of the story is that last fall when we couldn’t do any other gardening in the new yard, we could plant some “Red Tag” end of season perennials in hopes of making the alley less grim. Cross your fingers that they have survived and will bloom this spring!

Once we agreed on the garden areas’ vibes, and what we thought would be pleasing combinations in those locations, we set out to discover where we wanted to source our plant materials. We had a few favorite places to buy plants, but we dove deep into the internet combing our Tri-State area in search of local growers of high-quality specimens. What we discovered was “our backyard” from Southeast Indiana to Central Ohio to the Louisville, Kentucky area offered amazing opportunities. And great excuses for fact finding road trips!

We felt the orange roadside daylilies were “too country”, and the smaller Stella d’Oro day lilies seemed “too suburban”. What I was looking for were the knock-your-socks-off colorful varieties with huge blooms, ruffled edges, or contrasting throat colors. Something that made you take a second look and think, “I didn’t know daylilies could look like that!” And that is just what I discovered at New Creation Day Lilies on a country road in Paris, Indiana. I planned for six different plants and found it incredibly difficult to decide between everything I saw. But I took many photos and finally made up my mind. I’ll be contacting them in April to dig my selections for planting.

The same afternoon of my daylily excursion with two friends from New York (who were also blown away by the varieties!), we went on to a favorite spot nearby for lunch, Twigs and Springs Tearoom at the Stream Cliff Herb Farm in Commiskey, Indiana. The quilt themed gardens are lovely, and the herbs they grow are so large and healthy. When I return this Mother’s Day with Ken for their special lunch, I’ll be bringing home the herbs on my list.

Ken and I will be attending the Gardeners’ Fair this year at Locust Grove in Louisville. It also takes place during Mother’s Day Weekend, so yes, I’m going to have an awesome weekend! Locust Grove is a circa 1792 Georgian mansion on gorgeous grounds. We are really looking forward to the gardening event and finding an unusual plant or two to tuck into our new garden space.

I love peonies, but I was really only familiar with the traditional old-fashioned varieties like my father’s family had grown – basic pink and white. I definitely wanted to include those, but I wanted to add a couple varieties that could up my flower arranging game. In an earlier post, I described the Season Opening Event at Red Twig Farms in Albany, Ohio. Amazing. After seeing their beautiful blooms, I made a list of seven varieties to consider for the following spring. And I decided on potted peony plants rather that bare root. Our beds wouldn’t be ready to plant for months, but I was one step closer!

One of my favorite places to buy locally grown plants is McCabe’s Greenshouse & Floral in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. I’m in the area frequently for work, so it’s a great spot for me to pick up any garden essentials and ask gardening questions from the horticultural team. It’s a family-owned business with robust healthy plants they grow in their greenhouses. I dare you to find a dried out or a rootbound plant. I’ll be counting on McCabe’s to supply a variety of annuals and green plants for many outdoor pots around the courtyard. They are also great to order regionally grown items from their network of specialty growers.

Although not one of my Tri-State growers, Floret Flower Farm in Washington State is a terrific source of quality flower seeds. I’ve been a fan of theirs for a while now and love everything they’re doing on their farm. I purchased several varieties of their annual seeds online to direct sow when the soil warms. Hopefully they will make nice filler in bare spots and cut flowers for arrangements.

Exciting news from Floret was released earlier this month. They’ve been filming a documentary series about their farm for Chip & Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia network, a joint venture with Discovery, Inc.!

We like to take “Golf & Gardens” vacations, and they have been a great source of landscape design inspiration. Depending on where we travel and whether or not we travel with friends, sometimes we both explore gardens, sometimes we both play golf, sometimes we divide and conquer.

If I’m a golf camp follower when not playing, or a garden visitor, I usually carry a sketch book or blank scrapbook pages and doodle when inspired. I don’t do much drawing, but nature has a way of urging me along.

Two public gardens we visited over a decade ago gave us specific inspiration. We visited Cape Cod with friends Tom & Lois after their son Mike’s wedding. The guys played golf, we found gardens. The garden at Museum on the Green in Falmouth, Massachusetts had a lovely circular garden featuring a metal orb on a stone base. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to recreate that look using the metal orb in our yard. Now, twelve years later, it’s happening!

There are SO many amazing gardens in Ireland. So many wonderful shades of green! While meandering through the enormous and spectacular gardens of Muckross House in the southwest’s Killarney National Forest, Ken fell for flagstone. In a big way. Now this spring, he’s “making it happen” in the courtyard garden of the 1876 Fixer Upper.

Ken has been overseeing the hardscape angle of the garden. He’s made two trips to pick up loads of flagstones for courtyard garden stepping stones. These stones will form the path from the driveway to the house and breezeway. One load was a Craigslist find in Louisville while the second load came from Crane Hardscape Supply on Old LaGrange Road in Louisville. He also took a road trip to the Bright, Indiana area to pick up an antique millstone from a work colleague of mine.

So here we are in March 2020, nearly a year and a half after purchasing the 1876 Fixer Upper, and our plans are starting to unfold. The team at Bermuda Triangle Landscape, Inc from Milton, Kentucky is doing an excellent job executing our plans and helping us build the foundation of the garden we hope to create.

We’re so excited to see the side yard transformation and can’t wait to roll up our sleeves and dig in the dirt! Hopefully before long, soil and plants will come together, and new garden green space will soften the current brick, concrete and stone environment. Take a stroll down Poplar Street and check out the garden progress!

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One thing that makes my journey unique is that all of my interests are driven by a joyful and genuine curiosity. I delight in finding less expensive ways to make something or creative ways to enjoy something longer. Finding and creating joy - and sharing it - is core to who I am.