Our gardens here at Hidden Valley Lake are less than fifteen years old. In the fall of 1997 my family purchased a ten acre parcel of land with a two and a half acre lake enclosed on two sides by state park land, and bordered by farm fields on the remainder.
The property had primarily been used as a summertime fishing retreat before we acquired it; maintenance appeared to consist of a once a year mowing of the area around the structures and a periodic cutting of the mixed grass and alfalfa field out back.
There were several nice ash and maple trees grouped near the structures, but very few trees around the lake. In the summertime it was uncomfortably hot to be in this area of the property, and in the winter the winds blew hard and cold over the frozen expanse of water.
While we were working on rebuilding the structures, we began planting trees and shrubs; hundreds of tiny sticks to one day provide the property with welcome shade and cover. Most of these were planted around the lake and throughout the hayfield in the back section of the property. We added river birch, tulip poplar, sycamore, sweet gum, redbud, osier dogwoods, oaks, and viburnums, to name a few. Raspberries and blackberries eventually found their way in; courtesy of the birds who began to flock in to our immediate area to take advantage of the cover and additional nesting sites.
Each following year we added a few lilacs, weeping willows, scotch pine, white pine, and other assorted evergreen trees as well, to this back section of property. The plan was to one day have a pleasantly shady walking trail around the lake and this entire area. Deer destroyed a great many of these tiny trees, but enough survived to make a marked difference in the landscape, and our use of it.
During the reconstruction of the buildings on the property the soil structure in the section of yard between our homes was grievously disturbed and very nearly ruined by construction equipment and the use of substrate as a surface back-fill instead of topsoil. We found this out after we began to plant this area.
After losing quite a few ornamental tree starts we finally began planting some more easily adaptable and forgiving plants, such as the tiny 'Heritage' river birch pictured here, and a couple of hardy magnolias.
We later had to move the magnolia pictured above to another area, employing the use of raised planting mounds to keep the roots from suffocating. I've devoted most of my gardening time and effort to restoring a few areas in this section to growing spaces. Every one of these spaces has to be heavily amended and the surface raised as the clay substrate material no longer allows proper drainage in these areas. The evergreen shrubs in the photo above succumbed to poor drainage after about five years, and were removed. Instead we began planting white birch and flowering cherry and pear trees; while also adding white pine and Frasier fir along the edges of the nearly ruined areas. Once these trees were settled in and growing well (about eight years, or so later), the spaces in between their somewhat raised roots became a comfortable growing area for tiny transplants of hosta, ivy, columbine seeds, small spring-flowering bulbs and a host of others.
A bit of hardscaping came next, with the addition of a lattice covered arbor sitting area, and a few more trees. The youngster in the center of this photo is a silver maple, well known for its enjoyment of poor-draining, moisture retentive clay soils.
There are two homes on this site. The first (ours), was originally used only as a summer cottage. Stories we've heard from the long-time locals of this area are that when the state of Indiana started buying the surrounding acreage for use as a recreational area, the owners of this property "collected" several small cabins from the land that was sold, brought them to this site, and set them together here. The resulting larger cabin was then cobbled together and the entire building was roofed over. We've added another room, the walls of which are almost entirely made of glass, a lovely raised deck with a small covered area for relaxing, and a raised entryway.
The second house was nothing more than a concrete pad with an enclosed pavilion style building built upon it. It was completely renovated and made into an open concept, cedar-sided cottage for my parents. We've since added two more rooms and a lovely screened in porch. The porch is on the east side of their home, facing the gardens, and about half of the roofing material is composed of clear panels, so it's a bright and wonderful spot for enjoying breakfast or a good book.
The weed covered area beyond the line of trees will eventually become the south hillside gardens, and the add-on room to our cottage will be on this side, facing the lake. The deck will be added on the shady north side of our cottage, creating usable space over the slope that's a bit too steep for comfort.
This area of the property began as weeds and moved on to being a regularly mowed grass area. During the height of summer however, the grass always turned sere, brown and unattractive, so we tilled it up and planted some daylilies and a vegetable crop. We fought weeds and distance from water battles continuously for several years until we finally had enough perennials planted that we could add a heavy layer of mulch, and thus began to gain some control. Watering battles were diminished by laying a hose with the water running at the top of the hill and observing where the excess traveled. Subsequent garden beds were placed in these areas so that runoff saturated them after filling the garden(s) above. It's now possible to water all twelve planted beds by simply running a hose on the ground for a given amount of time, meanwhile only changing its placement twice. This is usually done infrequently, as to need, and generally in the early morning or evening hours to reduce the amount of evaporation caused by intense sunshine, coupled with high temperatures.
Meanwhile, a few more buildings popped up here and there, a son and grandson was born, and those trees continued to grow!
A view of our cottage from one of our driveways.
Baby boy learning the rudimentary rules of watering; or maybe not.
To the right in this picture above is our garden shed and the plantings around it: roses, smokebush, sand cherry, honeysuckle, a bird cherry tree and various underplantings. Note the still-green summertime grass; we'll be seeing a lot more of that as the sheltering trees continue to grow.
My folks' house is now fairly complete; we've added yet more trees, some weigela shrubs and a few cinnamon ferns under the bay window.
This raised walkway was designed to curve around a mature tulip poplar, through multiple plantings of tall bearded iris and daylilies, with its final destination being the arbor.
This is the beginning of a rose bed at the highest point of the south hillside gardens, adorned with a bit more hardscaping and another delightful resting space. We decided to dig away a portion of the hillside for the arbor to create the feeling of sitting in a grotto, down amongst the blooms instead of just gazing over the tops of them. This is, by far, the best place to watch all of the winged wonders that visit our gardens.
About eight years or so ago, we added a couple of wildflower meadows in the old hayfield area. Butterflies, moths and hummingbirds abound out here as well. We tilled in the rubble after burning off the area, then scattered around a wildflower seed mix. Over the course of the following season we'd drive our garden tractor through it scattering chicken litter here and there; other than that and a few widely spaced mowings, we've not had to do anything else to care for it.
Echinacea and various black-eyed Susan rule here during the month of July.
Trees are growing taller all along the lakeside trail and nature walks around the lake are becoming much cooler and quite pleasant.
The area just to the left of the leaning wood duck house on the far side of the lake has recently been planted with a young magnolia tree and a dozen or so rose bushes. It should be quite a sight, even when viewed from across the lake.
Weeping willows grow extremely fast! The ones pictured in this photo are about seven years old, and an estimated forty feet high, by 30 feet wide. The Staghorn sumac in the foreground is a native here, and these two are volunteer plants which likely spread by underground runners from a nearby patch.
Willows are fantastic overhanging a water feature, but we've learned that they're entirely too messy to be used in landscaped areas. July, August and September are typically dry months for us; note the low water level of the lake.
Through the seasons; the gardens of Hidden Valley Lake.
In the earliest showing of the spring season, massed daffodils march away down the length of this driveway. The other drive has recently been planted with Anemone blanda 'Blue Shades', Chionodoxa forbesii, Crocus 'Spring Beauty', Ixiolirion tataricum, Dutch iris 'Sapphire Beauty', and Tulipa polychroma.
The flowering "bones" of the north drive gardens are also flaunting their beauty. Top-foreground is Weeping Higan Cherry (Prunus pendula 'Pendula Rosea'), behind it are the darker pink blooms of Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) and behind the arbor is another 'Roseanne' magnolia overhanging the morning room. The shorter pink flowering shrub to the right is a flowering almond.
Below their protective arms the mixed planting beds also begin to awaken and reach for the sky.
Springtime blooms on a crabapple tree and Korean spicebush viburnum in the south hill gardens; the scent of that particular viburnum is incomparably lovely.
The bed in front of the fence is filled with lilies and strawberries. We periodically add amendments for hungry plants that also crave acidic soil, so we like to group them together whenever possible.
We eventually achieved success in coaxing a Norway spruce to adapt to conditions in our problem soil area. Isn't it lovely? Remember when we planted the tiny-twig group of 'Heritage' river birch (right side in photo below)? It's simply amazing that they can make such a large impact in such a short amount of time. I admire every bloom in my gardens, but I wouldn't ever want to be tree-poor again.
We added a single-trunk specimen of 'Heritage' (on the left) a few years after the first group.
Peonies are paramount at the moment in the north drive gardens. They can, and do bloom in quite a bit of shade, just as long as they have a decent amount of southern exposure. The garden beds here are designed to have something of interest happening on any given day; we're not so much massive impact gardeners, so if at times things seem a bit sparse, just hang on, we'll fill things out a bit later with annuals started in the springhouse.
Spring on the deck.
We've begun putting together a few containers that may be used as fillers for bare spots in the gardens later on in the season. They're in bright, filtered light here so they'll grow slowly and be much easier to care for. These are some of our mid-season interest extenders; additional plants for later blooms will be started from seed in just a few weeks. That eyesore of a bird feeder stump will eventually be enclosed within a recently planted Black Pussy Willow (Salix gracilistyla 'Melanostachys') and some transplanted Chinese Silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Silver Feather').
This bed is due north of the cluster of river birch. It receives direct sun in spring, and indirect sun after the tree leafs out; with the exception of about 2 hours worth of direct sun in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, it's planted with a lot of lost name plants, but they're pretty anyway. Dinner plate sized violet-blue-to-pink clematis on the fence, white Hybrid Bee Delphinium (Delphinium elatum 'Double Innocence') , the strongly upright leaves of Crocosmia (Crocosmia-Lucifer), red border lily, and fuzzy grey Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina) down in front. The multitude of hostas will bloom in this much shade, and the tall bearded iris will as well, but the iris stalks tend to be quite a bit floppier here when compared to others planted in full sun.
The perennials in the south hillside gardens shoot up like rockets in late spring. Tubs full of seed started annuals are lined up in between plants to take advantage of their neighbors' wind reducing abilities and to begin acclimating themselves to strong sunlight.
Lost name lilies, white flowered Yarrow (Achillea), and golden Tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora 'Santa Fe') brighten the day in the south hillside gardens. We'll top off all of these once initial bloom is past. The yarrow and the tickseed will set additional blooms later in the season.
Lily (Lilium 'Cherished') in the heart-shaped memorial and cutting garden on the south hillside. This bed is also home to Firecracker Plant (Monarda didyma 'Gardenview Scarlet') commonly known as beebalm, gladiolus, crocosmia, roses, tall bearded iris, perennial poppies, daylilies and annual Giant Larkspur (Consolida ajacis). This bed is bordered a bit too closely by a wind barrier of evergreen trees.
This bed is situated as a windbreak. It reduces sub-zero winter winds that gain momentum when crossing the flat and frozen surface of the lake. The group of evergreen trees behind it minimizes the effects of scorching hot, dry summer breezes.
In the center of the yard is a low area that floods every spring. It's the predominant garden area to view from the deck or the kitchen windows, however, so it calls for a lot of plants. Perennials here need to be able to withstand up to a week's worth of standing water in spring, and extremely moist soil during our winter snow and thaw cycles. Dutch iris have failed to thrive here, but Siberian Iris (Iris 'Caesar's Brother') appears to appreciate these conditions.
A small water feature that's capable of housing a few water plants, frogs and and handful of small fish can be assembled as easily as a sunken tub with a pump to circulate and and aerate the water.
We've placed flat shale over sections of the tub to provide the fish a safe haven from birds, feral cats and raccoons. We've also added stairs of brick inside the tub so that our native frogs can climb out if they wish. During the hottest days of summer we'll have occasions when we'll need to add water to this small-sized tub, but half a bucketful will usually fill it.
Try something new and zany every year; seriously, it's fun!
We tucked a cantaloupe and a cucumber in with some roses; by late summer those fruits were some of the best tasting ones we grew, and they were far, far away from the veggie patch.
Pie pumpkin sprouts in the north border? Why, sure! Experiment by thinning to one or two plants and throw a tripod up for them to climb; given a bit of trimming and placement training they'll stay out of the flowers and reach up toward the sun.
Late summer and early autumn begins the late-blooming windflower season. Here we have Japanese Thimbleflower (Anemone 'Margarete'); and Japanese Thimbleflower (Anemone hupehensis), complimenting the dusky pink blossoms of Rose (Rosa 'Acropolis').
Asters and mums blooming in the north drive border is a sure sign that autumn is right around the corner.
Here in the long planter we've also added a few ornamental cabbage.
New York Aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii 'Peter III'), and a lovely pink-flowered upright sedum make a stunning pair; while Dogtooth Daisy (Helenium 'Double Trouble') adds a bit of bright late-season color and height.
Lighting conditions are once again reaching favorable levels in the south hillside gardens, where our grotto arbor is a shady, secluded retreat; nearly obscured by a riot of Clematis (Clematis terniflora), commonly known as sweet autumn clematis, Chinese Silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Silver Feather'), roses and seed started annuals. The next image shows an interesting view from above.
These two border ends of contrasting forms, shapes and colors were designed to mirror one another in autumn, while simultaneously tying this garden space into the tan, burgundy, and deep green structural and accent theme found everywhere in our gardens.
When viewed together, rather than from opposing directions, the post-frost burgundy of spicebush viburnum, and the year-round burgundy of Purple Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Summer Wine') are nearest one another, with a lawn walkway dividing the two beds. Adam's Needle (Yucca filamentosa 'Hofer Blue'), pink flowered sedum and Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis North Pole = 'Art Boe') are also situated opposite one another; completing the illusion of strolling through a mirror.
Graceful weeping willow is a strong presence in the landscape, providing a peaceful place to rest winter-weary eyes.
A span of ten short years from our first photo to this final image; taken 4 years ago, gives the impression of a stage set year-round with a strong supporting cast, more than ready to lend succor and a sheltering wing to our bit players; to each of us our own, most favored garden plants.
So, while having fun with the process of designing your garden spaces, don't forget the bones.
Amazing, Chelle, and so very beautiful. It makes us realize all we can accomplish by working with nature and not against it. You've created a wonderland of peace and beauty, your own little bit of paradise.
Thank you so much for sharing your creation with us, it is truly inspiring!
And thank you all for joining us!
Trish and I will bring you another Garden Tour soon; we look forward to sharing it with you.