Garden Design

Lessons Learned From a New Garden

My name is Hayden Brown, and I am a 28-year-old gardener in Hillsboro, Oregon, Zone 8.

Having grown up on a farm, gardens and the outdoors were a huge part of my childhood. I was often tasked with weeding the vegetable patch and spreading mulch, so it was a special treat to accompany Grandma to local garden club meetings where there were fewer weeds and a lot more flowers.

But it wasn’t until my husband and I bought our own half-acre property that I really became serious about gardening. What started as a mild interest in the cottage gardens I saw in my favorite British TV shows became a full-blown obsession.

In the fall of 2020, after months of prep and planning, I planted my very own cottage-style garden. It’s now been one year since planting, and I’ve been reflecting on what I learned and how I would do things differently in the future.

Here are some photos of my process—both successes and failures, and some before and after.

One area is a 60-foot by 30-foot corner that I planted in the fall of 2020. I spent the year prior collecting hundreds of plants by way of cuttings and divisions from friends, starting perennials from seed, and plant swaps.

The other section is a 20-foot by 30-foot section in front of our 80-year-old greenhouse. This space is dedicated to cut flowers, and I finished off the cottage garden feel with a path made of repurposed bricks.

What I love most about this garden is all the wildlife it attracts. Goldfinches, juncos, chickadees, and hummingbirds are a constant presence, and I’ve seen more varieties of bees in my garden than anywhere else.

There are certain plants that have pulled their weight for months on end. Yarrow (Achillea milifolium, Zones 4–8) is one of these. It started blooming in early June, along with poppies (Papaver rhoeas, annual) and foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea, Zones 4–9), then blended perfectly with coneflowers (Echinacea, Zones 4–9) and salvias (Salvia sp.) later in the summer.

Alliums are another favorite. The first ‘Purple Globe’ (Allium ‘Purple Globe’, Zones 3–9) started blooming in early spring, followed by stunning white ‘Everest’ (Zones 4–9), then finishing with ‘Millenium’ (Zones 5–8). The seed heads add interest after the color has passed.

Lessons learned

Mulch in the fall. When I planted everything in the fall, I assumed that since it was a new garden, I wouldn’t have very many problems with weeds. Turns out that’s not the case. I definitely should have mulched last fall, so this year I’ll be sure to add a thick layer to help block out the weeds.

Aggressive self-seeders. My initial plan was to let plants self-seed as they wanted. I really wanted that cottage garden look! But now I’m faced with thousands of little seedlings; the poppies, foxgloves, nigella, and sunflowers have practically taken over. I’ll be a little more discerning next year and cut off seed heads before they overwhelm the garden.

Fill in gaps. Since my garden is young and I didn’t want to overcrowd, there are lots of gaps between perennials. While I mixed in a few annuals, I regret not adding more. Where there’s a gap, a weed will grow!


Color all season. A day hasn’t gone by since April without plenty of blooms in the garden! My planning paid off. The layers of bulbs, perennials, and annuals ensured constant color.

Few problems with pests/diseases. My goal is to garden without the use of sprays and chemicals, so from the beginning I focused on attracting beneficial insects and birds. When we first bought the property a few years ago, I had major problems with aphids. By making the garden an inviting place for wildlife, now I have zero major problems with pests!

What’s next

Now that one corner of my property has been transformed, I’ll tackle another section. All year I’ve been collecting plants for my new prairie-style ornamental grass border. Soon I’ll start the whole process again and begin tearing out the lawn, amending the soil, and—my favorite part—planting!!

white poppies with purple flowers behindPoppies (Papaver rhoeas, annual) bloom in front of yarrow.

close up of flowersFading allium seed heads with purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea, Zone 4–9)

pink flowers next to blue flowersPurple coneflowers with blue Echinops ritro, Zones 3–8

cottage garden full of flowersDense planting creates a lush, informal, cottage-garden look.

tall sunflowers in the middle of a dense garden bedTowering sunflowers (Helianthus annuus, annual) stand out in this planting.

two dogs between raised garden bedsFurry garden helpers

purple and pink columbinesColumbines (Aquilegia vulgaris, Zones 3–9)

bright pink peoniesPeonies (Paeonia hybrids, Zones 3–8) show off in spring.

foxgloves of various colorsTall spires of foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea, Zones 4–9)

garden beds with piles of compost ready for plantingLawn out, rich compost in, new spaces getting ready for planting!

You can see more of Hayden’s garden on her instagram @theperennial.victorian

Have a garden you’d like to share?

Have photos to share? We’d love to see your garden, a particular collection of plants you love, or a wonderful garden you had the chance to visit!

To submit, send 5-10 photos to [email protected] along with some information about the plants in the pictures and where you took the photos. We’d love to hear where you are located, how long you’ve been gardening, successes you are proud of, failures you learned from, hopes for the future, favorite plants, or funny stories from your garden.

If you want to send photos in separate emails to the GPOD email box that is just fine.

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