Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Lessons Learned: Blooms and Botches in a Beginner’s First Garden

Search

Lessons Learned: Blooms and Botches in a Beginner’s First Garden

October 7, 2021

A few years ago, I wrote about the lovely NYC apartment creative director Matthew Axe shares with his husband, Peyton Hays (you can read the Remodelista story here.) During our interview, he told me that they were about to embark on a renovation of their cottage in Sea Cliff, a small village on the North Shore of Long Island, and spoke about it the way one would gush about starting a new career—that is, with equal parts trepidation and excitement.

Today, their second home is nearly completely remodeled—complete with a beautiful terraced garden. The two are beginner gardeners, and it took time and patience to figure out what works and what doesn’t on their property. Mistakes were made. Plants were lost. Plans were redrawn. But those errors have led, ultimately, to the thriving garden they have.

“I still have failures,” Matthew is quick to note. “I’ve tried lupines all over the garden in shade, semi shade, and full sun, from seed and full grown plants—but still no luck.” Below, he walks us through the many lessons the couple has learned designing their garden, a forever work in progress.

Photography by Matthew Axe.

1. Focus first on the hedges.

&#8\2\20;During the pandemic, to be able to concentrate on my plants and lose myself in the tasks in the garden was hugely important,&#8\2\2\1; says Matthew.
Above: “During the pandemic, to be able to concentrate on my plants and lose myself in the tasks in the garden was hugely important,” says Matthew.

“We inherited the foundational elements of our garden from the previous owners. During the first round of planning and reconfiguring, I concentrated on the interior of the garden. In hindsight I wished I’d concentrated first on the hedging. These take the most time to grow, but also as they do grow they change the conditions for the plants.”

2. Go with the flow.

Their outdoor dining area is now on this level. The patio on the higher level proved to be too inconveniently located to use.
Above: Their outdoor dining area is now on this level. The patio on the higher level proved to be too inconveniently located to use.

“When I started to plan the garden, I created an eating/sitting area in a spot up some steps. We ended up rarely using it—it was too far to go with food and drinks. We now use an existing brick patio next to the kitchen and use it all the time to entertain. Figure out where you naturally gravitate. The same could be said of paths in the garden; see where you naturally walk, before you go to the trouble of laying a path.”

3. Design for the garden you have, not the one you want.

Growing in this terraced bed are catmint, forget-me-nots, and lambs ear. The shed below was built to house the couple&#8\2\17;s gardening tools and air conditioner compressor.
Above: Growing in this terraced bed are catmint, forget-me-nots, and lambs ear. The shed below was built to house the couple’s gardening tools and air conditioner compressor.

“I visited Beth Chatto’s garden in Elmstead, Essex, England, and I was not only
inspired by the gravel garden she created from a car park but also fascinated by her mantra: ‘the right plant, for the right place.’ As a beginner, it can be easy to choose a favorite plant or flower and decide to grow it, but over the last few years I have had the most success looking and seeing which places in my garden favor which plants. Our garden in some parts is full sun or deep dry shade in others. We now choose plants for the conditions, and then select varieties that favor this.”

4. Get your feet wet with herbs.

“Three years ago when we started working in our garden, we really didn’t know very much…I think the important thing is to start, be ready for success and for a few failures. Our starting point was some herbs, which were relatively easy and edible, too. They grew and so did our confidence.”

5. Plan for blooms beyond spring.

&#8\2\20;I have been pleased with how the garden looks in terms of color. Our palette for plants and flowers is pink, purple, blue, and white,&#8\2\2\1; says Matthew. Next step: planning for multi-season color.
Above: “I have been pleased with how the garden looks in terms of color. Our palette for plants and flowers is pink, purple, blue, and white,” says Matthew. Next step: planning for multi-season color.

“In our garden, May to early June is a mass of color. We planted hundreds of allium bulbs and grew many foxgloves from seed only to find when these were finished, we had a very monotone green garden. A neighbor suggested leaving space for annuals with lime green foliage and bright flowers and also having pots to place in borders to inject some colur. I thought these were two really lovely suggestions. Next year!”

6. Don’t forget about drainage.

Gravel has helped improve drainage on their property. Here, Matthew takes a break from refinishing an old garden table, given to him by his neighbor.
Above: Gravel has helped improve drainage on their property. Here, Matthew takes a break from refinishing an old garden table, given to him by his neighbor.

“Our garden is on a slope, so the previous owners did a really good job (so far) of creating a way for the water to run off. We’ve also added several gravel areas, which are relatively maintenance-free and improve the drainage. We are planning to re-roof our property and plan to have rain butts [rain barrels] on many of the fall pipes to catch the water to use for watering the plants.”

For more on how to start a garden, see:

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

v5.0