Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Plan A New Garden Using Fallen Leaves

Our gardens two months after moving into our new house. The borders consisted of a few newly planted shrubs and raked leaves.
I recently came across these fall photos of our gardens from 2007. We had just moved into our new house and were working hard to make it livable for our family of three. I was expecting our second daughter, chasing our almost-two-year-old and staying up late painting and unpacking every night.

In the midst of all that was going on, I was also simmering with excitement about planning a garden of my very own. My mind was overloaded thinking through all of the garden design principles I had learned through my reading in the preceding years.  What kind of borders would be best in this situation? Could I afford enough fencing to hem in the entire perimeter of the house, or would I choose to use plant material instead?  What kind of garden path(s) would give a coherence to our small lot?

Our house when we purchased it in the summertime of 2007...
I had thought about many different schemes, but our gardens first truly took shape when I went out to rake the fallen leaves one afternoon during my daughter's nap time. I realized that instead of using a rope or hose to layout a garden design, that the leaves would do a much better job in helping me to visualize my new garden beds. And, perhaps more importantly, help to explain my garden scheme to my husband. The leaves really helped to create the paths and borders in an instant, visual way.

Our house just a few months later with the first borders laid out with fallen leaves. You can see the beginning of the Shade Path, Cherry Corner and the Front Walk.

Raking leaves into borders and paths in the fall is a great way for that new gardeners to make decisions about their garden without needing to dig. I have actually used it to help explain garden design ideas to my friends at their homes as well. It is a great way to show a friend or client what shape their new paths and borders might take. And if you find that you need to plan a wider path, fix an angle that is too acute, or need to widen a border, simply move a few more leaves around with the rake.

And for those who are truly motivated, laying leaves onto your lawn can be the first step in actually constructing a new garden bed. Follow it up with edging the borders, then layering cardboard or newspaper and more leaves on top of the others. Wet it all down, especially if you are having a dry, windy fall. This layering of organic material, widely known as "lasagna gardening," is actually a better choice for the soil structure in the new garden than is digging up or tilling an entire area and unearthing new weed seeds in the process.

Leaves laid on top of the grass around the front of the house. A few small evergreen shrubs and mums are dotted around the perimeter. We mowed and raked the leaves away after deciding on our borders in 2007. Most of these garden areas would not actually be edged in for six to eighteen months. You can also see photos of this Cherry Corner gardens in 2011.
This is the first design in 2007 of the Shade Path Garden done in leaves, a few perennials and perimeter arbor vitae. See photos of the Shade Path Garden in 2011.
This grassy hill in our backyard now has a tapestry of ground covers, a row of various flowers and a fence to keep the children from rolling into the road. In 2007, you can see the first few baby bushes tucked in and the leaves marking the turf that will be eliminated. See great photos of this area and also my curb areas in Foliage Day in July 2012.
The fallen leaves in the large curb strip at the front of our property in 2008, now known as the Front Woodland.  Here is a beautiful photo of the Front Woodland curb garden in July 2012.
In 2008, we decided to keep all of our fallen leaves in the large curb strip at the front of our property. This time instead of raking them off, I used the layering technique, cardboard boxes covered in leaves, to kill off most of the turf and created a new garden space to transplant my overabundance of daylilies.

Now this curb area has its own garden name, the Front Woodland. It was a great garden design decision because it really extends the feeling that we occupy this area and encloses the sidewalk. We walk down here as a part of our garden walk-through now. Our neighbors also love walking here and feeling that they are in a garden, not just looking in from the outside.

Read more about Gilmore Gardens by viewing our map, which links to all of my succession planting articles. Succession planting is the art (or the goal) of keeping my garden blooming from March through November in Pennsylvania zone 5.


  1. Love your idea for marking and preparing your gardens...and how beautifully it all turned out. Thanks for sharing your comment on CirclesOfFaith.org and please sign up for a FREE subscription so you don't miss out.

  2. Such a great idea! I love practical solutions :)

  3. What a transformation in 5 years! and not just a static transformation, a living one that morphs into a new painting each season. Congratulations, just lovely, always look forward to your posts and pics. (And occasional Andrew Peterson stuff, favorite artist BTW :)

  4. What a fantastic idea, so much easier than wrestling with a hose pipe! Lovely to see how your garden developed in such a short time.

  5. How nice is this idea of "lasagna gardening"! You planned the garden with leaves, I agree it was very visible plan.

  6. Love the idea of laying out the borders and paths with leaves; it would be difficult to achieve here as we almost always have lots of wind that swirls the leaves around. We bought our house in December 2006 so not so long before you started your garden. You’ve made a terrific job of designing the space. You created such a special and beautiful space for your family. Christina

  7. It is a great idea to plan your garden with leaves, but in our country it's always windy, so we should be very fast to work it out. I have a very wet and weedy place in my garden behind the greenhouse and there I shall make a lasagna.

  8. Great idea! What a wonderful visual. I know how hard it can be to transfer the idea in your mind to a spouse that just can't 'see' it. This is so much easier than laying down hoses, etc. - and a good way to get exercise, too! :)

  9. Good post. I like stealing the neighbors' leaves, saving them and using them for mulch the following year.

  10. Wonderful and easy concept and you never need to move the leaves once in place.

  11. Good idea! And you've certainly created a beautiful oasis of growing things on that beautiful lot. It had curb appeal to start with and you've improved it!

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  13. Julie I do love seeing how you designed the beds. I use the leaves as mulch here and to keep weeds down around the veg beds...they are a natural way to start beds.

  14. Now that is a GREAT idea. Thanks for sharing it!

  15. That is an awesome idea! It is so neat to see the before shots of your garden! Your house is stunning by the way! Cheers to you and all you have accomplished!

  16. Julie a lovely idea and for you a reality all I need is some leaves, I have found in my windy island garden that newspaper and sand work best to kill the grass which here is a very tough grass, lovely to see your garden before you created your beautiful flower garden, Frances


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