The Lake Valley Garden: Creating an Oasis on the Prairie - The First Six Months

 Dear Henry,

After we moved from Arkansas, realized, sadly, that while I had photographed many of the flowers I'd grew, I hadn't taken many photos of the garden design itself, and wished I had. I was determined not to repeat the mistake with this garden. I was also inspired by the many garden design books I had read while we were staying in the apartment and decided to make my own "garden book", I have even purchased a scrapbook to make it.

I also planned, with this garden, to be more diligent about recording the specifics of the different cultivars I plant. 

Our new yard is quite a bit smaller than the acre we had in Arkansans, after the footprint of the house, we have approximately 5,500 square feet. Initially,  because we moved in January there wasn't much to do, although I added some prechilled tulip, daffodil, and crocus bulbs to the front flower bed and waited for things to warm up.

In the front of the house, there is a large flowerbed under the front-facing window and a smaller one around the base of Scotch pine. The large bed was heavily planted with five azaleas bushes and three large Crepe Myrtles, one of which was growing into the foundation of the home. I suspected other plants, given the placement of trellises. and, really, it is difficult to tell what's going on in a flower bed during the winter. The bed around the pine appeared vacant. The former owner had also planted a bunch of pansies in the large bed for "curb appeal".  While azaleas aren't one of my favorite shrubs (I can't ever seem to get them to flower), I don't like to destroy living plants and they were well established. I had thought, initially, that I wouldn't need to do much in the front, other than taking out the crepe myrtle that was growing into the foundation and, of course, replace the pansies once they faded in the summer's heat.

We had a lot more work to do in the backyard. During the inspection process, it was discovered that water was pooling on the north side of the house. It was a concerning moment during the purchase process, we weren't sure how hard installing a drain would be, but finally, after some research, decided to go forward with the purchase and tackle the problem of installing a French drain. Other problems that had to be addressed were the placement of three large Scotch pines planted in the northwest corner of the yard along with a rose bush and a very awkwardly placed crepe myrtle. There was also a cedar tree planted in a small flower bed under the kitchen window and it far too close to the foundation for our comfort. The rest of the yard was turf.

We had thought to get started pretty early in the year when Oklahoma (and Texas) was hit with "A Hundred Year Storm", temperatures dropped to well below freezing and we received about a foot of snow. Our plans of a quick start on the French drain were postponed and I discovered that the extreme cold killed all of the azaleas and caused the crepe myrtles to die back to their roots. Another unfortunate discovery came while getting our utility lines marked, they all ran along the north side of the house and almost exactly where we had planned to place the drain. We moved the drain over a smidge and, because of the potential of utility line damage, hand-dug the whole forty feet (twelve meters) by hand. 

*I feel like 1 should clarify - Fish did almost all of the digging. My job was to the cheerleader and provide almond Snickers on demand.*

Because of the clay soil,  we chose to rock over the drain and that side of the house.  We also felt raised beds would be the best option. I picked flagstone retaining wall blocks for the bed construction. We also added a gravel foundation beneath the beds and rocked the south side of the house,  both to help with drainage and to keep a continuity in look.  So far, the drain is working and we no longer have pooling water on the side of the house. 

We also chose to align the beds along the fence line, keeping a patch of grass in the center of the yard for the dog. We cut a diagonal flowerbed along the southwest corner to match the bed shape of the northwest corner. I moved the cedar from the small bed beneath the kitchen window to the far corner of the southwestern corner bed and found a person interested in adding our three oversized pines to their property (I think they were creating a windbreak) and I moved the (much diminished) crepe myrtle back further into the northwest corner. l also moved the awkwardly placed rosebush from the northwest corner bed to the Southwest corner bed. We also cut an "interest" bed along the back fence, directly across from the seating area of the patio. 

I think I will need to post about each bed separately, each has its own purpose and theme. But the foundations have been laid and now it's just a matter of patience, waiting for everything to fill in. 

And, of course, the tomatoes to ripen.

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at, you can also read her book reviews at and US military biographies at

Her online photography gallery can be found at