May Tips from the Wedgwood Garden Club

Jacqueline Houston is a member of the Wedgewood Garden Club, and also a Master Gardener of King County. She has been gardening in Seattle for over 30 years. Wedgewood Garden Club always welcomes new members – contact Jacqueline at for more information on our monthly meetings.

A side-yard is too often an overlooked, wasted space, but with the required setback from the property line of at least five feet, there is in fact room for a charming garden in there. I recently visited the celebrated Highline Garden in New York, a mile and a half of beautiful plantings on an old elevated railway line in the meat-packing district near the Hudson river. It is basically a long, winding pathway that is densely planted on either side with small trees and flowering shrubs, and an ever-changing palate of bulbs, flowers, grasses and groundcovers. It is a mile-and-a-half long side-yard! – rather wider of course, but basically a long thin garden, like the classic five foot setback so many of us have running down the side of the house.

In Spring the trees of the Highline garden are only just beginning to leaf out, allowing plenty of light below for daffodils and yellow fawn lilies. Most of the shrubs and plants on the Highline are deliberately chosen from the range of east coast natives, but in the example above I have planted pacific northwest classics suited to our largely acidic soils, such as low-growing Oregon grape (mahonia repens or nervosa), sword ferns and deer ferns, as well as other acidic soil lovers such as pieris and viburnum tinus. Clumps of daffodils flower for two months if you choose early and late flowering types (I recommend Yellow Cheerfulness and April Queen for late flowering), and it is fun to pick up the yellow theme with a forsythia bush (planted at the end here) and – my next move – the deliciously fragrant yellow-flowering deciduous azalea Rhododendron luteum. The very much underused Kerria Japonica – delightful yellow-orange pompoms on tall green canes – will also thrive here, and the low-growing perennial Leopard’s bane (Doronicum), which has been covered in large yellow daisies for two months. And all these are of course shallow-rooted in case those sewer or water lines run through your side yard, which they often do (see last month’s column).

So embrace your side yard as a new, exciting planting opportunity, your very own Highline (or Lowline) garden in Seattle.

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