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Garden Design

The invertebrate approach to gardens

Tammy Schmitt

Tammy Schmitt

December 24, 2012

One of the great advantages of winter is its ability to strip your garden bare, leaving it shivering in its underwear while you dream of summer color and leafy coverage. I do not have a winter garden or much winter interest, aside from a trumpet vine and deutzia that resemble Medusa, but I’m okay with that. My bare bottomed garden gives me a chance to see it as it really is and to make summer plans that work with the bones of my yard.

But that’s when things get weird. What kind of bones does my garden have? Does my fence qualify my garden’s bones as chicken bones, or am I a woolly mammoth, considering the small swath of native trees left by the builder? Holy Toledo! What if I don’t have any bones at all? If my garden were an animal, would it be a squid?  Hmm… In the spirit of ridiculousness and to hopefully start your new year with a smile, I’ve decided to end the confusion once and for all by creating a quiz to help you determine the boniness of your garden.


How Bony is Your Garden?

If your garden has:-

  • – a permanent structure with decorative/architectural appeal +10 points
  • (- but it’s in your neighbor’s yard -5 points)
  • – large trees +10 points
  • – shrubs/trees taller than you are + 10 points
  • – little trees/shrubs with lots of potential +5 points
  • – meandering paths +10 points
  • (- a path trampled through the grass by the dog -5 points)
  • – stonework +10 points
  • (- a pile of stone you might do something with eventually -5 points)
  • – dogs, cats, chickens, etc all of which are full of bones +5 points
  • – attractive gate/fence +10 points
  • (- but it’s held together by a bungee cord -5 points)
  • – bird houses and bird baths +10 points
  • – a pond or water feature +10 points
  • – a container pond +5 points
  • – a patio or deck +10 points
  • – evergreens +10 points
  • (- a can of green spray paint and red plastic berries -5 points)


0 – 5 points       Squid

Don’t fret about being a squid. You are delicious fried and served with marinara. It also means you have a clean canvas with which to dream and design. Anything is possible!

10 – 25 points     Hamster

You’re on the right track and with your nocturnal work habits you never have to worry about sunburn. Close your eyes and imagine your garden as you wish it to be. Wait! Take out the winning lottery ticket and try again. Get ready to get dirty and you just might make your wishes come true.

30 – 45 points     Duck-billed Platypus

Not only are you one of the coolest mammals on Earth, but if you’re male you have a venomous spur on your back leg that can be handy for securing discounts at your local nursery. Your garden has some excellent beginning boniness. Don’t stop now!

50 – 65 points     St. Bernard

Not only do you get to slobber and drool while gardening, but you bring your own drinks and never have to tromp inside in the midst of a project due to dehydration. Clever! Your garden has some fabulous features that go a long way to accentuate your plantings. But we already knew that, considering you were clever enough to bring drinks.

70 – 85 points     Pygmy Elephant

Your excellent swimming ability and incredible strength allows you to garden in all kinds of wet weather. You’ve given serious thought to your garden design and understand how it is related to your garden as a whole. Either that or you got lucky and bought a house with an awesome garden. Just don’t tell anyone. I’d stick with Option A.

90 – 100 points     Bigfoot

You might be elusive but your garden design isn’t. If you’ve noticed your neighbors leaning over the fence/stone wall/hedge it’s because they’re taking photos and emailing them out to family and friends, pretending your garden is theirs. They’re jealous and so am I.

110 – 115 points     T-Rex

You are the Jedi Master of gardening. Your garden has it all, possibly including a ticket booth and long lines. However, if I hide behind the historically accurate, architecturally reproduced garden shed, I might be able to take some cuttings and pictures to help me when I get home. It’s cheaper than the gift shop.

I’m a pygmy elephant! I was shocked by this. Here’s how I qualified according to the ultrascientific test:


Large trees + 10 points

Three crepe myrtles, a huge river birch, a ‘Yoshino’ cherry, several ash trees, and an oak, cedar, and hornbeam left by the builder form the spine of my back garden.

Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - fenceAttractive fence  +10 points

Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - Deutzia PinkABoo
Shrubs taller than I am + 10 points
This is a deutzia ‘Pink a Boo’ underplanted with lamium.


Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - gate with bungee cord
Gate held together with a bungee cord – 5 points


Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - patio
Patio + 10 points


Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - birdhouse
Birdhouses and birdbaths + 10 points
I pulled a tiny nest out of this house this fall. I think it was a chickadee. ‘Baltyk’ clematis grows in the front garden.


Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - birdhouse 2
I have several birdhouses and birdbaths in the garden. I came up with this idea to help use the extra creeping bramble that had originally been part of the front garden redesign until I changed my mind. The birdhouse is designed for small birds and is made from recycled mango wood.
Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - stonework
Stonework + 10 points  

A stone ring circles the zelkova tree in the front and protects it from lawn mower damage. The remaining rock roses are coming out next spring since the area has become too shady and are being replaced with variegated ajuga.


Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - evergreens
Evergreens + 10 points
Prague viburnums grow along the side of the house, offering winter protection and summer shade.


Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - container pond
Container pond + 5 points
Even though my muck bucket frog pond is inground, I categorized it as a container pond. ‘Lime Rickey’ heuchera and shasta daisies grow near the rocks.


Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - rose of sharon
Here are the ‘bones’ of my Rose of Sharon. They grew to the second story this summer! The heated bird bath is very popular in winter.


Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - dog
Cute dog, full of bones! + 5 points


Tammy Schmitt Casa Mariposa - invertebrate garden - shed
Most excellent shed! Unfortunately, it’s in my neighbor’s yard. This photo shows a few of the trees left by the builder as well as the dog run.
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8 years ago

I am a pygmy elephant as well! The dogs full of bones pulled me across the finish line ;). Must build something attractive, pull the octopus strap off the gate and weave something into the ugly fence to render it “attractive” to get myself up there in the T-Rex status…nothing like a bit of horticultural self-delusion to brighten our days! 🙂 Cheers for sharing this little post, it certainly made my boxing day 🙂

Tammy Schmitt
8 years ago

I’ve had a strap on my gate for over a year now. I’m so used to seeing it I keep forgetting to take it off and have the gate fixed. Cute dogs dress up any garden!

Jane Scorer
7 years ago

Tammy, the thought of your ‘bare-bottomed’ winter garden will haunt me for a long time ! makes me smile every time I think about it !