A stone wall, hand-built by Patti and Rich Hannan, provides a stunning feature in the couple’s backyard in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Building the wall and stairs required numerous trips to carry 20 tons of materials from the front yard to the back. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

By Cindy Hadish/for Iowa Gardener

Patti and Rich Hannan turned a problem area of their backyard into a plus.

“This really wasn’t a garden seven years ago,” Patti said of the landscaped shade garden, ascending behind the couple’s home in a historic Council Bluffs neighborhood. “Since it’s so shady, we couldn’t get the grass to grow.”

Retirement gave the Hannans time to transform the grassless swath into a series of cozy room-like spaces under the peaceful cover of towering shade trees.

Tables and chairs provide quiet spots to sit, unique fountains add motion with flowing water and wind chimes offer soft sound against the backdrop of hosta (plantain lilies,) ferns, lungwort (Pulmonaria) and other shade plants, dotted with brightly colored potted annuals.

Georgia, the family’s pet schnoodle, a cross between a schnauzer and a poodle, finds her favorite spot for sunning on the front stairs outside of Patti and Rich Hannan’s Council Bluffs home. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

“I call it my secret garden, because people don’t really anticipate this,” Patti said, following a brick pathway that leads to the secluded space behind their home.

Pheasants, turkey, raccoons, deer and Council Bluff’s own black squirrels are frequent visitors to their yard, thanks to a nearby park that offers habitat for a variety of wildlife.

“This is a smorgasbord for deer,” Rich said, pointing to the hosta and potted flowers.

He devised a solution that, so far, has proven a great deterrent: three battery-powered motion-activated sprinklers spray water when deer pass in front of them, keeping the animals from their favorite snacks and allowing the plants to grow lush. The sprinklers are deactivated when the couple entertain guests or spend time in the backyard, one of their favorite places for morning coffee.

See more of this story and photos in the November/December 2017 edition of the Iowa Gardener magazine. Find extensive information on gardening in Iowa by subscribing to the Iowa Gardener.

Read about other great Iowa gardens:

Water garden in Cedar Rapids

Hosta heaven

Historic South Amana garden

Wanda Lunn grows new and old in harmony

Daylilies bloom in kaleidoscope of color

Rich and Patti Hannan, along with Georgia, the family’s pet schnoodle, relax at one of the table and chair sets in the back yard of their Council Bluffs home. (photo/Cindy Hadish)