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Archive for June 22nd, 2009

I’ve been enjoying the blog Gardening Gone Wild for a while now.   It is a space that actually publishes useful information on a variety of topics, and one of the ways they do this is to host a Design Workshop monthly, where bloggers post about a particular topic and then the editors of GGW bring all that information into a central post.   This month the topic is Front Yards Revisited.

When we first purchased this home back in April of 1996, the first thing we did after signing all the papers and getting the key was to go over to our new place and take pictures of it.   I recently did a blog post where I compared how things have changed around here since we started living here, and it is worth visiting for a quick tour.  Basically, when we moved here we had a house, a barn and a garden shed situated on two acres of lawn with several elm trees surrounding the house site.

The front of the house presented like this:

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That little quarter circle of garden was the only flower bed on the whole place.   That and the “Green Moustache” of junipers was the only adornment the house sported.   Sadly, the flower bed was that in name only, since it had been completely ignored for several years.   Along the back edge in front of the stone planter was a row of yellow irises, and the whole rest of the bed was a tangled mass of vinca, dandelions, plantain, with a host of other weeds thrown in for “color.”

My first task was to prune back those overgrown junipers and then weed the “flower” bed and plant a few other things to live there.   While I was accomplishing that feat, I started trying to envision what I wanted my gardens to look like, and it wasn’t long before I started thinking that it would be really nice to have a small tree living in the bed I was starting out with.   As I was working that spring, I came across a volunteer redbud sapling that just happened to be in a good place, and so I weeded around it and rejoiced in the fact that the tree was there and in a good spot.

Shortly after I finished weeding and planting and mulching my first plant babies, one of my massage clients took a picture of me in front of the new bed.  You can just see the baby redbud in this picture, it is the very small dark green plant just to the right of me and in front of the small silver mound artemisia.

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The next picture was taken three years later, in 1999.   The redbud has gotten to be head high, and I have more than doubled the size of the garden beds by adding to them outside the walkway.  The new bed curves down to the driveway and incorporates the light stand  (the light no longer functions but I like the vertical element and have clematis climbing it), and extends all the way along the front of the house.

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You can also see that in the interim I added more colors to the iris collection, somehow “all yellow” just wasn’t doing it for me.  This photo also displays my love of purchasing “naturalizing mixtures” for increasing my holdings of sundry plants.   By the this time I had invested in an asiatic lily collection and a day lily collection, which is partly why I had to increase my available garden space.

Fast forward seven years.   During the interim, we had the house painted.  This is a shot taken in early spring when the not-so-little young redbud is blooming, along with my daffodils.  While I began with a daffodil naturalizing collection (actually two different ones in two different years), my daffodil addiction (and trust me, it IS an addiction) has led me to start purchasing selected breeds.  I now have over 90 varieties of daffodils at The Havens, and I’m sure I will acquire more as the plant breeders provide me with more opportunities for “substance abuse.”

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I was so pleased that year that the showy evening primroses I had planted a few years previously were finally starting to take off.   By the following year, they hadn’t just taken off, they were taking over.

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These highly invasive plants earned the right to be eradicated. The process began that fall and continued the following spring.   One of the things that motivated the eradication program was the difference in the dutch irises from one side of the walk to the other.   On the south side, I had lovely clumps of flowers and on the north side there were almost none, the ones that were growing were stunted and struggling.

The next shot was taken last year.

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Sadly, I lost the peony closest to the driveway shortly after this picture was taken.  It developed a nasty fungus and had to be removed completely.  Unfortunately, as an organic gardener, my only option was to remove it (and all the dirt around it) and replace it with something not susceptible to the fungus.  I chose a day lily, which seems to be doing just fine, so far.

Now, there are a couple of observations I will make here.   One is that when you have a tree in a garden bed, as it grows it will change the nature of the bed.   First of all, there is the obvious fact that a growing tree will start to produce shade.   This is certainly a process that has been occurring in this front garden, and there are lilies that have “disappeared” because they no longer get enough sun to be happy.  I have moved a couple of irises that do not get enough sun to bloom well any more.

The other thing that happens is that the tree will naturally establish its root system in the bed.  This may seem patently obvious, but it was a process that was not really mentioned in any of the garden planning books I read, and it is a real issue for the plants sharing the bed with the redbud tree.   Over the years, the garden has become wilder and bushier as I find plants that co-exist well with the tree.  Most of the plants that share the original bed with the redbud tree are very good competitors, many of them are native perennials like spiderwort and echinacea.

This is how the garden looks today, as I write this post.

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It is rapidly becoming clear to me that I am going to have to do something about the juniper moustache, as it is in the process of dying.   I would love some suggestions about what to replace it with.  I am not looking forward to digging out the ancient roots of those bushes, but it will need to be done soon.  I’ll probably address the situation this fall when I will hopefully do minimal damage to the other plantings in front of the shrubs.   Even though the junipers are dying, they were a home for the robins this spring.  (I did a whole series of posts about that bit of excitement: here, here, here and here.)

I have put the development of the front yard gardens on hold in favor of all the work I have been doing behind the fences.  Anyone who wishes to can check my archives and see what is going on elsewhere on the place.   In addition to the habitat pond, we have a terraced garden on our root cellar, a vineyard, a garden around the sauna and a new Stroll Garden, which we began in October of 2007.  We have been influenced by a sentiment we ran across while reading Michael Pollan’s book, “Second Nature.”

“Gardens and even yards in America are not places for being in but for looking at. We admire our beds from the lawn, and arrange our unfenced front yards for the admiration of the street.   What other possible purpose could “foundation planting” serve? . . . Suburban America has been laid out to look best from the perspective not of its inhabitants, but of the motorist. . . .  I’m convinced that gardening — real gardening, not just putting in beds of flowers or tomatoes — begins with the removal of one’s property from the motorist’s gaze, with one’s secession from the national lawn.  This might mean throwing a hedge or fence around your yard, letting it go to meadow, or ripping out the grass and putting in something else entirely.  But once you’ve done this, made the big break, prepare to feel very much on your own.”

We have our “Motorists View” indeed, and we are quite pleased with it.   But the real gardening is going on behind the fence, and outside the borders of this particular blog post.  Fortunately, the First Garden, our foundation planting, is well established and continues to be beautiful without a lot of effort going towards it as we obsess in the back areas of the lot.

Thanks for spending this time with me.  Hope to see you around The Havens again sometime.

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