Sunday, October 22, 2017

An Accidental Project

Education is [obviously] good for us, but i had not expected how much work it would create for me.  

When i retired two years ago, i started classes at the community college in Horticulture, and have loved every minute.  I've learned a lot of the how, what and why that was missing from the informal education provided by my grandmother and my favorite aunt.  And, it's been practical. 

After I finished "Woody Plants", i started adding new shrubs to the landscape - viburnums, rhododendron, oakleaf hydrangea, panicle hydrangea, choke berry and conifers.  After i finished "Irrigation" i put in an above-ground watering system for the back perennial beds.  After "Perennials" i started reworking those beds - moving things around and adding new plants ... like a whole shade garden.

And, now i'm in "Planting Design".  This is where i wanted to start, but there are so few of us interested* in landscape design right now, that this is the first time in three fall semesters that there have been enough students to meet the minimum to hold the class.  Two weeks into the semester i started looking at my front yard with new eyes.

I realized that we had a "weak" front entrance and that the foundation planting that we did more than 15 years ago has matured and grown a lot bigger with the result that it was beginning to take over.  In particular, the English Laurel [Prunus laurocerasus 'Otto Luyken'] was enormous, with one bush covering more than eight feet laterally.  There was no focus to the front.

First, I tried to prune the laurel back and open up the space.  That was my day job.  And, at night i worked on a new plan for the front.  What i would really like to do is rip out the walkway [too narrow, too close the the porch, too boring] and put in a whole new walk and 'resting place' at the bottom of the stairs, but that will take a major investment in time and money, as well as several strong men who know what they are doing.  So, i settled for creating a more obvious entrance and softer planting. 

The laurel (to the right of the steps) was more than 8 feet wide,
crowding its neighbors and starting to hide the steps.
I pruned the laurel until it was effectively removed and then called our "tree man" to come take out the stump.  Then a morning of pulling out lireope, various vines, and hidden weeds left me with a clean surface to start on my new plan. 

With the laurel gone and everything else cleaned out, i had a nice clean slate.

A trip to my new favorite nursery yielded three new  apricot "drift" roses** and a Hinoki cypress [Chamacypris obtusa 'Gracilis'].  Add a couple of bucketfuls of ajuga pulled from the back beds and i was ready to plant. 

I love pots of new plants!

Finally, with a couple of bags of mulch and a good watering in, it was done.  Total working time was only four mornings over less than two weeks. 


Maybe someday I will do the more expansive renovation and relocate the walk, but if i never do that, at least we have a more welcoming front entrance now.

I hate to think what else i will decide needs changing by the end of the semester!

* The community college offers three two-year tracks in Horticulture:  sustainable agriculture, turf management and landscape design, as well as a one-year certificate in flower arranging.  Currently the 'sus-ag' is the most popular with students.  Apparently, most of the landscaping and maintenance firms in the area are becoming very concerned about sustainability and our students can bring a lot to the table for them. 

** If you are not familiar with "drift" roses, they are a spreading rose that is similar to the better know "Knock Out" series, but smaller.  They grow about 18 inches tall, with two-inch blooms and spread like a tall ground cover.  I have seen them in red, pink, white, yellow, coral and apricot.  I planted some in the spring, more in the early fall, and three this week.  So far, i really like them.

Friday, September 29, 2017

A New Front Porch

A couple of years ago we had our deteriorating side porch replaced with synthetic decking.  It looks lovely and we are delighted with it.  We have a large deck in the back and a large covered wrap-around porch in the front, but the cost of composite decking is significantly higher than wood and we just didn't want to spend that much on something we walked on everyday.

Then we discovered Behr DeckOver* - a paint product that seals decks and needs little follow-up care for years.  Over two summers I painted the back deck and railings and we have been very pleased with them.  This year it was time to do the front porch.  We did call our handy-dandy construction guy and had him replace the front stair trends with the composite, since they are constantly in the weather, but then i painted the porch floor over a ten-day period of good weather.

Day three of stripping .... and it just goes on and on.
The most difficult part of this job is the preparation.  Because this porch is completely covered it had only been stained and sealed twice in 16 years, but it still took me four days to strip off the old finish.  This is back breaking work - much of it done on hands and knees with a brush!  I used the stripper, but there is still plenty of elbow grease required. 

Once it's stripped, then it also has to be cleaned to remove all traces of the stripper and any remaining dirt.  Then you can paint.   It's rather like painting with thick pudding - chocolate in my case - and goes very slowly, but if you do good, full coverage with the first coat, the second is much easier.  Full coverage is the key to good aging with it. 

Because of the strong right angle at the corner, the decking is laid in a chevron pattern that connects at the corner.  I had paint that was old - left from the back deck - and new paint, so the corner "seam" made it easy for me to use the old on the L-side and new paint on the front side, using the obvious seam to hide any visual difference in the two paints.  

Voila!  Ready to use.

When finished it looks like it's been there forever, and the new color exactly matches the color of the composite steps!

Imagine that small table with two glasses of wine around 5:00 any evening and you will have a very accurate picture of the front of our house!

* Behr does not know I like their product and has not paid me to say nice things.  I did it for free. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Shade ... the New Frontier

For years i have tried to pretend that shade does not exist - well, not in the garden.  While we did have shade at our last home, my MIL had planted the property in shrubbery and i just chose to let it stay the way it was and never really learned anything about shade-loving plants.  This yard has a very definite shady area under and surrounding our elm tree and it's a significant part of the garden. 

When we first dug the garden, i just threw in some Solomon's Seal (varigated), ajuga, and lireope and left it to fend for itself.  Over time some Obedience Plant and native asters also moved in, but it was basically a nice jungle for years.   And then came education. 

Before I started ... that's all Solomon's Seal - about 20 x 20
 One of my favorite classes so far was Perennials, and i learned lots!  Like how to grow shade loving plants.  Last winter a plan was hatched, plant sources were searched and prices compared, decisions made ... and in March i started clearing out Solomon's Seal.  (A note:  that was not easy.  It has really thick rhizomes and, left undisturbed for years, they were tough!)   I also pulled out about half of the existing Obedience plant (Phystotrygia) and about half of the native asters.  It took me a couple of weeks to clear it all out, but finally I was ready for the new plants.  

All cleaned out and ready to start planting.  The round "thing" is the bowl of an old birdbath that I left out for water for the butterflies.
Some plants came by mail, but most i was able to get locally:  Acanthus 'Whitewater', Aruncus 'Kneifii', Columbine Mountain Rue, Hosta 'White Feather', Brunnera 'Jack Frost', Sarcococca, and heuchera of many colors all made their way into my car and then into the ground. 

Flag mark either plants to go in (green and white) or irrigation heads (orange).  See the new use for the bird bath?
Six months later and most plants are doing well.  The brunnera has disappeared, but i think that is normal.  It did bloom early and looked good.  The hosta has disappeared, too.  Am not counting on it coming back, altho it may.  I put it in the very darkest spot, but it still got a little bit of sun in the mornings.  The goatsbeard died immediately.  This is a mystery, because it is supposed to do well here, and the Acanthus is also struggling.  I am hopeful that both of these will do better after a winter in the ground.

There should be goatsbeard where those two white flags are!
On the plus side, tho, the mountain rue loved its location, and the huchera all doubled in size.  I chose a wide variety of colors - green, lime, caramel, black and red - all chosen from the trial results at Mt. Cuba Research Center in Maryland.  This is resource that i encountered last spring.  They trial perennials for the mid-Atlantic and publish gorgeous full-color reports on what does well here.  Late in the summer, I add two Hucherella and a Tiarella to the mix.

This morning.
At the moment the entire garden looks good.  I will need to pull out more of the phystostygia and asters, because they are nearly invasive.  As the other plants get bigger, it will be easier to keep these sneaky creepers at bay.  
This morning.
I still need to replace the goatsbeard with something that can take a bit of morning sun.  I may put in a couple Hakone grasses to bring some gold in as background and for movement.

Won't really know if this garden will be a long term success until we've been thru at least one winter and another summer, but i love it and hope it survives!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sweet September

The summer has flown by.  It seems like just yesterday that i was planting annual seeds to fill in a bit of color among the perennials.And, now it's starting to go dormant.  Some days i feel dormant, too, but that's a story for another time!

With no school and no obligations at all, it's been a productive summer here in the garden.  I had three "big" projects planned for this year - a new shade garden with an additional place to sit and contemplate, an irrigation system for the main back beds, and refinishing the front porch decking.  Amazingly, i managed to get them all done with time to spare.  I shall get my lazy self in gear and share them with you over a few posts, but first... there is left over business from last year.

Eventually, the shrubs will form a green mass to soften the base of the deck.
In June of 2016 we lost a beautiful 'Thundercloud' plum tree that shaded our back deck.  After several weeks of grief over the loss of a truly beloved tree (it was the first one we planted at our new home - 16 years ago - and provided not only afternoon shade on our deck, but also the most gorgeous display of pink wonder every February when it bloomed), we decided not to replace it with another tree.  (Our tree man had always complained that it was way too close to the house - and apparently he was right!)  Instead, i embarked on a new perennial bed in the now sunny space left behind.

I planned a bed that would be the entrance to the back yard, but would also have color for three season and provide fragrance for the deck ... literally, i chose as many fragrant varieties as i could find.  It did fairly well in 2016, but was too new to really tell if we would like it. 

This year, a lot has changed.  The major design worked out just fine.  The gaillarda ('Grape Sensation') has bloomed since June and is still going strong.  In the early spring, there were pink Oriental lilies - all fragrant, and now there are two types of sedum in bloom.  

The grasses and shrubs have been slower to get established.  Two of the grasses did not survive the first winter and have been replaced with two more.  Part of the problem is the full sun location.  Many grasses would like a bit more shade.  The muhly grass has been slow to take hold, but is looking better this fall and actually has a few plumes - and they are pink, as planned.  (Did i remember to say that it's predominantly a pink garden?)

Seen from the "back", the rhodo (left), viburnum (center) and gardenia (right) will fill in this whole area. 
The rhododendron has also struggled, but is finally starting to look strong and has about doubled in size over the past couple of months and the gardenia suddenly produced three blooms this past week - hoorah!  In the spring i realized that i needed one more shrub to fill in a hole, so i planted a 'Sugar Shack' viburnum , which has grown like Topsy.  The shrubs all need one more year before i will be totally sure they are going to make it, but i am feeling better than i did this time last year. 

The only "major" design change i have made was to remove the lilies this fall.  Altho they were beautiful and smelled wonderful, i realized that they were not substantial looking enough for the rest of the bed.  It's full and lush, while they were each standing on one skinny stalk above everything else - just not the right look.  So, this week i replace them with pink daylilies which will give me a more substantial looking foliage to fit in better with the other plants -  they are all supposed to be fragrant - and moved the Orientals to the back part of the main garden where they will be able to easily hide their skinny legs among the taller perennials. 
Trevor the hedgehog has always guarded this part of the garden.

All in all, it's a plan that worked!