Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Garden Woes

I'm having a bit of a blog identity crisis that I'm not sure how to resolve. I maintain two blogs: this one and another, more lighthearted, aimless, every-day one. I admit I spend more time with the other one cause I don't put all that much thought into what I put there. If it amuses or bothers me, I add it. This one, having more of a theme, has been harder for me to keep up with, especially now that we're between projects. I've given some thought to just merging them into one blog, but something keeps holding me back. For some reason I just don't think that's the answer. Maybe I worry that those who are familiar with my other blog wouldn't want to scroll through all the house stuff, and those who want the house stuff wouldn't want to deal with all the nonsense that would surely get in the way if I combined them. I just don't know.

In the meantime, I guess I'll just have to be more vigilant about not letting dust collect here.

It also helps that we kind of have a new project to focus on. It's that time of year again: Spring, though you'd never know it by the weather. Freezing temperatures each night and snow showers yesterday morning. Okay, the torrential rains over the last 3 days could somehow be categorized as Spring-like, but still having to wear my winter coat and pile on the blankets at night and it already half-way through April? Not cool, not cool at all!

Anyway, according to the calendar it is time to gussy up the outside of the house, meaning the lawn, flower beds, vegetable garden, etc. Usually, The Viking gets a raging case of Spring Fever, so bad he tears home from work and literally hops out of his truck to run, not into the house to give me a honey-I'm-home kiss, but out to the shed to be reunited with his rakes, shovels, pruners, spreader and bags of seed, fertilizer and peat moss. I've never seen him, but I'm convinced he gets down on his knees, gathers them all to his bosom and breathes in their heady aroma, having fantasized dreamily about them all day.

My job during this annual mania, is research and planning. I spend weeks determining just the right shrubs, plants and flowers for each area of the yard, and he puts those plans into action. Our budget is very limited, so we try to do just a little each year rather than landscaping it all at once.

The problem is, this year we're just so dang discouraged. We've been chipping away at this for over 5 years now and we don't feel like we've gotten anywhere! The same things that bugged us about the yard 5 years ago still bug us. And, this year, we're putting every spare penny into paying off all our debt but our mortgage, so our finances are even tighter and there is practically no money available for gardening. It's putting a real damper on our usual Spring fun.

So, once again, I am charged with the task of finding the perfect plants which will give us the most bang for our buck. This year The Viking wants me to find plants that are:
1. perennials. We always go heavy on the perennials so we're not stuck buying tons of annuals year after year. Our goal is to eventually only buy annuals for the window boxes, the planters on the kitchen porch, and the hanging baskets on the front porch. As of this year, we're still looking at buying them to plant along the borders of the flower beds (2 long ones and 1 small) which, to me, feels like throwing money away.
2. evergreen or provide winter interest. Right now our yard looks fabulous from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but looks scraggly and sparse the rest of the year.
3. full and/or bushy. We still have a lot of open space we'd like to fill as you'll see in the pics to follow.
4. easy to maintain. We're especially fond of plants that spread easily and grow fast.
5. can tolerate partial to mostly shade. Our property is canopied by 6 giant white oaks so none of the flower beds get full sun all day.

I know what you're probably thinking: Hedges. Lots and lots of hedges. The problem is, neither of us likes the look of boxy, manicured hedges and prefer a more English, cottage-style, contained-chaos kind of look. But we don't really know how to do that. Are hedges our only option, to line the fence and the foundation of the house with them so our house looks like every doctor's office and bank in the tri-state area?

I am indeed looking for suggestions here, so maybe you need a few visuals:

We started this flower bed last year and planted 3 black-eyed susans and several daylilies that we were able to divide. We also planted impatiens along the front. It looked lovely, but took a while to lose that scraggly look it has now. We'd like to plant something tall along the fence that will provide a nice backdrop for the susans, lilies and whatever else we decide to cram in there. This bed gets a good amount of sun most of the day in early Spring, but by the time the oak leaves come in it only gets full sun in the morning. And, yes, it needs a good raking.

This bed is the largest space, the one that greets everyone who comes in the driveway or approaches the house. It runs along the southern side of the house and gets mostly shade, with the exception of the part farthest to the right which gets some sun in the morning. Those are azaleas, which neither of us are fond of, but they were there when we moved in and since beggars can't be choosers, we've left them. Over the past three years we've added a few coreopsis and a feverfew, both of which grow like crazy each summer, but are only just starting to shoot up right now. We did try delphiniums along the porch railing which were lovely but only lasted a summer.

This is the center of that bed, and the center of the southern wall of the house. The Viking built that window box a few years ago and they look lovely filled with annuals. Last year I did impatiens, white bacopa and vinca vine. I'm not sure I'll do impatiens again as I'm not a huge fan, and The Viking thinks the vinca gets too long by the end of summer and wants me to find an alternative, but I am hoping to find some more of the bacopa this year. I planted that everywhere last year and loved it! Here we have a few more azaleas, another coreopsis, and, almost cut out of the pic on the right, an evergreen we planted two years ago the name of which I've forgotten. We actually like it more than we thought we would. It's grown quite fast and has a nice shape to it. Dwarf cypress? Could that be right?

This is the deepest part of that bed, the birdbath area. To the extreme left you can see the right side of that nameless evergreen. There's another sad-looking azalea, an out-of-control scotch broom, a dwarf korean lilac that has done very well and is loaded with flower buds already, several lady's mantles, another coreopsis, and, in the front, not quite visible, a short border of snow-in-summer.

Finally, this is the end of the south flower bed. That bush in the center is one of our successes, a paniculata hydrangea. We planted this one to match the one on the other side of the stairs and it has just taken off. They seem to love our soil and shade. The bloom like crazy, the blooms last until well into fall and no matter how vigorously we prune them, they're monsters by the end of the season. This one is newer than its mate, so it's not as full and thick, but I know it won't take very long for it to catch up.

This, though it's not much to look at now, is one of my favorite spots in the yard. That bush in the corner is the monster paniculata hydrangea. The Viking pruned it viciously back in the fall, but I guarantee it will have grown past the tops of the railing by the end of the summer. I planted it when we moved in 9 years ago, along with the "mop-head" hydrangea next to it. It took us a few years to learn that the mop-head only blooms on old wood so we haven't had an abundance of hydrangea blooms, but last year The Viking left it alone so it should just explode this year (fingers crossed). Hydrangeas are one of my most absolute favorite flowers so I love these bushes when they're at their peak. It's just a shame they look so forlorn all winter long. There are a few more azaleas, several daffodils that just erupted spontaneously one Spring, and a brand-new lavender bush that I'm hoping survived the winter.

And now for the two areas that test The Viking's temper. The first is the North side of the house, which is the side, but the way the house is situated makes it more like the back. This area gets full shade and is only visible when driving past our house from the North to the South. The Viking hates, loathes, despises and abominates the foundation of the house being visible. We've tried disguising it with lattice and a few sad little evergreens (two varieties of holly, I believe), but still he is unhappy. I'm really not sure what to do with this area, other than the dreaded dentist's office hedges, but something has to be done or my husband is going to freak out and paint hedges on the wall or something. That bush at the corner of the house is a lilac that is actually doing quite well, but is not full or lush enough to please The Viking.

And this is probably the bane of my husband's existence, the front of the house, or I should say the street side of the house. This is what everyone sees when they drive by, the west side of the house with its naked foundation and ugly utility boxes. In a well-intentioned effort at thinking ahead, I planted several lilac suckers along this wall within weeks of moving in. I had envisioned a nice "hedge" (if you will) of waist-high lilacs, nodding in the breeze and wafting their sweet scent into the open windows above. Nine years later they still look awful. They haven't bloomed. Not once. Not even a bud. And I don't really know what else to plant here. This side of the house especially needs something that will provide year-round curb appeal, but I just haven't found the perfect solution yet. The only thing about this area we do like is not visible in this pic. At the far corner of the house we planted a burning bush last year. It seems to be doing well, was full of berries last fall and is loaded with buds already this year. There's also some creeping myrtle and a wild, climbing rose that appeared out of nowhere that add charm, but those are both near the front steps as well.

And, finally, the area lowest on my list of gardening priorities, the area at the front corner of our property, right next to the driveway. This used to be a triangular bed delineated by three tall trees and three railroad ties, though the only things planted in the bed were a few bulbs of hyacinths and tulips. I pulled the railroad ties out, moved the bulbs about a bit and added a few Japanese Iris and a wild and free mock orange blossom and then just left it alone. The mock orange has flourished, but the irises did not and the hickory tree fell down so the feel of the area has changed a bit. Generally, I like it, but every once in a while I think it needs something more.

So, there you have my landscaping, gardening dilemmas. I know we can't tackle all of it at once, but chipping away at things doesn't seem to be working, and I don't know how to accomplish the free, crowded, English cottage mish-mash of a garden we're craving.

If anyone, anyone has any suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated. I will keep you posted as best I can about any progress we make.


smilnsigh said...

Oh Dear, I don't have any gardening suggestions. As my husband is the gardener around here.

But as to the blog identity crisis, just do what feels right to you. Our blog is our blog is our blog is our blog. :-) Do what feels right to you.


ica171 said...

Hostas are good for shade. And I know lilacs take a few years to get big and full and beautiful, but nine years seems excessive. You might take a clipping down to a local garden center and see if they see anything wrong with it. They will probably also have suggestions for the rest of your yard.

Have you used's gardening section? You can choose characteristics of the plant you want, like container, flowering, shade, and they'll give you a list of possible matches.

Good luck.