Sunday, March 28, 2010

Landscape Challenges: Puttering in Friends' Yards

Yesterday, we visited dear friends of ours who have a new house in the suburbs.  They have maybe been there six months, but with a new baby and a toddler, have been pretty busy.  My friends have long realized that I love to putter around their property and will pretty much help garden in any way possible.  They understand that I can talk plants for days, weeks, months, etc. 

I spent a happy hour or two wandering around and looking at all the plants in the yard and talking ideas.  The house was built in the 60s and still retains a lot of the landscape characteristics, as you can see.

My friend (let's call her Sally) isn't crazy about the very horizontal look to the front bed under the windows.  The good news is that the two crabapples are healthy and well pruned.  They will be gorgeous this spring.

They have already had three big yews taken out along the front walk and the rest are not long for this world. 

They aren't crazy about the two huge burning bushes framing the windows either.  The downspout by the front door empties into the bed, so it's going to need to be buried before planting too much there.

The boxwoods are very very healthy!  I think we're going to move them around the yard and let them be their natural shape.  Sally prefers a more naturalistic look and really hates manicured bushes.  At this point, she'll pull the bed out and give it a more curvy shape, keeping the stone edging.  It's a mix of sun and shade as the house faces east, but the crabs and the parkway tree will shade it somewhat during the growing season.  We are playing with perennial ideas.

What you can't see so well on that pear tree in the left corner is that it is planted too high.  The soil has been mounded up over the root ball, and after a little digging I found the root flare six inches below the soil line.  I also found the wire basket!!  It is coming up through the soil and the loops are a major tripping hazard for an active toddler.  So, we know that pear tree will not be a forever tree, which is OK as the flowers smell like dog urine to most folks.

Sally has a wedge shape backyard, but what is going to come down this year is this diseased and dying crabapple.  It's also dropping fruit on the roof of the sun room, which the homeowners don't like. 

The other fab 60s landscape features are this dynamite red rock mulch and the incredibly healthy wintercreeper groundcover, not to mention more yews!  This corner has the potential to be sunny enough for veggies once the tree and the bushes are gone since it faces the southwest.  Removing rock mulch is a back breaking process, though.  They will keep the rest of the wintercreeper as the dog can romp through it with minimal damage.  The six hydrangeas, however, will get redistributed through the backyard. 

Sally and I only pruned a little bit off the pear and a boxwood.  I can happily prune any and everything, so believe me, I was showing great restraint.  This yard has delightful possibilities and it will be lots of fun to see how Sally and her family build their garden through the next few years. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Siren Songs of Spring

The birds are returning and the frogs have thawed out.

Skeins of sandhill cranes have been flying overhead for almost two weeks.  Sometimes they are so low, you can swear you can see the red of their heads.  Other days all you can hear is their distinctive cry and a scattering of tiny dots moving swiftly between the clouds.  It's one of my favorite sounds of spring and the heart lifts to hear them.  They are huge, graceful, amazing birds and you can hear some of their calls at the International Crane Foundation site.

Now we are treated to bird-loud mornings.  No longer the edged quiet of winter snow and ice.  The weather has warmed and it's quite the avian singles bar out there.  The robins have arrived and are busy scarfing down the neighbors crabapples.  They aren't flying so straight, and I suspect the crabapples have become tinged with apple jack from freezing and thawing.  Nothing says spring like drunken robins on the prowl.

More than birds, though, another signifier of spring are frogs.  The spring peepers and chorus frogs are singing lustily in the wetlands and ephemeral ponds at the Arboretum.  It is one of my spring rituals to hike to as many as possible on a sunny March day and fill my ears with amphibian love. 

Can't you feel the sap rising?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring is in the Air!


It smells like spring.  The fragrances of soil, leaf mold, and waking plants are in the air.  Gone is the crisp knife edge of snow and the hard tang of frost.  The air is like wine and I'm prowling the garden daily to see what's happening.

Plants are awakening and one of the first are snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis).  I have them dotted throughout the beds, but one patch in particular always blooms first. These self-seeded from a clump across the way, and every year they save my sanity.  You'll also notice the wee rabbit turd. They are everywhere and although I hate the bunnies, they do produce nice fertilizer.

The witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) buds are just cracking open.  Hopefully they will fully unfurl in the next couple of days.  It will be in the 50s this week, but with steady rain.  The early daffodils are up and the early crocus.  I can see the geraniums and the heucheras popping up tiny leaves and the sedum are hard clusters of buds.  Even Gladys the rhubarb is starting to make an appearance.

What's starting to appear in your garden?