This is a two-part before/after tour of the garden that I owned from 2003 to 2014. The actual process began in April 2003 and continued through 2009. After that, events conspired to prevent any further progress. A quick summary: flat half-acre (150 x 150) which is about 0.20 hectare for my metric readers, with house smackdab in the center; hardiness zone 7b most years; soil pH fairly neutral. The main threats are freeze-thaw cycles in the winter, and high but usually nondestructive winds from its proximity to the shore (which often means rain rather than snow, although nor’easters are something to always keep in mind.) The front yard is dominated by two huge linden trees amid a swath of pachysandra through which drifts of white and yellow daffodils emerged every spring; I can’t take credit or blame for any of those! Due to the north exposure of the frontage and the shade – and roots – from those giant trees, most of the gardening action took place in the back and side yards.
Many of these ‘before’ photos were taken as references as to what I’d planted where – my alternative to littering the landscape with plant markers – so please try to ignore the notes. 🙂
This is one side of the entry to the backyard from the end of the driveway, circa late 2003. You can see the west end of the front foundation planting, just past the far garage door; the variegated euonymus and double flowering cherry came with the house. You can also see two of my own mistakes: (1) the new white paver driveway and (2) part of the vintage wrought iron arbor/gate that I’d recently purchased. I soon discovered just how much rust washes off in every rainfall, and what that process does to the appearance of light colored pavers. The gate was later moved.
The same area in 2011. The dianthus is gone, replaced by Erica carnea ‘Loughrigg’ which did beautifully until Hurricane Sandy came along in 2012 and fatally drowned it in salt water. There are two Cephalotaxus harringtoniana behind them, the lilies, a couple of Berberis atropurpurea, peony ‘May Music’, and at the far right is Pinus strobus ‘Blue Shag’.
This is how that same end-of-driveway backyard-entry area looked right after I bought the house in August 2002 and before any renovations had begun. The fence came down, the original poor-condition asphalt driveway got ripped out and so did the massive and highly unwanted Rose of Sharon (althea, not hypericum).
This photo four years later shows the west side of the same driveway/backyard entry shown in the second photo. Yes, the iron gate is still there but its days were numbered! I’d just planted a small Cupressus arizonica ‘Blue Ice’, indicated by the added red arrow. As you can see by the adjacent chainlink fence, it started out as barely 3 ft tall.
Here’s the ‘Blue Ice’ seven years later, in 2011; it had grown to about 13 ft tall. The adjacent pathway features in the next set of photos.
Flashing back to 2002 (taken the same day as the Rose-of-Sharon entry photo) there was already a pair of borders, more or less: several hostas along the chainlink fence – in full blazing sun all day – and a mix of annuals, orange daylilies and weeds in the other strip.
By 2004 I’d cleaned it out, tidied it up, added daffodils between the hostas, and put a few very young shrubs on the other side. The closest – that small twiggy affair just behind the iris foliage – is the bronze-foliaged crape myrtle ‘Pink Velour’. At that time crape myrtles were almost unknown in this area, so I had to order mine from Forestfarm Nursery out on the west coast… they always have everything you can’t find anywhere else, but the cross-country shippings costs (even for young plants) are something to be reckoned with.
Two years later (2006) I got tired of constantly ripping lawn grass out of the beds, so I had steel edging installed and put down a pathway of Timberlite (volanic rock). ‘Blue Ice’ is now a good six feet tall, maybe close to seven. That’s the catmint ‘Walkers Low’ nearby. Those are white Campanula persicifolia down at the far end. Obscured by the crape myrtle is Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’ and then Osmanthus x fortunei which flowered wonderfully every fall, and Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Gulftide’ which never once did!
The same shot, taken three years later in spring 2009. I’d got rid of the catmint (sick of constantly cutting it back to keep the size manageable), edged the lefthand border with Ceratostigma, and added three ‘Blue Point’ junipers along the fence side. The peonies are all ‘Requiem’ which is much like my favorite ‘Roselette’ but a bit later blooming.
Here’s a pre-Sandy 2012 photo of the pathway taken from the opposite (south) end. Viola labradorica, which I love and can never bear to pull out, colonized that end of the path. Beyond the Japanese painted ferns at the lower right is Astrantia ‘Roma’; just past the lefthand ferns is Viburnum ‘Blue Muffin’ and then the silverbell Halesia caroliniana ‘UConn Wedding Bells’ which I wish I’d planted as a lawn specimen instead! As a result of that mistake I ended up having to constantly trim it back away from the pathway. 😦
Remember that ill-placed iron gate? In mid-2004 it was moved to the opposite end of the house where I created a “east entry” of sorts to the backyard, instead of just an open space. More lengths of steel edging created a very narrow flanking planting strip containing the fastigiate euonymus ‘Green Spire’, the daylily ‘Pandora’ between them, and one rose ‘John Davis’ on each side of the arch. Oh, and a clematis which was supposed to have been a white double but ended up being pink single, and thus indistinguishable from the roses.
This 2014 photograph of the gate was taken from the opposite (south) side because that’s where the bloom always was. One of the two roses succumbed to somethingorother in the late 2000s but the other flourished.
The east property line inside the iron gate was originally just an old chainlink fence fronted by weeds, so in 2005 I cleared it out and made a shrub border. The forsythia and honeysuckle grew over and through the fence from the house next door. They were part of a huge tangle of shrubs hiding a fox’s den, which explains why I didn’t have any rabbit issues during most of my time there. I planted all sorts of bulbs and other goodies with nary a nibble-problem until that house was sold and the new owners ripped out the “hedgerow.” Exit fox, enter rabbits! My newly planted shrubs included three viburnums, an aronia, several cornus and also at the other end, a Korean rose-gold pussywillow and the black Salix melanostachys ….by which I was seriously underwhelmed.
This was taken in 2011. The variegated shrub is Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’. The tree at the far end is a sweetgum which unfortunately came with the house. I kept hoping it would improve its wimpy fall color and justify its continued existence despite all those miserable spiny balls it constantly produced, but no luck.
Here’s what I called the Sweetgum Corner in its original 2002 state, with a small tangle of daylilies more or less at its feet. The maple on the right side of the photo was diseased, infested by carpenter ants, and didn’t survive more than another two years.
Six years later the revamped corner looks neat — if you ignored the perpetual fusillade of sweetgum balls, that is. The original daylilies were pale cream, so I extended the green/white theme with hosta ‘Night Before Christmas’, Epimedium grandiflorum ‘White Queen’, and more white daylilies (‘Ice Carnival’).
The opposite (southwest) corner of the backyard contained a large and sloppy bird cherry which I eventually removed but in this 2005 photo is still there. You can see the end of the pathway but might notice that it appears light blue; that’s because I initially put down bluestone, quickly realized that the bright color completely dominated the eye, moved it all someplace else and replaced it with the reddish and black Timberlite. Anyway, in this corner the hostas were already there, intermingled with many yellow-throated red dayliles which were probably ‘Hyperion’. Past the gap, there was a mystery shrub in the rubus family which I never could identify and neither could anyone else; I eventually put a sign in front of it saying Plantus Unknownus.
The same corner in 2011. Other than the bench, the additions include many ferns, white and yellow epimediums, three Skimmia japonica who were all killed by Hurricane Sandy the following year and, against the fence, Aucuba japonica ‘Emily Rose’ which survived. I am now convinced that an aucuba can probably survive anything up to and including a drone strike. The sloppy cherry is now only a handy stump. Other new residents in the corner included Callicarpa ‘Early Amethyst’, a snowberry, a honeysuckle, and lots of Geranium macrorrhizum in between everything.
Speaking of corners, here’s sort of one that was next to the house’s side door. This was taken in autumn 2003 after a much needed cleanout; the only things I left in place were the yew and the three hostas. It amazed me that they did not fry in this brutally open west-facing exposure! I had a yellow-and-white scheme in mind for this spot, hence the newly planted yellow violas.
Here’s the corner in summer 2012. It’s looking rather sloppy after having had to endure total neglect all through 2009 and 2010, and then again from April 2012 onward due to health issues. Yellow bearded iris bloomed here in the spring. The tall lily is ‘Vina Del Mar’; the upfacing one is ‘Dreamcatcher.’ Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ also climbed up the yew on its south side.
Next Thursday’s throwback tour will show the three other backyard borders as well as a few spots which I inexplicably did not photograph during their “before” status.