Now that everyone has seen the wages of my slothfulness in the backyard portion of the garden, it’s time to see what the world at large has been subjected to (i.e., the front)! There are fewer planting areas here than in the back, because the house front is set back 65 feet from the curb, whereas the back garden area is between 90 and 100 feet deep, depending on where one measures from.
What I call the Large Cotinus Bed (there is a smaller one in another area) originally housed a double-trunk oak, a mess of pachysandra, and a large purple-leaved cotinus which may be ‘Royal Purple’ but who knows. The first two residents were removed and the cotinus, being left to its own devices, easily reached 15 feet. I tried cutting it back to about four feet a few years ago but it responded by making a bunch of whippy looking branches that took up more than 50% of the planting bed.
So, late last winter I hacked it waaay back to barely 24” high.
In early May I added a Picea pungens ‘Blue Totem’ which supposedly gets to 15 feet itself but only 5 feet wide, an outer ring of Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, and ordered enough Echinacea ‘Magnus’ to fill the central space. Here the cotinus is just starting to leaf out.
On May 15th it looked like this.
By May 28th it had really got going! And then, of course…
A spate of very heavy rainstorms on June 6th and 7th flattened it into a “cotinus pancake”. What I should have done at that point was to cut off all of the horizontally-relocated branches in order to make it send up new vertical growth. But I didn’t, which meant that it became essentially a groundcover cotinus. I continued to wait for the echinacea order which should have been sent in mid-May; in mid-June I contacted the nursery with a gentle inquiry, only to be told they’d had a crop failure.
Meanwhile, the weeds had run amok and were having a high old time by July Fourth weekend. I actually did get to weed this bed on Monday evening, and yanked off enough of the bottom-most cotinus branches to make it slightly more upright than this photo shows but not nearly what I had in mind when I first hacked it back: I had envisioned a clear, foliage-free lower trunk area at least 2 feet high.
Featured weeds: crabgrass, dandelion, carpetweed, purslane, copperleaf, bittersweet, lambs’ quarters, and oddly, a wild grapevine which managed to establish itself under the outer edge of the pancaked cotinus.
Still to do: I now have replacement ‘Magnus’ on order from another nursery for September shipment. Unfortunately, yesterday’s aggressive weeding has surely dislodged the 50 tiny bulbs of Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Blue Giant’ that I planted last fall to establish a ring of blue around that oak stump. I’m sure they are no longer in that nice neat ring anymore, so I’ll have to see what comes up where next April.
This is, for obvious reasons, the Small Cotinus Bed – another legacy of the previous owner. The only two residents are the cotinus and a slovenly-looking Abelia. I hacked the cotinus back to 12” in December and the abelia to about 30” in May (should have been done in February but better late than never.) The cotinus looked utterly dead until early June, at which time it woke up and began to try to smother the abelia. This is an area that has ‘potential’, as the real estate agents call things that have been given no thought or attention.
Featured weeds: carpetweed, oxalis, bittersweet
Still to do: First, cut off those ground-cover-ish lower stems on the cotinus. The abelia will need a further hacking back next February to try to get some density to it. It would make sense to incorporate this bed into the one behind it, because due to the shade most of the day, even grass struggles to grow. That would be a 2023 project, most likely.
This bed originally held the screwy willow and a Euonymus alatus that looked good in fall but seeded itself all over the place. The willow died after I removed the sprinkler system, and I am waiting (6 weeks, so far..) for someone to dig out what’s left of the cut-down euonymus (I have too many euonymus in this yard as it is.) My color scheme for this bed will be pink/blue/white but the only new resident so far is the caged-against-rabbits Deutzia ‘Nikko Blush’ and a whole lotta weeds.
Featured weeds: crabgrass, carpetweed, purslane, dandelion, euonymus seedlings
Still to do: Move a Picea pungens ‘Ruby Teardrops’ from the Silverbell Bed to the spot left by the hopefully-soon-evicted euonymus. Everything else will need to wait until next spring.
The story of the front portico beds will eventually have its own Money Pit Tale, but the gist of it is that (a) they flank the front steps on the north and south sides, and (b) all flowers must be white. Included in these are white azaleas, white rhododendrons, a pure white mountain laurel, white campanulas, white dicentra, white hellebores, et cetera.
Last year I stupidly added a dozen Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert.’ In my defense, I had this in my previous garden in a north facing bed along with ‘September Charm’. Honorine was lovely and behaved herself admirably there, so it wasn’t until she began swallowing up my two young Kalmia ‘Snowdrift’ as well as everything else in the portico beds that I realized what I’d done. I hurriedly dug up every Honorine I could find, and put them into the Driveway Bed which is separated from the rest of my property by, well, the driveway. In that location she can rampage to her heart’s content. But I discovered this spring that every single bit of A. japonica root left in the soil will make a new plant. All the visible ones were pulled out in May but it is like playing whack-a-mole; the circles show how many emerged in just one barely 3’x3’ section of the south portico by July 4th Weekend. It’s obvious that this will be a loooong campaign, because they just keep on coming. I have only myself to blame…
Featured weeds: oxalis, crabgrass, lamb’s quarters, Johnson grass, carpetweed, dandelion, purslane
Still to do: Keep evicting the zombie Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, probably for the remainder of my natural life. Add more Geranium macrorrhizum ‘White-Ness’ and white hellebores.
Ah, the Driveway Bed – thereby hangs a tale. The deteriorating concrete driveway was supposed to be replaced by an asphalt one in September 2019. The contractor developed some health problems that summer and I agreed to put the work off until April 2020. Of course, there was COVID-19 and the contractor’s ongoing health issues as well. (I do not want anyone else to do the work, and anyway I already had given a 30% deposit on the job as is usual.) Long story short it still has not been done. Because the ripping out and installation of a new driveway will destroy the perimeters of the adjacent beds, I have only planted in certain areas. Everything else will need to wait.
This is the west end of the Driveway Bed, closest to the house. There’s a large volunteer conifer; a tall red-flowered crape myrtle, a tangerine-flowered camellia and a red mountain laurel, both of whom were relocated from the former porch/portico area; Callicarpa ‘Pearl Glam’, Rosa glauca, Daphne genkwa, Rose ‘Earth Song’ (newly caged), a huge forsythia that was finally cut back to what you see here, and two conifers that flank the remains of a cut-down triple-trunk oak and the stump of the Leaning Tower of Maple. The evicted anemones were put into this section and are bravely (but barely) holding their own against the weeds.
This is the east end, at the street/curb. It currently hosts several hostas who amaze me by not totally frying in full sun all day, and a truly staggering assortment of weeds. For three years I have been looking for a 2- or 3-gallon size, decently shaped Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica ‘Blue Ice’) to plant in the center here, with no success. I should have gambled on a one-gallon size from Forestfarm three years ago, and it would probably be five feet tall by now. No local nurseries carry it, and the other two C. arizonica cultivars in the trade (‘Blue Pyramid’ and ‘Carolina Blue’) are not acceptable substitutes. It’s ‘Blue Ice’ or nothing.
Featured weeds: poison ivy, dandelion, crabgrass, copperleaf, smartweed, spurge, carpetweed, poison ivy, chickweed, oxalis, quackgrass, nimblewill, lambs’ quarters, and did I mention poison ivy?
Still to do: Basically everything. The east end is also loaded with large white stones and rocks because the former owners piled quantities of them over layers of plastic, as a kind of “mulch”. The problem is that this layer is at least 12” deep in some spots. Two evenings ago, I managed to get the west end weeded and finally gave up and sprayed the east end, but I still need to remove the corpses. I really really hope the driveway can get done this year, so that I can actually make this bed into something less of an eyesore!
The bed on the opposite side of the driveway has the mailbox in it, so it’s the Mailbox Bed. This is the north end of it and has received only two new shrubs so far, after being completely stripped in 2018: Chionanthus retusus ‘Tokyo Tower’ on the left – which is four years old and has not yet flowered – and Styrax japonica ‘Pink Trinket’ on the right. The styrax is new this spring and flowered on the east facing side only. The south end of this bed has an existing weeping cherry but nothing else (except the weeds.) I have a nice brand-new mailbox waiting for the driveway to be done so that it can be mounted on a (to be created) nice solid concrete base, which will hopefully keep it from leaning over periodically as this one does.
Featured weeds: crabgrass, spurge, carpetweed, oxalis, quackgrass, chickweed, poison ivy
Still to do: Like the driveway bed, everything else must wait until the driveway destruction/reconstruction is completed. It also needs to receive some edging at that time. There’s a huge rotting oak stump just out of this photo, right next to the driveway edge but is part of this bed; I’m hoping that when the bulldozer rips out the concrete, it might take the stump and roots with it. This is another bed that got nuked the other day except for the areas immediately surrounding the two shrubs and the cherry, which I hand-weeded.
And lastly, we have an odd two-level bed just outside the small patio on the south side of the house. This was originally a mess of spiraea, Erica carnea, Oenethera, a few hostas, an overgrown Montauk daisy, English ivy, and variegated ribbon grass. Most of those inherited things got torn out in 2019; the new residents are Enkianthus serrulatus (A), Thalictrum ‘Nimbus White’ (B), and Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (C.) The problem here is runoff from a gutter downspout on the other side of that walkway. The downspout cannot be relocated, so I am trying to create a rock-lined drainage swale within the bed to keep the soil from being repeatedly washed away. Ripping up the recently-redone walkway to install a subterranean drainpipe is not an option. Another problem is that there’s a length of old pressure-treated railroad tie running under part of this two-level bed. And weeds just love to grow between those rocks that line the swale, as well as in the flat areas.
Featured weeds: pearlwort, oxalis, crabgrass, copperleaf, smartweed, dandelion, poison ivy, and constant new seedlings from the spiraea that was ripped out two years ago. That is why I so intensely dislike spiraea.
Still to do: Finish the drainage swale which is only 2/3 done. Keep cutting back the English ivy which constantly encroaches from the neighbor’s yard; I swear I can hear it saying “Resistance is futile; your garden will be assimilated.” Finish planting this area up, and hope for fewer very heavy rains in the future.
Well, that is the sad state at the moment. It has been in the 80sF for the past couple of days but with brutally high humidity; as I write this at 4 p.m. it is 85F but with a “feels like” value of 93F. Tomorrow is forecast to be more of the same but with a high of 89, so not a great day for outdoor activity either. With a bit of luck I may be able to get an hour’s weeding of the Silverbell Bed this evening just before sunset, but no guarantees because it will still be in the 80sF and with humidity in the very high 70% range. It will be oppressive. But we’ll see! 😊