TGGR 2021 Progress Report, Part 1 (Front Yard)

It has been such a busy year for The Great Garden Renovation (TGGR) that I’m dividing my end-of season status report into separate posts for the front and back garden areas.

In late July there came a glimmer of hope that the long-awaited (since March 2019) replacement of the Driveway and the Courtyard would commence in early September. A month later, that outlook was revised by the contractor to “a 40% chance of the pavers arriving before the end of October, but they say a 100% chance of them being available next April.” Uh huh. Out of sheer pique and frustration, I decided to do something with part of the Driveway Bed anyway (but nowhere near the driveway edge, because I’m not utterly devoid of sense.)

The Driveway Bed

The curbside end of the Driveway Bed (shown here in autumn 2020) went untouched for the past three years whilst I looked in vain for a Cupressus arizonica ‘Blue Ice’ to go into it. This spring I realized that having an extremely large conifer in that location would make backing out of my driveway more dicey because of the visual obstruction. So, I decided to put a very tall skinny gingko (‘Grindstone Lake’) there instead, which my favorite nursery said would be available in a #2 pot in July. Perfect! Except that they never got any of those from their wholesaler, and apparently neither did anyone else this year.
2021 progress: Instead, I took a gamble on a small (#1) but similar variety called ‘Potter Pete’ which supposedly only gets to 15 ft tall instead of 30 and is still just as narrow as ‘Grindstone.’ This is a new cultivar and so I hope that the description is accurate. It turned out that the soil is so filled with stones in this area that I probably would have broken my back and/or my shovel if I had tried to dig a 2-gallon ‘Grindstone’ planting hole anyway. Joining the baby ginkgo are four transplanted clumps of the almost-white ‘Clarity of Purpose’ which is my earliest daylily and produces blooms for the entire month of June; this year it rebloomed in September and October as well (a nice surprise.) The irises are the TB pink ‘Treasured’ formerly in Patio Bed #3 but here used as a temporary filler for the next year or two.

This is an ‘unusual area’ around the stumps of the oaks that were cut down a few years ago. It may look like an easy-peasy cleanup, but don’t be fooled: The former owners must have brought in a truckload of rocks and stones for ‘mulch’, and all of the plants that I evicted from here in 2019 had landscape plastic around them. Yes, plastic. This entire area has a layer of landscape plastic beneath about 6-8 inches of those stones, and I have been literally removing it bit by bit and planting hole by planting hole. But even then, the soil beneath the plastic is at least 50% more of the same stones and rock for more than 12 inches down! There seems to be no end to the miserable things. It suddenly occurred to me, in September, that perhaps this is what’s meant by ‘scree’? Isn’t scree a situation that is a 50/50 or 40/60 mix of soil and rocks? (Although here it’s more like 20/80.)  And what does scree suggest? Alpine plants, that’s what. But more on that subject, another day.

On a whim, I decided to put a winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, near the stump/scree. Having had this shrub in Garden #3, I know it’s unattractive when left to its own devices although the fragrance of the tiny white February-March flowers is glorious. I intend to cut this one back severely immediately after flowering, so it shouldn’t look too much like a hot mess during the rest of the year. This plant gave me the notion to have a succession of fragrant shrubs in that part of the front yard: Why shouldn’t people who walk down the street (or myself!) smell something nice for most of the year? So now I will be looking for a specific mock orange, ‘Bouquet Blanc’, next year; I know from experience that this cultivar excels in the fragrance department and doesn’t get crazy large either.

The only new 2021 plants in the other parts of the Driveway Bed were the relocated Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’ and Rose ‘Earth Song’ – both of whom received one of my Annual Awards this year, although for very different reasons!! Everything else will need to wait until 2022 A.D. (After Driveway.)

The Mailbox Bed

2021 progress: For the same reason (no driveway work), the adjacent Mailbox Bed received only two new inhabitants this year and both are shrubs: Styrax ‘Pink Trinket’ in the center and Calycanthus ‘Michael Lindsay’, which is the second in my installation of fragrant curbside plants. The left-hand shrub (tree, eventually) is Chionanthus ‘Tokyo Tower’ which was planted in early 2019 but has yet to flower and I am getting somewhat impatient. I put some Muscari latifolium ‘Grape Ice’ around the base of it this fall. This bed will eventually be re-shaped and edged, after a dead oak stump at one end is removed and the driveway is done. You can see what a cockeyed optimist I am.

The Cotinus Bed

This was the large cotinus’ bed in December of last year, after I did some drastic pruning on same in an effort to keep it under some measure of control in 2021. It’s the only denizen other than the oak stumps and some Chionodoxa bulbs that I planted around them about a month previously.

2021 progress: This is the only bed that I have actually finished planting up, assuming nothing in it dies over this winter. In April, Picea pungens ‘Blue Totem’ (which gets only five feet wide) went in, followed by 50 plants of Ceratostigma plumbaginoides to edge the bed. Seven back-ordered Echinacea ‘Magnus’ finally arrived in September to fill the space between the spruce and the cotinus. I will be more careful about how I cut back that cotinus next spring, because this is not the clear-lower-limbs effect that I was looking for.

The Echo Bed

The identity of this small bed has been through more changes than Superman in a phone booth factory. When I bought the house in 2014 it held an overgrown Euonymus alata and the Screwy Willow that died because I refused to cater to its drinking habit. Not sorry. In 2017, I hacked back the Euonymus and planted a tree peony in the willow’s former spot; it sulked, so I moved it in 2019.

In its place I put a very young upright-growing witch hazel, Hamamelis ‘Brimstone’; it dropped its leaves prematurely and then got eaten completely down to the ground in winter 2020-21 by Abigail the Ravenous Rabbit.
2021 progress: Out went the remains of the murdered witch hazel and also the euonymus (again, not sorry) and I decided that this small bed will echo four nearby colors: the pink of the weeping cherry and cercis in April; the red of the emerging cotinus foliage in May and its subsequent dark purple-red afterward; the white mountain laurel ‘Snowdrift’ in June; and the true blues of Coniferus Rex (which is seen behind this bed, from street view) and Picea ‘Blue Totem’ all year.
First in was a dwarf blue spruce, Picea ‘Ruby Teardrops’ whose red cones in May will echo the emerging red foliage of the cotinus, like this.
At the opposite end, Deutzia ‘Nikko Blush’ should take care of the April-into-May pink echo. Then in midsummer I fell in love with an unusual dwarf Japanese yew, Taxus cuspidata ‘Amersfoort’, and put it in the center as an architectural feature that I can eventually do some creative pruning on when it gets to be about 4-5 ft tall. The white echo will come from the supposedly-shorter-growing (24”) white Campanula persicifolia ‘Gawen’ that I planted this autumn; if those get too rambunctious, I can always move them elsewhere.  Next spring I will plant the dark maroon Heuchera ‘Black Pearl’ along the edges, to echo the nearby cotinus foliage for the rest of the year. I forgot to order some Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’ to have even more blue-conifers-echo action in this bed, but it’s on my list for a 2022 bulb order.

The Woodland Walk

The southeast corner of my property had been left to its own devices, other than my occasional mutterings about how sloppy the abelia fronting the cotinus (here cut way down in December 2020) always looked, or a passing springtime acknowledgement of some evergreen azaleas and rhododendrons, and annoyance that there were always mower tire ruts through the thin and slightly-muddy grass area between those two spots. It wasn’t until this summer that I actually looked at this area with a “maybe I could make this into something” eye. In some ways it resembled a sort of woodsy area to me (okay, that’s a stretch), but perhaps as a defined bed with a stepping-stone walkway through it. And so it was to become the Woodland Walk bed.
2021 progress: The first order of business was to kill the remaining struggling grass, remove the sloppy abelia entirely (it will be replaced by a row of the much more compact cultivar ‘Rose Creek’ next year) and selectively prune the gangly purple-leafed cotinus. Next was to define the boundary of this bed with edging, which was finally done in late October. I already have a daunting want-list of plants for this area next year, including epimediums, erythroniums, large ferns, Japanese forest grass, and lots of early spring bulbs. This area will end up with its own blog post, for sure, but for now the thing it’s most full of is Potential.

The Walkway Bed

Yet again, the not-done driveway prevented any work on the north end of the front walkway bed but that was no excuse for dragging my feet about how to best fill in the center portion which still, in autumn 2020, consisted of one group of white narcissus, two cultivars of white iris (Immortality and Got Milk) and five small Phlox ‘David’ who seemed less than enthusiastic about their location.
2021 progress: Did a much-overdue dividing of the iris clumps and realized too late that I had no idea which fans were which cultivar. Oopsy. I guess we will find out who’s who next May. I am still not sure that I want this bed filled with nothing but iris, so I will do my Scarlett O’Hara impression and think about it tomorrow, meaning “when the irises need dividing again in 2023.” The only new addition was a group of Cyclamen hederifolium album tubers tucked into an area overshadowed by Coniferus Rex.

The Yew Bed

Last year, this area looked like this. Everything in it was inherited from prior owners. It was ‘okay’ but I kept thinking that it could be something more refined, and also that the yew was getting a little too pushy against those overhead utility lines.
2021 progress: The first step in turning what was “that big yew and a dwarf Acer dissectum which is probably Red Dragon but who knows” into The Yew Bed involved removing several small yews which I didn’t even realize – until I began pruning – were part of the overall Giant Mass of Green. Out went the variegated euonymus that I never liked (if you suspect an anti-euonymus tendency here, you’re absolutely right) and I was delighted to find that the main yew (a male) had an elegant structure, once revealed.
I also wanted a defined edge that was more than just a rim of existing hostas during the growing season. An edging installation was promised for early July but didn’t get done until late September. I cleaned up the interior of the maple so that its structure will also be more defined. No more “red blob + green blob” here! Next year, all that empty space will get planted up with white epimediums. The only problem is that, between this area and the one at the front of the Woodland Walk, my bank balance is going to take an awful beating from just the epimediums order alone. 😦

There was also quite a bit of action in the Courtyard Gate Bed this year, but because that will be the first in an upcoming series of Problem Places posts, I will relate that story in the very near future!

The 2021 TGGR Progress report continues in the next post, with the various backyard doings.

The Great Garden Renovation (TGGR) Progress Reports:

2021 (back yard)

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