Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Renovate Your Front Yard


October 2, 2010
October 24, 2010

You, too, can go completely bonkers and decide to tear up your existing garden and re-model it whenever you want. You just have to have the fortitude to carry it out. A plan would help, too (That would have been a good idea. Yup. Sure would've been!)*. Plus some good weather.

Oh, and a strong back, good tools (Did I mention that I snapped a spade right in half and had to get a new one?) and someone to watch over your children for you while you obsess over the garden.

I'm just sayin'....

What did I do and why did I do it? Well, the time was right and Eric was available to watch over the twins while I worked for 8 or 10 hours a day to get the garden in shape. I knew that I needed to beat the first hard frost date (It was October 25th this year.). The sprinklers needed to be shut off, all plants that were going to be moved needed to be moved and everything needed to be snug under a covering of mulch in order to survive freezing temperatures.
Four cubic yards of mulch.
I must admit that I didn't know if I'd be able to get the whole thing done before the freeze came, but October in Colorado can be amazingly beautiful. Warm, sunny, a little breezy and the perfect weather for planting perennials. This way the gardener doesn't have to roast in the sun and neither do the plants. They get a few weeks to settle in to their new locations and set down roots before it gets really cold and you don't have to deal with rain getting the soil all muddy and unworkable.

The key thing I learned is that you should never, ever, EVER use landscape fabric in a garden where you may want the plants to spread and/or naturalize. Doesn't matter how big you think that hole you slit in the fabric was, the plant is going to out grow it and then you'd be left with a half choked plant before you even realized something was wrong. That and the fact that the bark mulch you throw on top of the fabric will eventually break down and turn into what? Compost. Where all of the seeds from your plants will be happy to grow, for at least awhile, until they suddenly die off en mass because they aren't actually in the soil and can't put down a serious root structure.

Therefore, I have spent the last 4 weeks ripping up yards and yards of weed and plant encrusted landscape fabric, shaking the compost back onto the naked soil, tossing the plants I didn't want onto the compost heap and relocating the plants I did want to keep. And boy, oh boy! were there a lot of those! Yarrow reseeded itself with wild abandon all over the front yard. I ripped almost all of it out. There were at least a dozen lavender plants that had happily volunteered around the yard. I relocated most of them. There was a Russian Sage blocking the view of my pink shrub roses. It had to go.

I gave piles of plants away to the folks in my neighborhood. I composted thousands more. I threw down millions of invisible seeds everywhere when I shook the composted bark mulch back onto the soil. Yarrow will probably be springing up all over the place next year, but I'll be ready to rip it out mercilessly!


Oh yeah! And I installed 5 newly purchased Salvia greggii 'Rose' (aka Autumn Sage) plants that I'd picked up on sale from the local garden center. They're sort of magenta in color. A rosy-purple. Hummingbirds should love them!

It was as I was attempting to install each of those that it struck me that I was working on one of those little puzzles made up of those little moveable tiles. You know, the ones where one little tile is missing and you have to slide all of the other tiles around and around until you correctly form the picture. (What are those things called, anyway?) In order to install one Salvia, I had to rip out 3 goldenrods, move 5 Agastache 'Apricot Sprite', rip up yards of fabric, pull off plants to keep and plants to toss, dig 6 holes, amend each hole with compost and finally plant all of my plants back in the soil again. Try that on a 50' x 25' scale and it'll take you awhile!

Yes, I did do all of this work on my own until the last 2 days when I had Eric rip out the final Russian sage, some evil weedy grass, a few more yards of fabric along the back (Where I'm going to install a year.) and load compost into the wheelbarrow for me. The neighbors got to know me pretty darned well by the time it was over. I was cheered on by plenty of passersby and complimented on all of my hard work. It made me feel a real sense of community, actually, and made me proud of my work. After all, I made this garden for the hummingbirds and for me, but it pleases me that so many others also get a great sense of enjoyment out of it year after year.
Full garden: October 24, 2010. Click to enlarge.

I'm now really, really looking forward to Spring. It's gonna look AWESOME!

Edited to add: OK, now you can click on the garden photos and get the enlarged image. Then, you can click AGAIN to get the super duper sized image. You know, in case you wanted details. Turns out the new photo editor thingy in Blogspot removes your ability to click on the images if you decide to add a caption to them. Whoops!

* Mostly my "plan" involved ripping up the landscape fabric, removing weeds and then finding and relocating shorter plants to the front, removing excess yarrow and coneflower, installing the 5 new Autumn sage and then creating little vignettes with groups of plants. If all works out as I envisioned it, there should be drifts of columbines throughout the garden now, as well as 'Boulder Blue' fescue repeated in groups of 5 across the front, taller plants were removed from the first few feet nearest the sidewalk and anything over 2' tall were removed from the main spray path of the sprinklers. Next year we may switch the whole thing over to micro-drip irrigation instead of overhead rotating sprayers. It would make more sense and use less water, but there were only so many changes I could make this year. I relocated a good number of lavender in drifts throughout the middle section and added a couple near the pink roses. Next year I plan on moving 2 more butterfly bushes from the backyard and putting them in between the Zebra grasses and pulling a couple of 'Autumn Joy' sedum from their current locations and adding those near the front right corner. Assuming that the one in the pot survives the winter in the pot....

And if there's any space left, I may toss in some bright green zinnias and move some Prairie Smoke plants over from the sidewalk garden. While I foresee a great deal of hand weeding in my future, there shouldn't be near as much physical labor involved in massive renovations. Bring on the spring!


Candy "Sweetstuff" said...

Wow that is a lot of work but it looks terrific! You must be in good shape after all that digging, pulling and planting!

I know what you mean about the fabric. I used it in my succulent garden in the back and I eventually ended up pulling most of it out!

Woman with a Hatchet said...

I don't know if I'd say I was in good shape, but I'm certainly tanned! I just started an 8 week exercise program last night and discovered I have NO cardiovascular endurance. I can, however, squat all day long and pull weeds and hop up and down on spades for hours on end.

Clearly there were SOME advantages to doing all the gardening myself!

That fabric's pretty awful, ain't it? Now I need to go peek at YOUR succulent garden!

Candy "Sweetstuff" said...

If you can squat, pull weeds and hop up and down on a spade for hours on end you are in much better cardio and leg shape than me. I used to be able to do that stuff. Hurt my back really bad this year. So a lot of my normal yard care went too pot! Darn!

In the winter I wait until I know we are going to have the first freeze. By then most of the succulents have gone dormant. Stan sets up tables in the garage and we move the major majority of my potted plants in the there. That is why my big pots are on rollers! I try to make sure that they do not have bugs before I put them in there. If they do I will keep them separate. I don't water them during the winter unless they look like the petals or leaves are showing signs of shriveling. They should not need water. Some do though so you have to watch them. I think this helps keep the bugs away. No damp earth. The pots that I can't bring in I usually cover with sheets. I collect leaves from neighbors trees and put them in my succulent planter beds to help insulate them from the cold. I lay down snail bate first though. This process makes for a pain in the butt to clean up in spring but it actually helps keep weeds from growing. The big succulents around the perimeter are on there own. I just cross my fingers and hope for the best. Last year was the worst and I lost a lot of my prized plants. Some were damaged pretty badly also. But they have since grown but have scars!

Hope this helps you!

alessa said...

garden masochist....

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