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!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I am so CLOSE...

to being almost done with re-working my front yard that I can almost conceive of tasting it.

Here's what it looked like on Oct. 2nd. You can clearly see that I've had my work cut out for me.

Tomorrow I'll take a picture of what it looks like now from the same angle. I couldn't possibly have done that before it got dark, could I?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I have a hawk in my yard. What do YOU have?

That's right.

A hawk.

I think it may be a juvenile Cooper's Hawk. What do you think?

He flew into the back yard and landed on a tree while I was making tea to go with my breakfast. I squealed and sent Eric to get the camera and the long lens. I showed him to the twins and kept hushing them so he/she/it (I respect its privacy.) wouldn't fly off before I had a chance to get a couple of shots of it.
Where did all the snacks go?
All of the little songbirds scattered when it showed up and stayed gone for a least an hour. I can just imagine the bird conversation afterward:

Bird 1: Are you goin' back to that feeder now, Bob?
Bird 2: I dunno. I think it's gone, but I'm just gonna wait a little longer to be safe.
Bird 1: Yeah. Good plan.
Bird 2: Yup.
Bird 1: [Unhappy pause] Yup.
Bird 2: [Stomach growls.]
Bird 1: [Hopefully] Do you think we could get Mikey to go check?

After a few moments, it noticed me taking its picture.

And then he was gone.

Maybe I should just start referring to my yard as the nature preserve? Hatchet's Nature Preserve.

Of course, that makes it sound like I'm making jam out of bunnies. Maybe I shouldn't go there....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Logan says...

I was outside gardening yesterday when Logan managed to sneak out the side gate and came to get me. He grabbed me around the legs and said, "Mommy!"

Me: Logan! [Hugs]
Logan: Mommy! [Leg hug, dimpled cheeks, secret grin.]
Me: Logan! [Hugs, goofy grin.]
Logan: Mommy! [Head-butting leg hug, dimpled cheeks, big grin.]
Me: Logan! [Melting in a pool of "awww", full body hug, hair ruffle.]

I think I may have to keep him.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Smell Like a Monster

The cutest video since...well, the original Old Spice video. I love Grover and you need something to smile at. You're welcome!

Also, this is a fantastic song, so you need to watch this, too. Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for your Eyes, by Kristin Andreassen. Awesome sauce!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

More Critters in the Garden

Just the other week I was wondering why I hadn't seen any praying mantids around my yard. Apparently it wasn't time to see them yet. Now is the time to see the full adults.

How do I know? Because in the last two days I've seen two different types in my front yard! (Also, I think I squished a male a few weeks ago. It flew close to my head and freaked me out. In my defense, I was near the wasp nest, so I was primed to kill anything that came too close to me. I'm sorry little guy!)

Well, from the research I've done, it looks like they're both the European mantid, only one is green and the other brown.
Clicky to enlarge all the pics!

Tuesday's mantis was discovered while Eric was repairing the sprinklers. Yes, repairing the sprinkler line that I punched not one, not two, but four holes in with my pitchfork while ripping out plants in the front yard. This was just after we had the sprinkler guys by to fix the part that was too much for Eric, down in the junction box. We were checking to see if they worked properly and Whoops! There goes a geyser! The next morning, after Eric repaired the hole that I knew about, we turned the sprinklers on again, and Whoops! Another one!

Repeat 2x more. Eric was not amused. Sorry honey!

I discovered today's mantid on my Zebra grass. Funny thing about the giant grass in the front yard: I love the way it sounds when it sways in the wind, but it makes me jumpy. All sudden, jumping sounds make me think Mice instead of Grasshopper or Mantid.

When I looked closer, though, it was a mantid! Woo! Apparently all of the ones you see at this time of year are a) female and b) totally preggers. Those fat abdomens are just waiting to lay some eggs! On the bright side, now I know what all of that weird, tan, foam-insulation-type stuff is around the yard! It's the egg case for praying mantises!

Of course what I'd really like to see is one of them noshing on a grasshopper or three. I have quite a few of those, all over the backyard.

In the front yard, though, I have honey bees everywhere.

Happy little bees! I have to tell you, they really like the catmint that blooms throughout the season.

Speaking of bees, I just received a gift of locally produced honey from a neighbor as a thank you gift! As I mentioned previously, I'm in the process of ripping out plants and re-setting them, which means I have a whole lot of plants that I'm giving away in my front yard. The beekeepers dropped by to say thanks for the free plants recently (e.g. irises, strawberries, caryopteris, Keys of Heaven, and yarrow) and over the years. It was so nice, it made my whole day!

My work on the front yard has hardly begun, but I've had lots of positive reinforcement from the neighbors as they drive by. Getting the honey was just icing on the cake! I love working in the front yard for just that reason. Well, I'd better get back to work! I've got yards and yards of landscape fabric to rip up and plants to relocate.

How are things looking in your garden?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Emma says...

Scene: Hatchet and Emma are in the bathroom where Emma has just gone poop. Hatchet notices a ball of hair on the floor (probably from a hairbrush) and tosses it into the potty.

Emma flushes the potty and says, "You will never find your hair now, Mommy! Hah hah hah!"

My child just gave me an evil laugh and the Threatening Bad Guy Speech. This child is destined for wonderful things, isn't she?

Ha ha haaaa!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

In the Garden

I don't really want it to be fall, yet I can't help but appreciate the cooler weather and the fact that it's time to get some serious gardening in without melting!

After months and months of work, I might actually be done (for the season) with the sidewalk garden bed. Fortunately, I finally remembered to take a before and after shot! Here it is in early June, covered with weeds and irises and weedy irises:

Here it is after all of the ripping, shredding, weeding, re-planting and mulching, today:

It doesn't look like much right now, does it? A little less weedy. A lot more mulchy.

I only kept the Beautyberry, Prairie Smoke, Phlox subulata, spiderwort and Basket of Gold alyssum. I brought around a whole bunch of plants that have been languishing in the shade in the back yard: agastache 'Apache Sunset', Chinese grasses, pink asters, peonies, 'Blue Hills' sage, tall garden phlox, Siberian catmint and columbines. I moved a few plants over from the xeric bed as well: a long suffering heather, a pair of Rocky Mountain penstemon that were growing among some rocks and a few winecups. The only new plants are those 3 little grasses I added on one end. I'll give that a whirl and see how it looks next year!

My xeric garden looked a lot nicer in June than it does in October.

So, of course, I'll have to start weeding, moving plants and adding new ones. I've already started here:

where the Shrub of Doom used to live. The yarrow seems to be trying to take over, so it's time it met up with The Pitchfork. I've put out signs offering all that I'm ripping out for free to the neighborhood, but anything that is left over in a day or so will be compost! Oh and while I was ripping away I found a shed snake skin. No snake came to visit, but I know it's out there some where! Maybe after I've finished messing around with all of the plants I'll see it again. I wonder if it eats voles?

The cherry tree garden looks a little bare after I weeded it and discovered vole holes:

And that they had gnawed off the bottom 6-8" of the cherry bark where it meets the soil. (Evil bastards! They will pay for this!) Also, next year, I'll be keeping a sharp look out for voles and other critters that want to take up residence in my garden beds. Hopefully I won't have the same wasp issue next year as I did this year. The columbines and bleeding hearts should fill in nicely next year, too.

The new stone steps now have two kinds of thyme happily growing in the cracks, attempting to keep the soil from washing away after every rainstorm. I can't help but like how finished they make the steps look and this is only after a couple of months! By next year I wonder if I'll have to start giving the thyme a trim? I sure hope not.

I even added some sempervivums just to see how they'd do. We'll find out next year how well they'll over winter! I hope to get more cobweb varieties in there, since they're so cute.

My containers are looking pretty good and the succulent plants were a big success this year. I totally got to forget about watering these pots for days or weeks at a time and they didn't die! That's a damned good container planting!

I couldn't help but notice that the Autumn Joy sedum is trying to take over the entire pot, so I'll probably move the three of them into the sidewalk garden. Then I'll replant the 3 pots with yet more sempervivums, since that way I'll have something to look at all winter on the front steps!

I missed out on the Botanical Garden's fall plant sale because of the twins' birthday party, but I've made up for it by getting a bunch of plants on sale at the local garden center. I even managed to talk them into cutting 20% off the sale price of a Double Delight tea rose that was looking kinda limp. It was in a 5 gallon pot, so I felt like I made out like a bandit! (It's the same rose that I had planted long ago and moved around 3 different times. This last time, I may have killed it, but in the off chance that I didn't, I planted the new rose nearby the old one. It even has a bud on it! I don't know why I'm excited about that, but there it is -- I am.) Once I watered it, it perked up immediately. I dug a lovely large hole for it and threw in a huge bucketful of compost. That sucker had better be happy next year!

I also picked up 2 weigela 'Minuet', 2 sempervivum, and 5 Salvia greggii 'Rose'.* (I'm not sure if 'Rose' is an actual variety name or just the color description.) The flowers are a lovely deep magenta/purple color and I think they'll look smashing backed up by some of my volunteer Agastache cana. I'll just have to dig them up from where they have spread themselves around the yard and in my pots.

Just in case you didn't know, fall is the best time of the year for installing new trees, shrubs and perennials. They have until the first hard frost to establish a good root system and will be a lot bigger next year in time for blooming season. Also, most garden centers are trying to get rid of their stock so that they don't have to over winter as much product, so now is a great time to save some money! Suddenly, that rose that I really wanted is a lot more appealing when it's 50% off. Plus another 20% because I asked so nicely! The magic words: "Is that price the best you can do?"

No, seriously, give that a try and see what happens.

It's amazing how messy it can look when you move plants around while re-vamping the garden, but by next season, everything will fill in and blend together. As usual, I'm looking forward to it!

* Eric tried to suggest that I might have a....problem as I was shelling out money for yet more plants. Personally, I think I can stop any time I want.


Any day now, I'll stop gardening when I feel like it.

Any day now...

You know, like once it starts snowing.
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