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Landscape in Progress, Part Two

September 14, 2010

Christina writes: More than two months ago, I described the early stages of the landscaping around our house. In the meantime, more new flower beds have been prepared and further planting has taken place in stages. As I mentioned in June, at the point where our easternmost bed curves around and begins to run west, we planted a large hemlock (Tsuga, a coniferous tree, not Umbelliferae or Apiaceae) to hide our neighbours’ compost pile. This is now framed with andromeda (Pieris japonica) ‘Red Mill’, Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) ‘Jack Frost’, and Ligularia stenocephala ‘The Rocket’ to make a pleasant grouping, as viewed from our kitchen windows. Another neighbour’s land, left as an area of untended maple trees, stretches to the north of the house at a distance of about eighteen feet, separated from our property only by a wire fence. Along this line, thirteen mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) in five varieties have been planted in a new bed, and with luck will grow together into a semi-hedge and provide colourful blossoms in spring. For the moment, we have planted varieties of Lamium maculatum between the Mountain Laurels as ground cover.

Our lot extends only about six feet to the west beyond the driveway, but continues northward almost seventy feet beyond the garage/potting shed in an extension about thirty feet wide. This is surrounded by trees on three sides, including the wild maple area on the east (here too divided only by a wire fence) and mainly coniferous trees on the west, so we had to choose plants that would grow in part or full shade. At the northernmost end we had a series of open compartments constructed from concrete blocks for compost and temporary storage of brush – Wayne calls these ‘gun emplacements’ – not beautiful, but not much visible from the house, and needed for garden maintenance. Also at the back, another hemlock helps to mask the rear of a neighbour’s garage.

East extension shrubsNew beds have been installed along both the east and west sides of the extension. That on the east has been planted mainly with shrubs – andromeda ‘Compacta’, more clethra, Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rollisonii’, Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’, and two Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ which we hope will eventually grow to conceal a huge tree stump too expensive to remove. As this bed approaches the point where the fence turns east, it reaches a semi-circular bed I established about ten years ago, in which I plant impatiens ranging in colour from deep reddish orange through paler shades to white, pale mauve, and magenta. In the western bed of the extension, we have planted mainly shade-loving perennials, most of which are distinctive for the colour and shape of their leaves than for flowers: brunnera, ligularia, hellebore, goatsbeard, snakeroot, hosta, ferns, and many different varieties of heuchera (coral bells) with names such as ‘Caramel’, ‘Marmalade’, ‘Pinot Gris’, ‘Beaujolais’, ‘Dark Secret’, ‘Purple Palace’, ‘Mocha’, and ‘Chocolate Veil’. Among these are more leucothoe, and the bed terminates on the south with a group of existing maples and a new dwarf Korean lilac, the latter in a position to get needed sunlight. Finally, behind the potting shed are three andromeda ‘Brouwer’s Beauty’ in a new small bed.

We have chosen the plants with the advice of our landscaper, and though we commissioned him to obtain the trees and many of the shrubs, we ourselves purchased and transported some of the shrubs and almost all of the perennials on multiple visits to area garden centres. We don’t anticipate doing any more planting this year, but will add another couple of rhododendrons next spring when the nurseries will have a wider choice than at present, and next year we hope to have something done to improve our lawns which suffered badly during our 2007 renovations and, more recently, from landscaper’s trucks transporting soil and mulch. We may also need to replace a few of the new plants which appear to be weaker than the rest, despite our best efforts, or which don’t survive the coming winter.

Landscaping may be finished for this year, but garden work is not. Indeed, it began simultaneous with the planting. New plants always need a lot of water until they have established good roots, but this year we have had an excessively long, hot, dry summer. Temperatures have rarely dropped below 80 degrees Farenheit since the beginning of June, and for much of the time have been in the high 80s, with almost a week in the mid-90s. Only for the past few days has it been consistently in the 70s or less. There has been very little rain, and the local water table is unusually low. Fortunately, in our renovations we ensured that there would be faucets on three sides of the house, and we have purchased new hoses to reach the more distant corners of our lot, as well as more sophisticated sprinklers. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, our last water bill was over three times as much as usual. Wayne tends to see to this part of the work.

perennial bed in AugustThen there is the never-ending weeding and dead-heading, which falls mainly to me. I don’t exactly enjoy it, but find the results rewarding. Although I know that new weeds will be introduced by wind and birds, I always hope that constant weeding in the new beds will diminish the number, as happened in the longer-established perennial bed at the front. Of course, that is also because the plants there have grown closer together and leave less room for weeds. Many of the plants in that bed have flowered earlier than usual in the constant sunshine. A few weeks ago, it was a blaze of colour, with day-lilies, catmint, bee balm, Shasta daisies and phlox all in flower at once; now some of that is gone, but our rose of Sharon at the south-east corner of the house continues to provide a colour accent.

Our new plants have attracted many visitors. We are happy to have seen so many bees, and more birds than usual, including a couple of hummingbirds. The birds have also enjoyed our watering arrangements. When we were using our older, oscillating sprinklers (which sweep high) near trees, some of the birds, including a cardinal, enjoyed flying from one branch to another through the spray. Other birds, especially American robins (actually members of the thrush family), liked it when we left hoses dribbling water to the apple trees. A family of three or four chipmunks love the new beds: they alternately race along the edges and swerve under and around the plants, as if taking part in an obstacle race. We even had a visit from a young racoon, apparently confused as it should have been asleep in the daytime, who climbed into one of our locust trees and looked down at us before wandering off. We also have occasional visits from a couple of rabbits, but so far they seem more interested in the weeds in our lawn than in any of the new plants. Early in the summer we had a visit during the night from one or more deer, who dined on some of the hosta and day-lilies and nibbled at the new apple-trees. Deer are very charming to look at, but – because they can carry ticks (which may carry Lyme’s Disease), as well as because of their fondness for certain ornamentals – we and our neighbours went into full protection mode with foul-smelling sprays, pepper, and other deterrents. So far the deer have not come back, but others in the area have had visits. Although there should be plenty of food for deer in the forests at this time of year, they have become quite brazen, crossing busy roads and not as alarmed by people as they once were. We will have to take even more precautions in winter, though we have tried where possible to get plants that deer tend not to like – though as everyone says, when deer are hungry they will eat anything. We have also had to spray against Japanese Beetles this year, which nibbled the leaves on the birch tree in front of the house as well as our new Japanese willow and rose of Sharon.

Images, from top: Hydrangea and euonymus in one of our more shaded beds; the perennial bed as of mid-August, beginning to go over but still blooming, surrounded by grass badly in need of a trim.

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