Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Garden Dreams and Nightmares

We have returned to the garden now. Before the family reunion, we worked so hard to get the yard ready for company, yet we didn't get all of the projects done, but we did make some progress. Of course while we were entertaining, the weeds snuck back in. One of our on-going projects is the center circle at the front of the house.

We moved here to the Garden Spot the end of February 2009. With landscaping in place, trees planted, garden beds define, and gravel mulched spaces, we set about making the new acreage ours. The biggest change was to undo the miserable patio on the back of the house by replacing it with our beautiful deck and pergola, a project completed 5 years later. The garden beds around the the patio were nicely defined, and now are what I consider finished. I'll write about their transformation in another post.

The huge struggle has been that tear shaped garden in the front surrounded by paved drive way.

May 2009
Early on, it was clean, covered in bark mulch that served as a weed barrier, but weeds have a way of adjusting to any environment. It was a boring place to look at, too. Soon it would become my worst garden nightmare.

The property survived four owners before we arrived. Owner #4, a divorced retiree went on a tree binge, adding 3 sizable ponderosa pine trees and small aspens to front garden. He also added river rock to create --who knows what-- with an old horse drawn wooden wagon at the center piece (like one you might see on an old western TV show). He took the wagon with him, leaving a pile of river rock behind. We removed the rock to make a garden bed because it became apparent that weeds would over take the river rock and it was just unsightly.

The young aspens were still staked when we moved in. As spring rolled around, bright red tulips from previous owners began to poke through the ground. I was excited. There would be some color, at least. The point of the tear drop garden was a real eye sore with scraggly bushes.

I am surprised that I don't have photos of the hard work it took to remove the bushes. The Head Gardener had to use the tractor to uproot the unwanted plant material.  He tilled in compost and top soil to make a nice garden bed. I had a plan. We left the purple plant because the bees loved it. I am not sure what it is, but is reaching weed status around here for it prolifically reproduces everywhere.

At the old house, we had a lovely berm at the front of the house with a small water garden underneath aspens. I grew bleeding hearts and hosts. I loved my shade garden. No shade in this spot. What was I to do with such a huge space?

That first year the space looked clean, but bare. I wanted color. I wanted a cottage garden.

For the point I planted the most beautiful rudbekia Prairie Sun and blanket flowers. It looked so pretty--the first year. I had a nicely defined garden that would bring years of pleasure.

The garden dream didn't last. Because this is such a large space, it was just too hard to manage. The weeds last year got out of control. And would you believe that red ants destroyed the ice plants that I added for ground cover?  I just did not have the energy to go out to face the mess. I was discouraged. I'd plant flowers and they'd die or get choked out by the weeds or eaten by those horrid ants. This spring I determined to tame the wild space. 

The front point has been cleared out of the noxious weeds, revealing remnants of the rudbekia that self seed so well, the one blanket flower continues to bloom, and the Russian Sage needs to be cut back for another bloom. The milk weed has bloomed and will be removed because it really is really a noxious weed that I tolerate simply because I hope some wayward monarch butterfly will find it, but we rarely see monarchs here anymore and the milk week will choke out every thing else. I found a garden plan on Pinterest that uses grasses and day lilies. So this week I will plant the grasses and when my day lilies have bloomed, I will transplant them. Poor things live in another weed infested spot similar to this one out by the barn. 

You can see how much the trees have grown, so much so that I now have a shade garden where I have planted 3 cheap little hostas I found at Lowes, along with other plants. My shade garden at the old house had a path that led to the backyard. I used some of the river rock to make a path in this garden. Over time it became taken over by the vinca minor and baby aspens. It also had to be adjusted a bit to accommodate the spreading pine bows. I waged war on the vinca, whacked off the baby trees, and added a nice shredded mulch to define the path. Once the path was cleaned and the trees pruned and cut back

Even some of the mature flowers had to be cut back: the monarda on the left is one of my favorites. It has a two teared bloom that is a beautiful magenta color. Across the path more pink helps define the path.

I have added daisies, transplanted a bit of the monarda, added a bleeding heart way in the back, along with some other shade loving plants. Already a little fairy has found her spot in the garden.

We have left some vinca, which eventually may be dug out to make way for more hostas and bleeding heart on the other side of the path. For now I am going to leave it. We have a pathetic wild house cat that sleeps in the undergrowth of the vinca, so I will let it go for now. (The hostas look sickly, but they are recovering from recent hail.)

July 2014

I must give tribute to the HG who really is the backbone and muscle of the Garden Spot. My family who read the blog give me a hard time about how "We" do this and "We" did that when they know that it is hubby who chops, prunes, digs, pulls, and take my orders, making my garden dreams come true. I guess I would say that I am the brains of this garden and he is the brawn. I have demanded a lot from him: plant that tree, remove that one, carry off this rock, move that stone. I want, I need, will you? But he does it all most often willingly and with a cheerful heart.

A successful garden needs water, especially in this dry climate. We discovered the remnants of a sprinkler system in that garden, but owner 4 told us that it didn't work. The HG set about digging up the garden to find the system, discovering an in-tack underground irrigation system. The big question remained: how did it hook onto the main irrigation system? We worried that it was under the paved driveway with a leak. It was, but with more digging he found where it came out on the other side. By replacing old sprinkler heads, adding some new line, and attaching it to the existing system, he was able to restore the original irrigation system.

We removed a of lot plant material from this center eye sore: the ponderosas' lower branches that rested on the ground were pruned away, opening up the garden; aspen suckers--some sizable--were dug out, providing even more of an openness; trash can loads of weeds were dug out; and at last resort thistles were sprayed, including the horrible Canadian thistle, the only way to get rid of it. Did you know that those thistle seeds will lay dormant for 1,000 years?

The transformation has been so rewarding. I will continue to haunt Lowe's garden center looking for bargain plants. I may even take a run to Eaton Grove just a couple of miles away to see what they have left at the end of the season. Maybe even this afternoon. I feel good knowing that the weeds are under control and I vow never to let them get so out of hand again. 

One final note: some may be asking how could we cut out trees, healthy, pretty aspens no less? The HG had a hard time with that, asking himself that same question as I nearly had to beg him to get rid of them. He reminded himself of what our arborist daughter had told told him: Digging out aspen suckers really is just giving the tree a good pruning. Aspens tend to send out long, aggressive roots underground that sprout new trees easily, hogging as much water and soil nutrients as they can take in. So we took stock of the young shoots, deciding which ones to leave and which to remove. 

Will we ever get all out projects done? Probably not. We just keep dreaming up new ones. I have asked the question before on the blog: Is it better to start a new yard so that you can design it just the way you want it or to take over a garden that others created. In the end, gardening is a huge investment. Owner #4 spent $6,000 on trees, mostly pine trees. I would much prefer pretty deciduous tress with pretty leaves that turn colors in the fall, fruit trees that have pretty flowers and bear sweet fruits. Trees cost a lot and I am thankful for the beautiful pine trees that we do have.  I want thousands of beautiful flowers, green grass. We are gradually turning the Garden Spot into that little paradise. We have plenty of room to add what we want and I don't feel guilty anyone removing what I don't want. Now the HG is of another mind. Sometimes. 

Today promises to be a scorcher. We had our first nearly 100 degree day Monday with more hot days to follow this week. I venture out early in the morning to water then again late in the evening after dinner to weed and plant. The dog days of summer are upon us. The roses are quiet now, adding new growth for the next flush of blooms. The peonies and iris are done :(. I am always sad to see them go. The heat hardy plants are starting to show up, keeping the parade of color going.

You all left such wonderful comments on the reunion post. The family read the blog and will be grateful for your gracious comments. Thank you. 

I have a really exciting trip planned for Monday. You know Pom Pom don't, you? If you don't, you should. She has this wonderful, delightful, inspiring blog. She lives in Denver, about an hour away. We are going to meet Monday at the Denver Botanical Gardens. I am so excited meet her. 

Until next time, may your garden be weed free and glorious. Thanks for stopping by. Wishing you Sweet Garden Dreams.


  1. I'm so excited to meet YOU! I love it that we are meeting at the Botanic Gardens, too! We'll get some great photos! You have such an ambitious garden! I don't know how you take care of it all! It's so pretty, too! Bill likes to poison the weeds, but I do not. I really don't like to pull them when the earth gets so dry, so we have to compromise!
    I think it's good to keep changing your garden. You guys are super gardeners! xoxo See you soon!

  2. You are so lucky to have such a good Head Gardener, he did the job vey well. The "teardrop" on the driveway has been changed in a dignified island like your last two pictures show.

  3. OH ok so I am not alone in a area that I can not seem to tackle that once was beautiful? Oh Ann, my header picture does not look like that now...where the heck do these weeds come from over night? And I get out there and 2 days later I am all broken out! But your reward is beautiful! I think you need a little bench or chair out there to sit in the shade. can not believe you have had 100 degree weather. We have escaped that here in IL so far this year. Your garden looks beautiful and such a grand entrance to your home. Your reunion looked like a grand success and so much fun, ours is next weekend.

  4. I admire your persistence Ann - that is a big area to tackle but you and the HG have done a fine job and it is looking good - now you just have to keep it looking that way!

  5. You have contained, and improved what 4 previous owners couldn't do...that looks so much better. All that hard work is well worth it.


  6. Oh my, I'm exhausted just reading about all the work you have done in that difficult spot! But the transformation is awesome. I have to laugh, because I say the exact same thing about MY husband. When people will ask how we accomplished so much around here, I always say that I am the brains and he is the brawn! A better way to say it is that I have the vision, and he handles implementation.