Reviewing 2015 Projects and Plants, Challenges and Results

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Donna, we had dwarf plumbago years ago but I don't know what happened to it....we probably forgot about it and planted a hydrangea on top of it. Anyway, this year we stuck in three new plants and they look fine. I'm glad to get that idea reinforced because yours look swell! I love blue flowers, clothes, dishes, pots, anything. It's my favorite color.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

Squirrels have really spread the spring bulbs at my house. Thanks for tellings us about the fragaria and the pineapple sage, in particular, Donna. I just managed to get two more full sized Russian sage and two 'little spire' into the ground and made the other sages happier, I hope, by spreading compost. Since I don't grow roses, sages are great comparions for viburnums and service dogwoods at the top of the hill, too. Bevan's beauty geranium--check. The low growing dianthus 'firewitch' and 'wicked witch' are working as edging too. Fall is a great time for planting the sale perennials that can overwinter, but it is a race with the weather.

Thomaston, CT

Rosemary, if you're looking for unusual salvias in the spring, a trip up to Edgewater Farm in Plainfield, NH makes a nice trip....they have many varieties of unusual annual salvias......I know the owners, so that's how I end up there!

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

Carrie I don't know why I waited so long to put in the plumbago. I think I may have confused it with the shrub. I also was under the impression that it was a shade plant. So it became a fantasy plant. So did wintergreen (gautheria precumbens). I thought it was lovely, but read that it required not only shade but acidic soil. I had neither. But now I have shade and neutral soil, and my trick with plants like this is to use soil conditioner when I plant them to balance the ph. And back it up with once a year applications of Ironite, which I used on my myrica pennsylvanica (bayberries!) and fothergillas at home. Maples like a more acid ph, so I would use it on my paperbark maple, and wonder if that was one of the factors in its growing at least double the normal 4 inches a year.

So I put in three gautheria in as a test. They made it through last winder and produced the flowers but not the red berries. Better watering produced the berries, and having gotten it down, I bought three more.

So now I have a bed by my back door that has lots of fantasy plants - things I thought I could never grow. Mertensia, for heaven's sake - always wanted it. Gautheria. 8 lilium martagon album I got from Old House Garden on deep discount end of season. Trilliums. I brought bergenia winterglut I had grown from seed that did OK in Lake County that grew about four times the size in a single season and bloomed like mad because of the shade. All co-mingled with the geranium Bevan's Variety my dear friend gave me, I'm over the moon. It doesn't matter that no one else can see it. It almost makes it better. I'm a big fan of planting all around your house, but that is probably because I want so many plants and you can always create microclimates.

I'm really lucky, because the previous occupant of 20 years was not interested in ornamental gardening, so I have a ton of bare spaces. But he did grow lots of fruit, especially berries, and he had fruit trees. And a big composter. And raised beds. All I had to do with remove the billion violets, bunches of creeping charlie and barren strawberries. And in return I got tons of planting space.

I realize how strange this must seem to people who don't garden. They probably prefer a somewhat established garden to save money. My old garden, packed to the gills, probably scared off some people but a younger couple, bless them, saw it, very kindly, as a garden to be coveted and that would save them buckets of money (now, the maintenance is another matter - my 8 lilacs grew to the ground because I spent untold hours removing 95% of the spent flowers - which really got to be fun when they were 12 feet tall but made them bloom to the ground).

I actually feel lucky to start again with so much empty space and knowing so much more. I'm having the time of my life!

South Hamilton, MA

The person who built our house 40 years ago, snaked it into our trees. Must save the beech, he said & certainly agree with him. We lost the birches which had a 3 stem clump front & back of the house. I think that the foundation of the house ruined the roots. I think a borer has attacked our Nova Zembla rhododendron. Many of the leaves are dead. I hope we can trim it. It was planted knee high & is now up to the 2nd story. I will hate to lose it.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

Gosh, after reading all of these great ideas, I realize I don't have any major fantasy plants at present, not the same as in the past. Hmm. Certainly more salvias ( so I am bookmarking Marilyn's suggested nursery) and craving anything that makes the hummers and buzzers happy.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Our house was built by an old guy with no kids. He planted all the landscaping with trees & shrubs that would look good for the next few years, with no thought to what they would look like 5-10 years down the line, and ignoring the fact that the yard would still be there in 50 years, Every year we cut more back. A neverending battle.

South Hamilton, MA

This was 'conservation' land when we bought it to build the house. It had been fallow for 30 years. So many trees & plants grew. We even had a crabapple tree which we had not planted. But there were other things like buckthorn which DH has been cutting out for 40 + years.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

That sounds lovely. Not the buckthorn, but the rest of it. :)

Pepperell, MA(Zone 6a)

Yep golf and yes I will still find "things" to do out in the yard.

Did recently order 3 dwarf conifers that were on sale at song sparrow and they were nice healthy plants.

Last week I finally started to tackle lifting at large slate slab that I think will look better set vertically. Which you can see in the picture below. Wish I could have gotten the surprise visitor to lend a hand the past Saturday afternoon.

In the picture the slab is at a 45 degree angle. Have it almost vertical now - the last 6" is always the hardest.

Thumbnail by wha Thumbnail by wha
Thomaston, CT

The slab looks very nice, Bill....the bear...not so much! At first, I thought it was an ornament you bought for the garden! I also had a visitor last night....he took down & emptied my bird feeder.....didn't damage it, though......

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

Buckthorn was the nightmare of the conservation community I used to live in. They were constantly recruiting home owners to spend hours every week cutting it back. But worse were the "seed mixes" the community sanctioned - loaded with goldenrod, which is nice in mass but awful to live next to (I am constantly ripping out my neighbor's when it starts to come over) and Queen Anne's Lace. Queen Anne's Lace is the worst. It out competes everything else in a seed mix, so that there were $400,000 houses with great billowing fields of it. Then the seeding starts.

In my former home and now as someone with a sideline maintaining the gardens of some lovely people, the biggest mistake I see is putting plants to close together so that some of them die and have to be pulled out. Mistake number two is not understanding how big some plants will become - some will eat your house. Number three is putting in plants that become invasive if they aren't regularly deadheaded (or is that number 1?)

Wha, congratulations on getting a good deal at Song Sparrow. The bear - whoa!

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

There ought to be more companies that publish warnings about the invasiveness or size of plants they are so eager to sell. It is still difficult for me to actually make a good prediction about the eventual size of a tree or shrub, even after a lot of internet reading. It is clearly the most noticable difference between my garden and the professionally installed ones, though I am getting better with experience. Bob Fincham of conifer fame writes that he gardens a lot with a chainsaw, so I must not be alone. Then there are the upper story trees that seem to need professional trimming every year until nothing is left alive--I'm talking about you, ash trees!

I found a site talking about making rocks look natural, and it did say to make flat rocks rest upright as Bill is doing. My flat rocks are much smaller, though. I hope we get to see those new conifers.

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

Rosemary, you have ash trees left? Here at least 50 have been removed - often five or six in a single block.

I primarily take a chain saw (or have a professional do it) to trees from neighboring yards. Sometimes their maintenance is so poor they don't even notice. A tree on an adjacent that drops fruit all over my property has been chopped both by me and a professional company - it's clear they never noticed. But I think that my favorite activity is cutting down goldenrod from the walnut tree owner's yard. The stuff spreads and droops, and anything that droops over the property line is fair game.

We are really lucky in that our community imposes a $2 a month fee on all water and trash bills, and in return, for four months out of the year (we are in the October/November phase now) they will collect your debris. One day last month I put out 12 bags of lawn debris. They cheerfully pick it up on my garbage collection day, which is Monday. And then each Wednesday I can dump my billion leaves by the curb and they are collected, and then they send through the street sweeper. $24 bucks a year? What a bargain. And none of the yards from which debris is dropped into my yard make use of the service, so they are subsidizing me.

I would keep some of the leaves, but on one side they are walnuts, which I don't want in my yard or compost bin. The other side has a diseased maple and an oak. The oak leaves would be nice, but the leaves get comingled with the oak. So, ironically, there is a downhill section near the river where all the trees are oaks, and leaves drop heavily. I go and collect those to use in my yard.

My next project is to remove junk suckers from my yard that got fairly large over the years. I am going to go rent a drill, but the suckers back, and pour stump remover into them. Some of them are in really cool places where I can party with one of Rosemary's dwarf conifers, or a rose or a viburnum. There are at least four in both sun and shade. This will be fun. We have an astounding company that will rent, by the day, week or hour, any piece of equipment you can imagine. I rented a tiller a couple of years ago. An old line family business. My favorite kind.

South Hamilton, MA

What is the objection to the goldenrod? It does NOT have a windbourne pollen, it is pollenated by bees. The rascal is the ragweed which blooms at the same time. Our goldenrod are wild forms & we enjoy it.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

If you have a chance to visit some of the theme parks around here, goldenrod is visibly cultivated near the coneflowers in large sweeps. I forget what it's like in the midwest, but mine has been a well behaved clump that gets as large as I allow. After witnessing the bees and insects making a big fuss over it, I was converted. Now I look forward to their apparent orgy in early fall, and wish I could find a succession of plants that are as well-loved by the native bees.

The emerald ash borer has only gotten as far east as western Mass. However the yellow ash disease seems to weaken them. Trimming and feeding them seems to have helped.

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

My objection is that he allows it over the property line a good foot into my yard, and it flops onto my old garden roses. I like to choose the plants that are in my yard. I also have almost exclusively cool colors in that bed. And I personally don't like goldenrod. It's incredibly unattractive, to my eyes, when it fades. And I have many plants in my yard that provide pollen for bees. I don't have allergies. It's nice that you enjoy it, but he grows with ditch lilies, and other invasive plants that I have to keep beating back. Right near it I have, for example, eupatorium - the native. You should see the bumblebees. His golden rod pushes its way into it and flops on it. It's a nuisance.


Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

We crossposted, Rosemary. I was not addressing you. He has a patch of it that is over 20 feet by 20 feet. And constantly spreading. Because he allows it. Onto a property that he does not own.

This is a person who has perfectly manicured non-native plants near his house and wild invasive plants near the edges of his property. It's not well behaved, as your is.

South Hamilton, MA

If you object as a plant messing up your color scheme that is one thing. I love columbine, but it keeps going into our gravel driveway. I keep throwing seed pods into the garden bed. Plants can wander & your neighbor seems to be a nasty gardener.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

I get it. Unfortunately, controlling unwanted growth from neighbor yards is awful, and the fear of lawsuits here makes everyone very nervous about touching things on the property line unless we write a contract with them.

I will look further into eupatorium. The thrill of seeing a variety of butterflies this year inspires awe and thoughts that nature works mysteriously. If I garden to encourage the pretty bugs, it will still help the uglier insects that feed the birds and keep my plants in fruit, also. This past weekend I added two more cultivars of New England aster for that reason.

Thomaston, CT

How about living next door to a bank-owned property that only mowed twice a season? I thought that was bad, until last year, someone bought the house to fix it up....except they work only about once a month....and....NEVER mowed this past summer....I have a hayfield next door where all sorts of vermin hide out....plant & animal......I had the fellow who mows my lawn mow two strips onto their property so I could get to my garden without having ticks all over me!

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

Rosemary, eupatorium is great but do bear in mind that despite loveliness for months it turns completely brown and is now a bit of an eyesore. I was going to suggest it to a client as a privacy barrier, but thank goodness I trial plants for a year or two before recommending them. I decided to leave it and cut it down in spring. It's fabulous for hiding the pool that is kitty corner from me.

I have three nasty gardeners. I would be happy with one.

When I moved into my new garden a white columbine was there. I decided that I liked it, but I keep it deadheaded because I know that ti has a tendency to spread, and I want to keep it out of my neighbors' yards.

One the other hand, my yard is now full of that awful invasive campanula, which came from a neighbor's yard. They have two homes and maintain neither, so all kinds of plants come through the fence. I now remove all plants along the fence, and have dug up manually literally thousands of plants. I started also hitting them repeatedly with roundup. They also have a tree that grew over my property line and dropped resinous blue berries that stained my sidewalk and dropped into my yard. I actually had it professionally pruned (you can do that here), trimmed another section by hand and use a blower to move the berries back across the property line. We also share a parkway, and they allowed large amounts of crabgrass to come onto my portion, so I pulled all the plants along the border by hand (at least 200) and dug a trench between the two properties so that I can install geranium 'Bevan's Variety', which stops weeds. I have become a master at finding plants that stop weeds.

I have had three trees pruned that dropped all kinds of debris into my yard. One of the trees is rotting and leaning toward my house so I offered to contribute my pruning cost to their removal cost. No... we have no money. The really fun part is that they topped two of their shrubs so that they could "see me better" which resulted in at least one of the three crazy people who live there running into my yard to babble at me about each other every time I stepped through my back door. Bless "Plant and Gnome" - four doublefile viburnums later I have privacy again.

Two have untended maples with leaf spot that drop seeds that are trying to grow into trees in my yard. Pull them out every year. Because the trees are diseased, I can't even use the leaves to make compost. I reach under the fence to get ditchlilies before they, again, come into my yard.

All of this adds many hours of work on my part. I think it's telling that none of them have apparently noticed, because they do not tend to their borders. So forgive me if I seem annoyed, but I am surrounded on three sides by inconsiderate people who fill my yard with debris and weeds and nuts. One had a walnut tree actually lying on my house, in addition to the fact that in season it drops a couple of hundred walnuts on my driveway on a given day. I don't dare leave my car in the driveway. I have spent a couple thousand dollars on tree pruning. Mr. walnut has the goldenrod, ditch lilies, and some kind of native plant that crosses the property line and entwines itself into my plants. I dug up the border between our properties (his plants were two feet across my property line) and established a mulch border so that I can dig things up and use roundup. The driveway is over 30 feet long, so it was one heck of an undertaking. And, oh yes, he has crabgrass too. I pulled it all out by hand, established a foot wide border with mulch, and actually used weed and feed, and I hate using chemicals. His lawn would be better if he didn't use a riding mower to cut his grass (literally) every two days. The difference between his grass and mine, right next to each other, is amazing. Mine is lush and green - his is mostly brown from the dead crabgrass.

The great thing about establishing this border is that I have old garden roses, three kinds of geraniums, feverfew, heuchera, panicum, eragrostis, penstemon digitalis and tons of salvia in it. If he were not such a pig I probably would have tried to leave it as grass.

So please pardon my annoyance but I have had enough gifts from these three morons. And having spent a good deal of money and thousands of hours of my time cleaning up their messes, I am not willing to tolerate plants that I don't like in my yard.

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

Ah, Robindog, we crossposted. My heart goes out to you. At least I don't have vermin.

South Hamilton, MA

We re better off because both of next doors are not gardeners. I suppose our gardens & 'wild' property annoys neighbors to the south. We are friends with the north. DH has had problems with their lawn people. south He told them to cut the noise down & the north tended to pile up grass & debrei on to our property. With a knee replacement neighbor no longer does his own work.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

What a shame it is when neighbors can't be more cooperative.

I have permission, but am still hesitating about spending money to thin the neighboring Norway maples that are throwing the most midday shade onto my property. Clearly removing at least two large ones from the south side would let more sunlight in during peak hours to aid the tall trees. I went on Wikipedia today and learned that ash trees can be sensitive to crowding and too much shade. Since I'd miss the ash trees if they perished, and the new sunlight would also help the new planting areas with dwarf conifers and shrubs, it's only a matter of overcoming any thoughts about fairness.

Thomaston, CT

Walnut trees are awful....I have one in my yard, but the squirrels get the nuts....worse are the black walnuts....those can give you a concussion if they hit you!

South Hamilton, MA

If you have permission, removing Norway maples is fair all. they are really junk trees & do no one any good.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Bah, on Norway maples of all sizes and types!

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

Unfortunately those thugs seem to grow fast and with great vigor.

I am thinking about what kind of tall upper story trees to start as babies as insurance in case the ash trees perish. I tried a tulip poplar that didn't thrive. It has to be a tree that can tolerate some sandy rocky soil. Once we get a water spigot at the top of the hill it will be easier to water up there. One each of pin oak, native cherry, eastern cedar and white pine are in the area now. Mainly a red oak is what comes to mind.

South Hamilton, MA

funny, our tulip poplars are fine & we have seedlings in the pasture (woody edges) which came from seeds of one nearby. they are a bit too close, so have to take a couple out.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

Perhaps it just dried out and I should try again.

Thomaston, CT

I'm looking for a fast growing shade tree for the backyard when my maple finally gets cut down.....I have no ideas at this point....

South Hamilton, MA

Dogwood?

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

How tall or wide should it be, Marilyn?

South Hamilton, MA

We have planted some years ago a Cornealian cherry. It is a relative of the dogwood & has yellow flowers in the spring before the leaves come. I am not sure of the spelling. the robins really went after the fruit this fall. there are always crab apple trees which are pretty.

Thomaston, CT

The tree has to be tall...it has to reach over the second story on the house to provide shade for my bedroom...has to be deciduous....fast growing.....

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/2517

The American Linden, basswood or Tilia, however you like to call it, is one tree I am considering. I am thinking I need a tall upper story tree that can grow in the shade to get started (remember those dratted norway maples?) and that is attractive to bees and birds and supports wildlife. I recall some people have called it a nuisance tree because of its droppings, and I am not sure how strong the branches would be to protect a roof from branches falling. I've seen different opinions about that.

Of course the tulip poplar is a fast-growing tall tree. My wish is to grow some red or scarlet oaks, which are rated as somewhat fast growing, but obviously a long term investment nonetheless. Also a nice sugar maple might work. There must be many hybrids and cultivars of the American sugar maple. The tupelo tree is also a desirable native that grows tall but needs to have soil enough to handle its taproot. To me that means it is not so easy to topple one. The tupelo I have started is very slow, but then it has survived the lawnmover several times. Sourwood or sweetgum are also names I hear as good shade trees. I think I'd skip the black walnut and I am doubtful about finding healthy chesnut cultivars that live more than 30 years. American elm cultivars that have been bred for resistance to dutch elm disease would be wonderful trees worth waiting for.

I am interested in what you learn and decide about this, Marilyn.

South Hamilton, MA

Our tulip poplar grows right next to the house. Probably a little close. Admittedly they are a brittle tree. this one lost its top in a windstorm, but it has regrown it. when the leaves turn gold in the fall it is lovely. Orioles like it for some reason. they did in CT also. We have successful tapped red maples for syrup. It takes longer to boil than the sugar maples, but it can be done.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

I wondered how well red maples would work, not that I actually have any. I'd love to have a tulip poplar for the wildlife it attracts. One of our ash trees is near our house, and it's fairly brittle too but we cope by having it trimmed frequently.

South Hamilton, MA

I hope that you have not had problems with ash borer.

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