February 26, 2013

Finally Landscaping the Backyard!

When we bought our Spokane Valley home in 2007, the landscaping consisted of half-dead lawn, a few boring shrubs in weedy beds, and one crispy dogwood tree.  We landscaped the front yard in 2010, adding more curving flower beds, more trees, and lots of shrubs and flowers (photo above from spring 2012).  We knew the backyard was going to be a big and expensive project, so we put it off.  I was surprised when my husband suggested we go ahead with the backyard landscaping this spring, but it didn't take long for me to get excited about it.  Really, really excited.  Like hard to sleep at night excited. 

I took these next two photos from an upstairs window showing the current state of the backyard in February 2013.  Sad.  We have planted fifteen trees in the backyard and cut out lawn around them to give their roots room to grow.  I've taken advantage of every lawn removal to plant my perennial purchases wherever they'll fit.  It's a big hodge podge right now. 

The cheap swing set we bought for the kids lurches around when they swing very high.  I think it's ugly.  Our plan for the new landscape needs to include spaces for the kids to play as well as places for me to garden.  And I'm still dreaming about having a wedding reception out here someday.  Even if all my children marry in December, I'll find someone to use my backyard for their reception!

Here is my obviously-not-computer-generated drawing of the plan for our backyard.  Our backyard is on the north side of our home.  We're going to have all the lawn removed except for a patch in the center.  There will be a stone path circling the yard and providing access to the patio, water faucet and garage.  I'm including a simple but sturdy swing set for the kids, and I think they'll love playing hide-and-seek out here.  There will be two raised beds - one shady, one sunny - with great soil for perennial gardening.  I'll tuck in a few strawberries, blackberries and vegetables in the sunny parts of the yard on the east/right side of the house.

Although the backyard hodge podge has its pretty angles (above), it needs a more structured design.  I've been spending hours researching shrubs and picking my favorites to plant around the edges of the yard.  Of course I already have six 'Katherine Havemeyer' lilacs (10' Tall/8' Wide) - Spokane is known as the Lilac City.  I like classics, so I'm going to use a lot of boxwoods for year-round structure.  So far I'm planning on eighteen 'Green Mountain' boxwoods (5' T/3' W) planted in groups of three, five 'Green Tower' boxwoods (7' T/1.5' W) as columnar accents and multiple 'Wee Willie' boxwoods (2' T/W) to give structure to the perennial beds.  All of these boxwoods stay green in the winter instead of turning bronze.  I'm also going to try two super hardy 'Mikkeli' rhododendrons (6' T/W) in the shady raised bed, and perhaps a few 'Blue Star' junipers (2-3' T/4-5' W).

For deciduous shrubs, I'm planning nine 'Invincibelle Spirit' hydrangeas (3-4' T/W), three or more 'Brandywine' viburnums (5-6 'T/W),  a 'Black Lace' elderberry (6-8' T/W), a 'Shasta' doublefile viburnum (6' T/10-12' W), and a couple of 'Leonard Messel' magnolias (slow growing to 10-15' T/12'W - I know how to prune it if it gets too large).  I already have a 'Limelight' hydrangea (6-8' T/W), three 'Capital Red' peony trees (4-5' T/W), and numerous David Austin roses (like crimson 'William Shakespeare 2000' above) that will be part of the gardens.

Since I love playing with color in the garden, I'm planning spaces for several different color-themed perennial gardens.  The sunny raised bed will be classic shades of pink/crimson and blue-violet, with pops of rosy-orange.  The top left corner will have soft pink and pale yellow flowers with blue-grey hosta and juniper foliage.  I'm doing a white garden in the area to the right of the patio, and the area to the east/right of the house will be shades of lavender, lavender-pink, and light blue. 

The photo above shows the path and gardens on the west side of our home, which were installed in 2010 with the front yard.  The path in the backyard will continue with the same stone.  After talking with the landscaping company last week (Haase), we've got the ball rolling.  Actual landscape work will have to wait until April or May, depending on when the ground thaws and we get a break from spring rains.  It's so hard to wait.  I feel like my kids waiting for Christmas morning.  But patience is one of gardening's great lessons, so I'll just have to learn it.

February 20, 2013

Finally Some Flowers to Photograph

The hellebores in my garden are warming up for their best show ever.  'Pink Tea Cup' (first four photos) started blooming a month ago, in the middle of January.

This plant has a lot more flowers than last year.  So many things in life don't get better with age - isn't it nice that plants do?

Here's another view of one of my two 'PTC' hellebores.

I'm waiting for the first ever blooms on my double pink 'Kingston Cardinal' hellebore.  Pale pink double 'Cotton Candy' and rose and white 'Peppermint Ice' hellebores will soon be sporting blooms as well.

The leaves of 'Velvet Lips' hellebore look like sea monsters emerging from the ground.  Did I mention that last year?  Well, that's what I always think when I see them.

'Double Queen' is getting ready to open spotted cream double flowers.

Here are buds on my  'Apricot Blush' hellebore, which happen to be entirely yellow without any apricots or blushing involved.

And finally here's a bud on the double 'Golden Lotus' hellebore.  Spring is coming!

February 5, 2013

Last Year's Flowers and This Year's Plans

I'm illustrating this post with photos from last year's garden.  Above is Veronica 'Purplelicious.'
There are actually a few flowers starting to bloom right now in my garden.  I couldn't believe my eyes last week when I noticed a bloom on a 'Pink Tea Cup' hellebore.  Last year it didn't bloom until March.  Of course the flower is kind of beat up from the harsh weather and not worthy of a photo.  There are also a couple of purple blooms on the 'Accent Purple' Aubrieta (rockcress).

Above are some flowers on 'Rolling Cloud' Siberian iris. 
I'm excited to get going on some landscaping in the backyard this spring.  Right now we have a bunch of small flower beds cut out of the grass around the edges of the backyard.  I'm planning to have the rest of the grass removed around the edges of the yard and just have lawn in the center.  It will give the roots of all the little trees more room to grow without competition from the grass and will make mowing a lot easier for my husband.  I have plenty of other project in mind for the backyard, but they'll have to wait a year or few.

Above are 'Mer du Sud' bearded irises. 
The challenge with removing the grass around the edges of our yard is keeping the grass and aspen tree roots from the neighboring yards from growing under the fence into my shrub/flower beds.  My neighbor to the north planted a bunch of quaking aspens right next to the fence we share, and the roots are already sending up baby aspens in my yard.  I still haven't figured out the best barrier to install in the ground under the fence.  Any suggestions?

Above are 'Blue Spectacle' tulips. 
I've been considering which shrubs to plant in the new shrub beds.  I've got plenty of perennials and trees blooming in spring and early summer, so I need to focus on late summer, fall and winter interest.  I've decided on twelve 'Green Mountain' boxwoods (planted in groups of 3 in several areas) for winter structure and six 'Little Lime' hydrangeas for late summer blooms.  I'm also thinking about planting two 'Mikkeli' rhododendrons in a new raised bed.  This type of rhododendron is hardy to zone 4 (!), and I think I could keep it happy in a raised bed with excellent imported soil, plenty of bark mulch and regular applications of acidic fertilizer.  

Above are blooms on an unknown Siberian iris.  Do you think it might be 'Caesar's Brother'? 
I'm planning to consolidate most of my perennials into a few perennial areas in the backyard instead of having them growing all over.  I need to be ruthless to get rid of some of my less favorite perennials so I'll have time to care for the ones that are left.  It's so hard to get rid of any of them, though.  And I always seem to find new plants that I want to find a place for . . . .   

Speaking of new plants, above is the first bloom ever on my 'Medallion' poppy plant.  I'm very excited to see blooms (fingers crossed) on the three 'Heartbeat' poppies I planted last fall.  I'm not a fan of orange-red poppies, but these rose and burgundy shades are fabulous.  I'm also hoping for first-time blooms on two 'Blue Moon' wisterias, an 'Alabaster' Epimedium and three 'Capital Red' tree peonies.  I ordered seeds for 'Polkadot Pippa' Digitalis (foxglove) and have also been drawn to 'Illumination Pink' Digitalis (currently available only in England) and an 'Lady of Shallot' English rose.  We'll see if I find places for those plants in the new scheme.